Sheena Blackhall on Angus Calder

Sheena_Blackhall
Sheena Blackhall

Chapman  magazine has produced a commemorative issue celebrating the life of Angus Calder (1942-2008) – number 110, if you wish to seek it out. I have discussed Angus a wee bit previously in my piece on Byron and Scotch Reviewers, and I give him a substantial entry in the book. It is quite amazing to think that it is nearly ten years since he passed away. I have many thoughts about how he was treated by certain people later in life,  especially certain academics, which are not fit to repeat… however, Joy Hendry, who edits Chapman certainly never fell into that category, and I witnessed her myself visiting him right up until the end.

 

Angus Calder

It is very difficult to pigeonhole Angus Calder. He was a poet to some people, a literary critic to others, a historian to yet other people, and an Edinburgh character to others. You find him in many places – he wrote an episode of The World at War; he was instrumental in helping modern East African literature emerge; he wrote on Byron, and he was also an erstwhile political campaigner. He could sometimes be mercurial and controversial, other times friendly, sometimes highbrow, and sometimes his common touch belied his background and career. His knowledge of sport was also frighteningly detailed.

As I say, there isn’t really enough space here to discuss him fully.

Sheena Blackhall

Ms Blackhall is probably the most notable living poet from the north east, and often writes in a very natural form of Doric. I was interested to see her poem Woodland Burial: Angus Calder 1942-2008 was included in Chapman, as I happened to be at the funeral at Corstorphine Hill Cemetery myself. It captures much of the atmosphere of Angus’ burial, his family members, his ex’s, and the songs and poetry.  She says, “You lie near a row of Polish generals” – these are very much visible as you enter the woodland burial section of the graveyard. One or two details have been excluded from the poem – the man who asked Angus’ son Gideon to “speak up” is mercifully missing.

Picture Credits

Sheena Blackhall  / CC BY-SA 2.0

The picture of Elizabeth Gaskell originates on Wikipedia, and falls under the creative commons licence. The picture was uploaded by the subject herself.

External links

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Roull’s Town?

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Posh flats in Ravelston, more from the era of Hercule Poirot than Roull of Corstorphine

I have written previously about the mediaeval poet Roull of Corstorphine here.

He is best known to most people, if at all from William Dunbar’s Lament for the Makars (c. 1500):

“He hes tane Roull of Abirdene,
And gentill Roull of Corstorphine;
Two bettir fallowis did no man ſé:
Timor Mortis conturbat me”

Ravelston = Roull’s Town?

The Roull family’s links were not just to Corstorphine but to Cramond. But Ravelston named after the Roulls? I’ll put this one down to a mere phonetic similarity, but it is tempting, very tempting.

The surname Ralston, currently borne by a BBC weather presenter, appears to come from a place near Paisley not Ravelston.

The Cursing

We may have at least one piece by Roull of Corstorphine; this is known as The Cursing and it is attributed to one Sir John Roull. The Cursing is directed at some poultry thieves, and falls under the genre of flyting (no pun intended). According to Janet Hadley Williams in her paper Humorous Poetry in Late Medieval Scots and Latin (c. 1450-1550), published in the European Journal of Humour Research (1(1) 61- 66):

With all the power of the ecclesiastical authorities behind him, Roull denounces the sinners, revealing the terrible sin they have committed, the stealing of five fat geese, ‘With caponis, henis and othir fowlis’. The bathetic revelation provides a humorous aspect to the threats, reducing the speaker’s authority; nonetheless the poem is an uncomfortably dark attack, closely parodying the real-life prose excommunication in the structure of the curse, the specialized language (the many references, for instance, to horrific diseases), and in the terrors of its imagery of hell’s serpents, adders, and devils with whips and clubs

Picture credits

  • The image was taken from Wikipedia, and is the work of Jonathan Oldenbuck. Permission is granted under the GNU Free Documentation licence.

Wendy Wood

David_Foggie01

Wendy Wood (1892 – 1981) is a controversial figure within Scottish life. Wood is best known as a Scottish Nationalist, one who was perhaps a lot more “hands on” than many of the current careerist crop, but she was also a poet, a memoirist and an illustrator… and a reader on Jackanory of all things.

While she is not as well remembered as she should be, there are many, particularly the Andrew Marrs of the world, who would rather she was forgotten altogether. Many Scottish feminists seem completely unaware of her as well, at a time when the memory of figures such as Nan Shepherd and Ethel Moorhead is being revived. A shame really, since although her radical Scottish nationalism may not sit well with our Guardian-reading middle class, she was also a notable campaigner for Indian independence and was involved in campaigning against the British Union of Fascists when it tried to set up in Edinburgh.

Writings

Her autobiography Yours Sincerely for Scotland (1970) details many of her views. Most histories of the Scottish independence movement have tended to be written either by the SNP mainstream or by its opponents. Yours Sincerely is a rare example of a detailed work by someone who fits into neither category.

Astronauts and Tinkers (1985) is a collection of her poetry, along with a number of her own line illustrations. I was lucky enough to get hold of a copy, but it seems to be extremely hard to come by.

She also wrote extensively on the crofting life, and produced a number of retellings of folk tales.

Compton MacKenzie’s book Moral Courage is dedicated to her.

Local connections

Wikipedia has the following to say:

From 1956 [Wood] shared an artist’s studio and house with her partner, Florence St John Cadell at Whinmill Brae in Edinburgh.[5] The house is now split in two and addressed as 17 and 18 Coltbridge Gardens. Wood’s portrait by Florence St John Cadell is held by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

 

There is a bit of ambiguity in the wording here – was Wood lesbian or bisexual? Or is this just an artistic partnership? I have no idea. This is the first time I have seen her sexuality discussed, although I know she died unmarried.

The house is still there, although there is nothing to mention the cultural connections as far as I know.

External links

Unfortunately very little of the content online specifically deals with Wood’s writing or art.

Picture Credits

The portrait was by David Foggie is from Wikipedia.

Non-free use rationale:

  • Article will be greatly improved by the addition of this image
  • Copyright holder unknown
  • Low resolution image will not harm the copyright holder’s commercial potential
  • Both subject and artist are long deceased

Roull of the Road

William Dunbar’s Lament for the Makars (c. 1500) is a litany of the great and good Lowland Scottish poets of the 15th century who had passed on before him. Many of them were known to Dunbar personally. Roull has another claim to fame – he is arguably the earliest Edinburgh poet – although whether you wish to class Corstorphine of the time as Edinburgh, and whether you wish to discount the ancient Y Gododdin is another matter.

In the poem we find the following verse:

“He hes tane Roull of Abirdene,
And gentill Roull of Corstorphine;
Two bettir fallowis did no man ſé:
Timor Mortis conturbat me”

(He [Death] has taken Roull of Aberdeen,/And gentle Roull of Corstorphine;/Two better fellows did no man see: the fear of death disturbs me)

It is interesting here that “Aberdeen” and “Corstorphine” rhyme here – is this a forced rhyme, or did people actually pronounce “phine” as “feen” back in the day? Who knows?

If you’re from Edinburgh and “Roull” sounds vaguely familiar, you’d be right. It is the name of a quiet street wedged between Carrick Knowe and Broomhall. The street itself is named after this “Gentill Roull”.

Sir David Lyndsay

Lyndsay’s early work The Testament and Complaynt of our Soverane Lordis Papyngo (1530 – “The testament and complaint of our sovereign lord’s parrot”), pays direct homage to Lament for the Makars and mentions the poets “Quintyng, Mersar, Rowle, Henderson, Hay, Holland“. “Rowle” is one or other, or both, of the Roulls, and it is possible that their work were still widely known at the time.

Stewart Conn

Poet, playwright, and the first Edinburgh makar, Stewart Conn has written a whole work on Roull of Corstorphine, which is included in his collection Ghosts at Cockcrow. As Stuart Kelly wrote in Scotland on Sunday back in 2005:

“With his almost trademark filigree assonances and half rhymes, wry asides and sudden details, Conn conjures up the lost poet Roull of Corstorphin, and gives him the loveliest lines about marriage I’ve read for a while: “Loving you for what you are – / not just for what you were.” Anger, art, angst, guilt and guile, the humane and the human are all here. Conn is currently Edinburgh’s makar: they’ll have to search long and hard for a worthy successor.”

Diana Hendry

Roull is not the only Corstorphine link to this poem, as I pointed out in my post, 4our Poets on Corstorphine. Contemporary poet, Diana Hendry has used Lament for the Makars in a slightly different way. In one verse we are asked:

“Will it come on the way to Corstorphine
Or when sitting on the loo?
Will I need a lot of morphine
Will a bottle of brandy do?”

The full poem can be found by clicking on this blue link.

Lament for a Maker (sic)

The poem also provides inspiration for a detective novel, Michael Innes’ Lament for a Maker (1938), in the Inspector Appleby series, which was republished in 2010. The novel refers to the Roull verse at least twice:

Erchany is still the enchanted castle; only the enchantment has grown murky as one of great-uncle Horatio’s poems, and the enchanter, great-uncle Horatio’s sometime crony – is with Roull of Aberdene [sic] and gentill Roull of Corstorphine.

Playing by the Roulls

Not a great deal is known about Roull. There are one or two poems which have been attributed to him, but like many writers of his period, most of his oeuvre is long gone. We can piece together a few things about his possible origins.

The surname has at least three possible origins:

  • A version of the name “Raoul” or “Reuel”, related to the name Ralph and Rollo.
  • A corruption of the Gaelic name”Riaghail” (anglicised “Rule”, latinised “Regulus”). Kilrule (Cille Riaghail – the Church of Rule) is one of the old names of St Andrews, and Crossraguel near Maybole takes its name from the saint.
  • A corruption of the Norse name Rögnvald (Ronald or Raghnall). This might seem like a lot of consonants, but in some of the Nordic languages, they seem to have been swallowed.

The name is not very common these days, but when it does crop up, it is often in the form “Rowell” or “Rowle” (Rowling? Maybe not).

It seems that the earliest recorded Roulls in Scotland were in Aberdeen, and on this basis, it has been suggested the Roull of Aberdeen and Roull of Corstorphine were related, or perhaps even the same person.

We find a Thomas Roull recorded as a burgess of Aberdeen in 1416, and as provost in 1426. In 1465, William Roull was recorded as a notary public and burgess of Edinburgh.

In the 1470s, we find Roulls in Cramond. A 1471 charter records a “William Roule” as a fabro (craftsman?) in a charter relating to Cramond-regis, and in another charter of the same year, we find a William Roule (probably the same person) and an Alison Roull. Cramond seems to be the main link here. Over the next few decades, the Roulls can be found in places such as Dalkeith, Fife and Roxburgh – they seem to have been mostly an east coast family.

James Brown (see acknowledgements) sent me the following some years ago:

“In her 2-volume work The Poems of William Dunbar (Glasgow 1998) Priscilla Bawcutt mentions that the two Roulls are unidentified although one is presumed to be the author of The Cursing, a blackly comic poem dated before 1503 (see Maitland Folio Manuscript, no. xlvi). For scanty biographical notes (possibly on Roull, see J. W. Baxter, William Dunbar: a Biographical Study, Edinburgh 1952: 229-34)”

Mr Brown further suggests that “Gentill Roull” may have been an illegitimate son of John Roull, prior of Pittenweem, and that the stigma of his illegitimacy may have led him to become a satirical poet.

The Book of Lost Books

So what does this leave us with? At least two poems, by my reckoning, neither of which can be attributed to our Roull with certainty.

Stuart Kelly’s 2012 work The Book of Lost Books includes a short discussion of Roull of Corstorphine:

One poem in the Bannatyne Manuscript is called ‘The Cursing of Sir Johine Rowlis/Upoun the steilaris of his fowlis‘. Whether that Sir John lived in that Edinburgh suburb or the granite city has never been determined. He may even be a third Roull.

This, of course, is The Cursing poem mentioned above.

Like many matters in Corstorphine’s history, the Roull story probably merits a lot more investigation.

Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to James Brown of Baltersan in Ayrshire for most of the information on the Roull family he managed to find for me way back in 2009. Many thanks!

External links

It’s here

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After much ado, Literary Corstorphine is here. It’s taken too long, I know… but further details will follow, when I get a few more things ironed out. Many thanks for your patience.

The Seven Hills of Edinburgh

Edinburgh_from_Corstorphine_Hill (1)
Central Edinburgh from Corstorphine Hill, 1824.

In some religions, it’s seen as a bad thing to compare oneself with others all the time. If this is a sin, it’s one that Edinburgh, and the lovers of Edinburgh, are extremely guilty of.

Edinburgh has been likened to Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, the great three cities of our classical consciousness. I don’t know Rome well, but Athens and Jerusalem both feature a rocky hill in the centre, with the Acropolis on one, and the former Temple on the other. (Now two mosques, but I’m not going near that subject.)

Now and then the comparison is to less famous cities. Tom Stoppard’s play “Jumpers”, for example, has a cynical character refer to Edinburgh as the “Reykjavik of the South”. I can’t help but think this is a bit unfair to both cities. On the other hand, Reykjavik has produced reams of extremely underrated literature, so the comparison is not entirely unflattering.

To keep up this classical pretence, Edinburgh has long made a dubious claim to be built on seven hills. Anyone who knows the city well can probably identify many more than that, and I know I certainly can.

As an old poem has it:

Abbey, Calton, Castle grand
Southward see St Leonard’s stand
St. John’s and Sciennes as two are given
And Multrees makes seven

This really isn’t that much use as a mnenomic though, because it is a little hard to unpack.

Someone older, and wiser and/or more intelligent than me might be able to make better suggestions, but here is my interpretation of this riddle:

  • Abbey – Presumably Arthur’s Seat as it is by the old Holyrood Abbey. Or Blackford Hill?
  • Calton – An easy one.
  • Castle – Another easy one, but so buried in the city it is sometimes easy to forget.
  • Multrees – My guess is the slope on which the New Town is. It isn’t Calton Hill as it’s already been mentioned.
  • Sciennes – the old Burgh Muir (Boroughmuir)?
  • St Leonard’s – This one has me stumped. Somewhere around Rebus’ police station?! Or is it a reference to Arthur’s Seat/Salisbury Crags?
  • St John’s – Corstorphine Hill, due to St. John’s Road and the Auld Kirk. But obscure.

Corstorphine Hill was formerly known as Corstorphine Craigs, which suggests it was traditionally considered to be more than one hill. This name is retained in names such as “East Craigs” and “West Craigs”. But it is more of a unity than Holyrood Park, which depending on how you count them either has several hills, or just the one.

Footnotes

  • If Edinburgh is “Athens of the North”, and Dunedin in New Zealand is the “Edinburgh of the South”, what is Dunedin’s relationship to Athens?

 

Umbrellas of Edinburgh (2016)

index

As an old Tennents’ advertisement used to have it, Scotland is “where umbrellas go to die”. Edinburgh is no exception, but in this case, the umbrellas in question are a collection of poems and a few short prose pieces about Edinburgh from Blackness to Portobello. Some of these come over as sturdy golf umbrellas, but some of them are cheap & nasty and a bit blown in.

Umbrellas resembles This Collection, which came out in 2009, and which I reviewed on this blog earlier. There is also a degree of overlap in the authors, notably Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir and Rob A. MacKenzie. That said, Umbrellas seems to have a bit more money put into it, although its publishers Freight have been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently.

As this blog is unrepentantly local, I’m going to concentrate on material relevant to Corstorphine and the surrounding areas.

Her Last Laugh by Iyad Hayatleh

This is a very personal poem talking about loss, exile and family relations amongst the Palestinian Diaspora set in Edinburgh Airport.

Animals by Theresa Muñoz

This poem attempts to link the characteristics of zoo animals to the author’s own:

Like honeybees we danced — like hippos we gorged
Like pigeons we homes — to our sea-facing house

Vanishing Points by Andrew J. Wilson

This poem is specifically about Corstorphine and attempts to set the area’s history in deep cosmic time. Some of the images work very well:

A run away wallaby
Waits at the bus stop

Others not so well, e.g. “spawn of the tongue twisters” puts me in mind of some shapeless prehistoric monster that H.P. Lovecraft might have written about, probably not the intention.

Nothing is guaranteed to “trigger” Literary Corstorphine more than some of the etymologies of Corstorphine. In this case, “Coriestiorfionn” is not only a misspelling, but a misspelling of a misspelling, based on “Coire Stoir Fionn”, which is highly dubious. I discuss all this in the book!

Amphitheatre by Andy Jackson

This poem’s about a game at Murrayfield. This piece contains some of the most interesting poetry I’ve seen about rugby – or most sports. Players are “pudding-headed pachyderms” (an animal image more successful than any in Muñoz’s poem) competing in “the night mine of the scrum”.

(Fans of heidbaw will be delighted by the Zen and the Scottish Long-ball Game poem which immediately follows it about Tynecastle, which talks about “Sloop John B-tuned witticisms”. A reference to the Famine Song, sung by people who don’t realise large numbers of Protestants died in the Irish Famine.)

Ath-Thogail by Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir

The poet discusses the task picking up his children from school in Tollcross, something many parents will relate to. The school is, of course, the Gaelic-medium primary that used to be there.

As with a lot of Gaelic work these days, there is a mystery about why some words are translated from English, but some aren’t – Tollcross is translated, but Haymarket isn’t, “sweeties” are, but “crisps” aren’t. But this is no matter, as most of the readership will be judging the poem on the English version beside it.

Uisge Beatha by Anne Connolly

Last but not least Uisge Beatha is an English-language poem about the Water of Leith. It contains descriptions of the tennis club down by the river and lines such as:

“But there is a melting in the March-bound air that irrigates

For me it’s one of the more interesting poems in the collection. And I’m biased towards anything which features herons.

External Links

 

Cramond Island, Forth Bridges etc

Going through the Oxford Guide to Literary Britain and Ireland yesterday, I found a few interesting things. Most of these weren’t new to me of course, but some of them were relevant to Litcors.

Take for example, Kathleen Jamie’s poem Cramond Island. The following excerpt appears in the book:

Most who choose the causeway cross
for a handful of years
turning back before the tide
cuts them off.

Reading of Rebecca West (who I mentioned previously on this blog), we find she spoke of “the Scottish blight that ruined my early life.”

It also mentions Tom Stoppard’s play Albert’s Bridge (1967). which is based on the Forth Bridge, and in which we are told “Young Albert is charged with the task of painting the Forth Bridge” which would take him years to complete, if indeed he ever completed it at all.

External link and a footnote

By a nice bit of serendipity, I see Edindrift has beaten me to a post on Cramond Island today…. Here’s the link:

4our Poets on Corstorphine

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Anent fouer bardis, quha hauen on Corstorphyn wrutten. A short round up of four writers of local interest…

Diana Hendry

Diana Hendry’s poem Timor Mortis Conturbat Me takes its name from David Lindsay’s Lament for the Makars (c. 1500), which uses the phrase as a refrain. It means “the fear of death disturbs me”, and the original poem refers to the numerous writers that Lindsay had once known, but had died. One of these is Roull of Corstorphine (whence Roull Road).

Hendry’s poem is somewhat different in tone, and muses on her own future death. In one verse we are asked:

“Will it come on the way to Corstorphine
Or when sitting on the loo?
Will I need a lot of morphine
Will a bottle of brandy do?”

The full poem can be found by clicking on this blue link.

Her personal website can be found at this link, and the Scottish Poetry Library’s entry can be found at this link.

Juliet Wilson – Crafty Green Poet

Juliet Wilson, aka Crafty Green Poet. here writes here about the White Lady.

Wilson also has a blog and a Twitter account, which often includes material and photographs of Corstorphine and the surrounding area, especially of nature, flowers etc

Corinne V. Davis

Davis lives in Corstorphine and is author of the children’s series “Ralph is not…”- e.g. Ralph is not a Superhero (2010), Ralph is not a Vampire (2010) and Ralph is not a Spy (2011)She has written for pleasure since her childhood, and worked in education which is partly where she has found the inspiration for some of these books.

A biography can be found at this Scottish Book Trust link.

Alette Willis

A previous article on this writer and her book How to Make a Golem (and Terrify People) (2011) can be found at this link.

Wilfred Owen & Tynecastle High

2017-06-22-14-08-36--1594932748.jpg[Apologies, due to some recent gremlins, I have had to republish this post.]

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?/
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”

Yesterday marked the centenary of Wilfred Owen’s arrival in Edinburgh. The great English war poet had been sent to Craiglockhart Hospital to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, brought on by his war service.

His time in Edinburgh was short but fruitful. He wrote a lot of poetry here, and befriended various people who greatly influenced him, notably Siegfried Sassoon. What is less well known is that he also taught here at Tynecastle High School in Gorgie.

After leaving Edinburgh, he spent some time in England, and was sent back to the front in 1918. He was invalided out again, for a short period, this time for a gun shot wound. After that he returned to the front line, and died a week before the war ended. He was only twenty five.

Origins

Owen was born in Oswestry in 1893, a town technically in Shropshire, but with a then partly Welsh-speaking native population. Even the house he was born in – Plas Wilmot – had a name which was half-Welsh and half-English. Owen himself was not a Welsh speaker, but some people have argued Welsh metre influenced his poetry.

Wilfred’s father worked for a railway company, so he moved regularly around the north west of England. Other places in which they lived included Birkenhead in the Wirral, and Shrewsbury in Shropshire. In Shrewsbury, he became a pupil-teacher. He tried to enter the University of London, but his family could not afford the fees. Compared to Siegfried Sassoon, he came from a relatively humble background.

Regeneration

“Voices of boys were by the river-side.
Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.”

Pat Barker’s Regeneration (1993) is a fictional account of Owen’s time in Edinburgh. In an interview eleven years later in Contemporary Literature she states that:

“I felt like I had got myself into a box where I was strongly typecast as a Northern [English], regional, working-class, feminist – label, label, label – novelist.”

This is something many Scottish authors can probably sympathise with (not to mention all the other groups on the list). Barker’s book certainly broke her out of that mould and it became the first part of a trilogy.

Regeneration deals mostly with Owen’s time in Craiglockhart Hospital, as well as his friendships with other figures such as Siegfried Sassoon. Tynecastle is out of the mix.

The film version came out in 1997, and to be honest, even though I have seen the film twice, it has not made a deep impression on me. Owen is played by the actor Stuart Bunce. The film ends with Owen’s body being retrieved from the battlefield, and Captain Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) reading The Parable of the Old Man and the Young in tears.

Tynecastle High School

Tynecastle_High_School.jpg“Children are not meant to be studied, but enjoyed. Only by studying to be pleased do we understand them.”

While Edinburgh’s private schools are very good at celebrating famous ex-pupils and staff, our state schools tend not to. Thankfully, this has started to change.

Tynecastle High or “Tynie” might not be the first place you’d associate with famous poets, but the school has a few other surprises. For example, the series House of Cards is a massive hit in the States, but it would probably never have been made if the British series hadn’t succeeded. The British series starred Ian Richardson – another Tynie ex-pupil. (If you want to read about Craigmount’s cultural connections click this link)

The school put up a plaque to Owen in 2014. This is actually in the new building. The school he would have taught in is across the road next to the football stadium. It was actually built in 1912, so it would have only been several years old when Owen taught there.

 

 

Owen’s legacy

“But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”

Owen has been a huge influence on poets after him. Even song writers – Richard Jobson of Dunfermline punk band the Skids was a great fan, and even used the title of one of Owen’s poems Dulce et Decorum Est for one of their songs.

When one hears about WWI poets, I think it is best to bear two things in mind:

  • That there were many other poets at that time. Owen is one of the best, but we should try and remember some of the others as well.
  • Many of those who quote the poetry of Owen and other war poets, or promote it, are sometimes doing it for their own ends. Owen would not have agreed with some of them at all.

Wilfred Owen’s poetry will probably be taught to schoolchildren for a good while to come. It was at school that I first encountered his poetry, and I think most people do. I have mixed feeling about poetry being taught in schools:- for some people it might be the only time in their life they experience much poetry, but for some it can also be an off-putting experience, and they will never want to look at poetry again. I was lucky. I mostly had good English teachers who made me love poetry, much like I expect Mr Owen did with his pupils. But not everyone does.

If you’re revisiting Owen, I recommend reading him out loud or listening to some of his poetry on Youtube.

Picture Credits

  • The picture of Wilfred Owen is out of copyright, and so now free to use.
  • Tynecastle High School. Original uploader was Warburton1368 at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

External links