When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

In 1910, Indian philosopher and Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote his masterpiece ‘Gitanjali: Song Offerings’. Within this work, Rabindranath delivers a poem in which he reflects on the acceptance of death in one’s final moments.

This poem has resonated with countless men and women who, in the face of evil and despair, found comfort in those words. This was especially true of Wilfred Owen, a young British officer who served and died in WWI. This is his story.

Wilfred Owen was born near Owestry, Shropshire on 18th March 1983 and was the eldest of Thomas and Susan Owen's four children. He discovered his passion and talent for poetry in 1904, his work was influenced by the bible and romantic poetry, especially from John Keats.

When the war broke out, Owen did not rush to enlist but chose to return to England in 1915 and enlisted in the Artists Rifles Officers’ Training Corps. His experience at war was treacherous and traumatic, he fell into a shell hole and suffered a concussion, he was blown up by a trench mortar and spent days unconscious on an embankment lying amongst the remains of his fellow soldiers. After this, Wilfred Owen was diagnosed with shell shock and sent to a hospital in Edinburgh for treatment.

In August 1918, Owen returned to the front line. On 1 October 1918, Owen led units of the Second Machesters to storm a number of enemy strongpoints near the village of Joncourt, and for this courage and leadership in this action, he was awarded the Military Cross.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen Oswestry, England 1893 - 1918

A Poet’s Passing

Wilfred Owen, 25, was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice which ended the war, and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death. His mother, Susan Owen, received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice Day, as the church bells in Shrewsbury were ringing out in celebration. Owen is buried at Ors Communal Cemetery in northern France. The inscription on his gravestone, chosen by his mother, is based on a quote from his poetry

The poem in his pocket

When his belongings returned home to his mum, Susan Owen, she was surpised to find her sons notebook and insde, a poem by Rabindranath Tagore was scribbled inside.

Susan’s letter to Rabindranath Tagore marked, Shrewsbury, 1 August 1920, reads:

I have been trying to find courage to write to you ever since I heard that you were in London – but the desire to tell you something is finding its way into this letter today.

The letter may never reach you, for I do not know how to address it, tho’ I feel sure your name upon the envelope will be sufficient.

It is nearly two years ago, that my dear eldest son went out to the War for the last time and the day he said goodbye to me, we were looking together across the sun-glorified sea, looking towards France, with breaking hearts, when he, my poet son, said those wonderful words of yours, beginning at ‘When I go from hence, let this be my parting word’

When his pocket book came back to me, I found these words written in his dear writing with your name beneath.

Susan Owen 1 August 1920

The poem

Play Video Gitanjali: Song Offerings BY Rabindranath Tagore 1913 Narrated by: Robert Pugh
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