Six O’Clock in Princes Street
an analysis of Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh ‘re-education’
Wilfred Owen, War Poetry, First World War, Edinburgh, Craiglockhart, Education, Patrick Geddes, Arthur Brock
St Bernard’s Crescent, Edinburgh; Pentland Hills, Edinburgh; Tynecastle High School, Edinburgh; Baberton Golf Club, Juniper Green; Princes Street, Edinburgh; Outlook Tower, Edinburgh; Milnathort; Kelso, Roxburghshire; Killean & Kilchenzie, Argylllshire
20th century, First World War
The First World War poet, 2nd Lieutenant Wilfred Owen, is remembered for his powerful testimony of war via his anti-war poetry. However, there has been limited focused investigation of Owen’s four months in Edinburgh between 26 June 1917 and 3/4 November 1917 and the impact of that period. Owen was in Edinburgh convalescing from ‘shell-shock’ at Craiglockhart War Hospital; his doctor called it ‘re-education’.1 Fresh research and analysis has been able to confirm the Scottish inspiration of a number of aspects of Owen’s poetry: from Owen’s first visit to Scotland, holidaying in 1912, and his four-month stay in Edinburgh in the latter half of 1917. During late 1917 Owen was able to craft some of the most poignant war poetry of the century, if not all time. That writing was made possible by the Edinburgh environment and important meetings in the social circles he benefited from in the city. It was facilitated by innovative ‘work’ cures, or ergotherapy, being implemented at Craiglockhart by Edinburgh-based physician Dr Arthur John Brock. Brock had been inspired in his medical thinking by Professor Sir Patrick Geddes. Geddes would evolve sociologist Le Play’s Lieu, Travail et Famille heuristic method and propose three themes as determinants of society: Place, Work and Folk. Geddes’ sociological survey model provides useful lenses for a more in-depth consideration of the socio-cultural impact of Edinburgh and its people on Owen and his writing.