Wilfred Owen Poems
“Disabled” by Wilfred Owen: Literary Analysis and Interpretation
The poem “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen was written during World War I in 1917. Owen writes from the perspective of a double-amputee veteran from whom the battlefield took away all appreciation for life. This persona decides to reflect upon the various reasons that made him enroll. In this poem, the persona presents the effects of war on young male adults sent to war: their loss of physical abilities, innocence and youth, as well as society’s insufficient recognition of their actions during the war. It could be suggested that the author is exploring the theme of the futility of war and critique of society. The universal theme embedded in the poem is the separation that war creates between those who stayed at home and those who fought: the so-called “two nation” effect. In order to convey these themes, the author employs structure, characterization, setting, contrasts and diction.
The title of the poem is significant and reveals the “two nations” theme. It is the disability of the figure that sets him apart from the others; it is the reason why he will never be able to feel the pleasures of life again. This is highlighted by the fact that “women’s eyes passed from him to the strong men that were whole” (line 44). The use of the word ‘whole’ implies that he sees himself as incomplete, less than a man. Furthermore, numerous body parts are integrated into the poem: “knees” (line 10), “hands” (line 12), “veins” (line 18), “thigh” (line 20) and “leg” (line 21). These words emphasize the figure’s desire for a ‘whole’ body. Nevertheless, it is important to note that he is not only isolated physically, but also mentally, as war has made him insensitive to the pleasures of life. This is revealed by the fact that the sounds of youth and vigor are described as “saddening like a hymn” (line 4). This idea of the everlasting effects of war on the mental health of soldiers is also presented by Owen in the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” as the soldier who died in front of his eyes continues in all his “dreams” to “plunge[r] at [him], guttering, choking, drowning.”
The reference point of “you” used in “Disabled” reveals the theme of the “two-nations”. The persona uses the third personal pronoun, where a “nonparticipant” serves as the narrator: “He sat in a wheel chair” (line 1), something that distances the reader from the figure. This detachment between the veteran and the reader can be interpreted as the distance between those who fought and those who stayed at home. The narrator, nevertheless, seems to have insight into the character’s mind, as the whole poem has a tone of wistfulness and the persona knows his desire, expressed in the penultimate line: “why don’t they come And put him to bed” (line 45-46). Furthermore, it should be noted that this contrasts with other poems written by Owen as this poem is very personal. It focuses on one soldier’s story while others such as “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, compare soldiers to cattle such that soldiers are seen as undifferentiated masses.
The structure of “Disabled” reveals different stages of the figure’s life. In fact, the poem consists of seven stanzas which can be grouped to distinguish five stages of his life. Furthermore, the alternation between past and present narrative of the figure’s life reveals his longing for the life he had before losing his legs.
The first stanza introduces us to an alienated figure that represents what is left of the male youth after war. The persona creates this alienated figure through characterization and setting. The figure is “in a wheeled chair” (line 1), “legless” (line 3), “waiting for dark,” (line 1) dressed in a “ghastly suit of grey” (line 2). This portrayed figure evokes pity in the reader, as the man clearly does not feel any passion or joy for life: he is alienated by his physical disability, which is reinforced by the fact that his clothes are grey, and it appears that he is waiting for death. His isolation is highlighted by the words “dark”, “shivered”, “ghastly” and “grey”. Furthermore, the fact that he is “sewn short at elbow” leads the reader to question the conditions in which he lost his legs, evoking a sense of precaution and quickness. His physical description drastically contrasts with the setting surrounding him, further reinforcing his alienation. While he is described visually, the other persons are described orally: “voices of boys rang” (line 4) and “voices of play and pleasure” (line 5). The tone in which they are presented allows the readers to assume that, in the past, the subject had also been playing in the park with the other boys. The end of the first stanza invites the reader to accept the subject as being dependent on society and in search of protection as sleep “mothered” (line 6) him from the voices. This first stanza divulges the theme of the “two-nations” as war has made him disabled and alienated him from his surroundings.
In the second stanza, at first, the figure recalls when he was still part of society. This section clearly contrasts with the first stanza as the language changes from ominous to frivolous. This is highlighted by the use of alliteration between the words “glow-lamps” (line 8) and “girls glanced” (line 9), emphasizing the pace of the poem. His grey suit contrasts with the “light blue trees” (line 8). The figure’s reality is recalled in the line “before he threw away his knees” (line 10) in war. The use of the words “threw away” to describe the loss of his knees shows that he feels guilty and acknowledges his role in the loss of his legs. He describes what he considers as a symbol for the male youth sent to war lost: a life made of love and contentment. This is conveyed through a change in tactile imagery with girls: before the war, he felt “Girls waists” and “how warm their subtle hands” are (line 12), while now girls “touch him like some queer disease” (line 13). This underlines his isolation from society. Furthermore, it can be suggested that in line 13 the persona critiques society’s reaction towards disabled soldiers, as well as possibly revealing their implication in his current state.
The third stanza reveals that the veteran was “younger than his youth” (line 15) when sent to war. Yet, after one year in war, he became “old” (line 16), showing that war robbed him of his youth implying that his face is now older. In line 17 “He’s lost his color very far from here” closely followed by the words “shell-holes” is the first allusion to war in the poem. Later, he goes on to describe the “Fear” (line 32) he felt on the battlefield. Here the use of the capital letter reinforces the feeling through personification. This conveys the “two nations” theme, as the reader will not be able to understand this capitalized “Fear” unless he himself had served in a war. Owen wrote several poems on life in the trenches revealing the horror of war and the fear felt by soldiers. This was the case in the poem “The Sentry”.
The fourth and fifth stanzas reveal the figure’s motivations for joining the army. They are ecstasy after a victorious football game, “drunk a peg” (line 23) and “to please the giddy jilts” (line 27). The decision, hence, encloses a feeling of euphoria, rapidness and desire for success. Influenced by propaganda and pressure from society, the persona presents to us here, in fact, a possible scenario which reveals a lack of reasoning on his part. This is probably true for most soldiers. This is further emphasized by the statement “Germans he scarcely thought of” (line 30). Most of the soldiers in World War I believed that, by going to war, they would turn into heroic masculine figures with girls waiting at home for them. They never considered the full implications of their decision. The idea of these benefits is shattered in this poem, as the figure is anti-war and reveals the “truthful” effects of war: loss of youth and innocence, and helplessness. Finally, the persona criticizes the people in power for allowing him to enroll though he was underage. This is revealed in line 29 when “Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years”. In this line, the sadness of the soldier’s plight is heightened. His motivations underline the culpability of society for his choice, leading the reader to feel a sense of pity and compassion for the figure as he was simply too young and innocent to understand the full implications of his actions.
It is important to note that the persona uses an extended metaphor between the football game and war. This metaphor was quite popular at the time and commonly used by different poets, including Jessie Pope in the poem “Who’s for the game”. In this case, however, war does not turn out to be like a football game. This is highlighted by the fact that “he liked a blood-smear down his leg, after the matches, carried shoulder-high”. These injuries on the football pitch made him feel proud, masculine and heroic, as if he was celebrated by others. Yet, in the case of war, they conjecture a disgusting image, “leap of purple spurted from his thigh”. Hence, war, unlike a football game, is not fun and fair, and what is lost cannot be regained.
The persona introduces a three line stanza to create a transition between his promising past and his gloomy present. The soldier recalls when he returned home: “cheered” (line 37), but it was not the hero’s welcome he had imagined. Not even “as crowds cheer Goal” (Line 37), emphasizing by capitalizing the word “goal” what the figure lost by going to war. The reader is yet again encouraged to feel sorry for his decision and subsequent loss. Owen’s purpose is to show that the promises made to the soldiers are lies and that those who return from the war injured are detached from society, and pitied for their loss rather than being honored for their sacrifice as a man “inquired about his soul” (line 39). This is also presented in Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est”, where the honor and glory in dying for one’s country is referred to as “The Old Lie”.
The final stanza of the poem completes the circle by bringing the reader back to the figure’s present. This is underlined by the use of “Now” to start the paragraph, which results in a change in mood. The figure comes to the resolution that “he will spend a few sick years in Institutes / and do what things the rules consider wise” (lines 40-41). Demonstrating that he accepts and gives in to society pressure once more, becoming a passive young veteran who will forever be regarded as disabled. The figure has assumed his role as an object of pity taking whatever “pity they may dole,” (line 42), once more underpinning his isolation from society created by using the pronoun “they”, the nondisabled. The poem ends with an anxious plea: “How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come/ And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?” (lines 45-46). The repetitions of the last line as well as the use of exclamation and question marks emphasize his passiveness and dependence on others. The reader pities the figure that is no longer self-sufficient and fears: the cold, desolate and lonely life awaiting him.
To conclude, the poem is undoubtedly revealing the “two nations” effect and forewarns future soldiers of the futility of war and the everlasting effects that it will have. The persona criticizes society for pressuring him to go while rejecting him later, when he comes back “disabled”. This is conveyed through Owen’s poignant use of structure, characterization, setting, contrasts and diction. The poem succeeds in conveying these messages to the reader in such a way that they feel obliged to respond and accept it as truthful. In my opinion, “Disabled” can be regarded as the epitome of anti-war poetry.
Owen’s Perspective on Organized Religion
Owen conveys his views on organized religion through his poetry. The altruistic values usually associated with religion are tarnished so that the latter can be a means of propaganda to promote patriotism and war. This inappropriate converging of state and church affairs leads to Owen’s disillusionment. The futility of the organized church is emphasised since it provides no consolation for those on the battlefield. The genuine values of religion can only be portrayed by the soldiers themselves, in their sacrifice; not to their state but to their fellow soldiers. Owen explores these ideas in various works, namely At a Calvary near the Ancre, Le Christianisme, Anthem for Doomed Youth, and The Parable of the Old Man and the Young.
The major and general issue with Owen’s disillusionment is the incompatibility of war and Christianity, or rather patriotism and religion respectively. There is no religious comfort on the battlefield. The authorities promoting the church only act as figureheads who provide no consolation to the soldiers. The ‘packed-up saints lie serried’ in Le Christianisme and disregard the rubble above them as the authorities remain indifferent to the suffering of the soldiers. The former are distant from the battlefield and separate from the desolation which they themselves have pushed youths to take part in. This disillusionment is visualised ‘the church Christ’ that ‘was hit and buried’. The ‘church’ represents Owen’s disillusionment which is then again emphasised in the de-capitalisation of the word, which shows its futility on the battlefield. Another idle figurehead is the ‘One Virgin still immaculate’. She is untouched by war. It is ironic how she embodies innocence and purity but encourages warfare; ‘Smiles on for war to flatter her’. This reflects the hypocritical position of the authorities who incite hatred towards the enemy but still act as one entity with the church. This creates a conflict between true religion and that promoted by the state which acts as a principal cause for Owen’s disillusionment.
The contention between the two aspects of religion is mirrored in At a Calvary near the Ancre as well. The ‘disciples’, priests and ‘scribes’ are those attributed to religion and its administration however these are indifferent to Christ’s sacrifice. They take these positions as people of religious values however they are not seen to practice these whatsoever. The church is only used as part of a campaign to justify war; however, their real preoccupation is nationalistic pride. This emphasis on pride defies the idea of religion since the latter usually endorses humility and altruism. Pride is seen as the principal cause of war in The Parable of the Old Man and the Young since Abram did not want to sacrifice the ‘Ram of Pride’ rather ‘slew his son, and half the seed of Europe one by one’. The disillusion is therefore seen where the friction is created between the actual concerns of the warmongers; ‘and in their faces there is pride’, and their inadequate use of religion to promote war. The true message of the church is distorted and thereby so is Owen’s belief in the latter.
Apart from the conflicts between war and Christianity Owen’s disillusionment also is based on the futility of the church and its inadequate response to war. The same church which encourages youths in war is absent on the battlefield. This falsity and futility is mostly seen in Anthem for Doomed Youth where a great distinction is made between the homeland and the battlefield. In the process the church rituals’ triviality in war context is emphasised. The funerary environment back home is starkly contrasted with images of action on the battlefield and we can thereby sense Owen’s bitter tone with respect to this situation. Though those back home are attempting George Michael Grima English Advanced Group X – Jane Galea to dignify their loved ones’ deaths this is done to no avail. All these rituals provide no degree of consolation whatsoever that can ease the soldiers’ torture on the battlefield. Rather, they are abandoned on the battlefield as if ‘they were not ours’ (The Send Off).
Owen’s disillusionment can be seen in how after being led by the prospect of religion as a source of consolation during war the soldiers are left to find solace in ‘the shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells’. Despite the futile efforts of justifying their loved ones’ deaths those back at Britain still remain ignorant of the soldiers’ actual sacrifice. Therefore the only genuine justification of the soldiers’ suffering may be their sacrifice for one another, rather than the basis of organized religion for war. The way of how true religious values can be found amidst savagery on the battlefield rather than in rituals prompted by organized religion continues to emphasise on Owen’s disillusionment.
As a soldier poet, Owen is familiar with the reality of war. The inadequacy of institutionalised religion in the war context is realized in his poetry. On the other hand the true creed is explored in the camaraderie between the soldiers on the battlefield. In the latter situation warfare is justified since it is motivated by love rather than hate; But they who love the greater love Lay down their life; they do not hate This further emphasises Owen’s disillusionment through the stark contrast of the two. Religion, which traditionally promotes charity and love abandons all ideas of compassion by promoting warfare, yet the true sentiments of religion come through, through violence on the battlefield. Whereas the soldiers sacrifice their lives for each other those promoting war do not even acknowledge their sacrifices.
This indifference continues to contribute to the disillusionment of organized religion. Religion is twisted in a way that one cannot genuinely believe in it anymore. Whilst the public back home is ignorant to the falsity of their beliefs, Owen uses his poetry to share his own perspective as well as to shame the church-state relations during the war and restore the true gospel which is practiced by the soldiers, thereby dignifying their death and justifying their killing. ‘Yet these elegies to this generation are in no sense consolatory’ Owen never set out to console his readers in any way – his goal was to highlight the brutality of war and the meaningless sacrifice it implies. Through his disillusionment, as expressed in various works, Owen aims to aggravate the situation more so to the extent that even the church, that has been promised to console them in their suffering, abandons them as well. The church becomes corrupt since it is used for purposes that stray away from the message of Christ; those concerning pride and hatred for others.
The depiction of Suffering in Disabled by Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen’s poem Disabled forms a narrative following an unnamed soldier through six stanzas, containing vignettes of fragments from his life, contrasting his consciousness, and therefore knowledge, throughout. Focusing on the consequences of war, Owen concentrates on the hope and purity of the young soldier before, to juxtapose with the destruction of this, him now being ‘disabled’, this label forming his identity. This central idea of the poem is heightened by it not only being portrayed from the perspective of the soldier, but also how others view him, primarily women- this determining his worth.
From the first line of the poem, Disabled, Owen emphasises the soldier’s isolation; ‘waiting for dark’, suggests that he has no distraction from his own thoughts and thus the narrator portrays the lack of value he gives his life, not waiting for morning, a new day, but instead ‘dark’, conveying the futility of life following war. Owen further heightens the idea of soldiers being trapped in between life and death, even once the war is over, by referring to the ‘ghastly suit of grey’ that this soldier wears, ‘ghastly’ similar to ‘ghostly’, with connotations of death, but not quite, echoing his borderline existence. In the last stanza, Owen describes the soldier as not being ‘whole’, forming the idea that his life is not able to reach the full capacity that other men possess, as well as his physical impairment. Owen stresses the necessity for an ending in the repetition of ‘why don’t they come?’ when the soldier wants to be put ‘into bed’, perhaps also implying the control of a higher power over his life, as well as the soldier’s mere lack of autonomy or capability to look after himself. This idea of sleep, beginning the poem and ending it, is portrayed to be a solace, a sense of finality for the soldier, and yet the repetition on the last line suggests a continuous cycle of routine, Owen potentially communicating that war never leaves anyone.
Owen depicts the control that war inflicts over an individual, by providing the opposite, that the soldier willingly ‘threw away his knees’, ‘poured [‘his colour’] down shell holes’. By placing the fault on the victim, whilst also juxtaposing this, portraying his innocence, ‘his face/younger than his youth’, Owen depicts this soldier, in addition to the many other young soldiers, as victims of war, and the military system which thrived on their youthful ignorance and naivete.
This portrayal is heightened by Owen’s comparisons of war to a game throughout Disabled. In the third stanza he describes war as a ‘hot race’, the thrill and speed within this strengthened by the sibilant sounds provided by ‘race’ and ‘brace’, three lines above, and yet this is starkly by the disparity in meaning conveyed in both of these lines, ‘race’, of exuberant energy and ‘back will never brace’, of inability, both figuratively and literally. In the fourth stanza, Owen illustrates the nostalgic image of a football game, and the sense of achievement in injury as the soldier is ‘carried shoulder-high’, which he later, in stanza five, contrasts to the few that ‘cheered him home’; the soldier reflects on this not being ‘as crowds cheer goal’. Similarly, instead of a sense of honor following injury, he is viewed as ‘some queer disease’, immediately conveying the poignant difference in the games of youth and war, despite the soldier initially viewing it only within his own boundaries of knowledge.
The nature in which this soldier decides to go to war, and many others joining in groups such as pals battalions or under the influence of others, is criticised by Owen, especially in the casual and childish nature that this soldier’s priority is to ‘please’ others, which is repeated, rather than think for himself, as he does now, in the present that Owen is using to contrast, as ‘he wonders why’. Yet, Owen is in fact more strongly criticising the military system which allows war to be a conversation of childish banter and drunkenness, and furthermore allows young men to ‘lie’ about their ages, as Owen depicts them to do ‘smiling’. The quick change in the young man’s idea of war is exemplified not only in the language and shift between past and present throughout the poem, but in the switch between a regular ABAB rhyme scheme at the beginning of the poem to one more irregular, making a rhyme every three lines in some cases. This, as well as the extra feet in many lines, destructing the regular iambic pentameter, perhaps, exemplifies the breakdown of expectations, and of course, mind and body. Thus, Owen communicates the inability of young men to know better, and therefore portrays their vulnerability to the unjust military system which cares little about the promising lives of young men and instead feeds off them and their youthful ignorance.
Contrasting this waste of life, Owen focuses on the hope that these soldiers, when young, possess, in his vivid description of ‘town’ as it ‘swing[s]’, yet the ‘glow-lamps budded in/ light blue trees’ suggest a layer of artifice to their existence, Owen also criticizing the idea that purpose and quality of life for young men is defined by the presence and favor of women. In the second stanza, Owen depicts the promising, blooming life as one consisting of ‘girls’ that ‘glanced lovelier as the air grew dim’, the repetition of the ‘l’ sound as well as assonance suggesting a sense of playful indulgence, and yet a repulsion towards their shifting, and seemingly shallow, attitudes towards men, and the effect that this has on them, is displayed in the contrast between describing their hands as ‘warm’ and ‘subtle’ and then touching the soldier ‘like some queer disease’, a complete opposition in meaning and sound. Owen returns this theme at the end of the poem also, as the thought that results in the soldier only wanting to sleep is the ‘women’s eyes’ passing ‘from him to strong men that were whole’. Despite love and care clearly being significant for soldiers, especially when returning home and finding no respite, Owen, perhaps, dislikes women for increasing the struggle placed upon them by war alone, particularly due to the part that ‘pleas[ing]’ them had on his volunteering. and the necessity they have within a man’s happiness. Therefore, this poor representation of women potentially both reflects the soldier’s disappointment and Owen’s dislike in their ability to cause it.
Having no attention from women, also, perhaps, reinforces the soldiers’ lack of identity due to injury. In the first line of Disabled the first detail the reader learns about the man is that he sits ‘in a wheeled chair’, as if this is the most important part of his identity, all he is now. This stark realization is at the heart of the poem, returning throughout; he is also described as a ‘queer disease’, something inhuman, an irregularity in society, and Owen portrays ‘his colour’, perhaps happiness or personality, to have been ‘poured/down shell-holes till the veins ran dry, implying that his life, and within this his identity, has been lost in the formation of his injuries.
Consequently, this soldier, and many others are defined by their impairment, this which Owen emphasizes to be an inevitable outcome of war through the lack of name and universal quality to the situations that he paints this soldier in with each stanza. This poem is titled ‘Disabled’, immediately defining the soldier’s identity to be a consequence of war, a label under which nearly all survivors will fit under, inevitably hindered mentally or physically in some way. By doing this, Owen is highlighting the consequences of war, not just in injury, but how this affects the value of soldiers’ lives. Owen suggested naming his collection of war poetry ‘Disabled and Other Poems’, which would emphasize the inexorable impairment of war on all as a cause of the assault on innocence by those in power, regardless of the individual accounts and themes explored in other poems: the poem ‘Disabled’ crucially encompasses the suffering of all.
The Question of Religion in Wilfred Owen’s Maundy Thursday and Soldier’s Dream
By: R.T Cardoso Date: 17/03/16 Poem Essay #2 “It would take a power of candle grease and embroidery to Romanize me,” written by Wilfred Owen in 1915. What evidence is there for this sentiment in Owen’s Poetry? Throughout his poems Owen shows his views of religion, which in various instances is discretely portrayed to be in direct conflict to his daily life. Owen can be noted as having had a strong criticism and dislike towards the power of Catholicism. Owen in addition often attempts to make his poems in a form to teach the reader about his views of religion. This is the case with ‘Maundy Thursday’ and ‘Soldier’s Dream,’ two poems written by Wilfred Owen. Owen wrote these poems so that he may illustrate the sentiment relating to his attitude towards religion. With illusions, symbolism, parenthetical statement and sarcastic language techniques in both poems there is a contribution to the establishment of Owen’s character at the time of war, a time when his sentiment towards religion was impacted so greatly.
Owen demonstrates to the reader his attitude to religious practice by referring to the setting in ‘Maundy Thursday’ in which “men came up lugubrious, but not sad.” The representation of the men as being mournful is in direct contrast with the following parenthetical statement, saying that they are “…not sad.” This contrast is not only beneficial in being source of aid in creating atmosphere of hidden objection to the church’s practices on the men’s side but also helps with the further contrast between them and the women in attendance “who knelt mourning [with meek mouths].” The action of the women is effective as they display the opposite emotion to the men. Owen uses this to his advantage in that he allows the reader to realize that the men are skeptical. This is important in proving Owen’s sentiment towards religion in that it reminds the reader that as they have fought in the war they have gained criticism towards religious faith, contrary to their feminine counterparts, who did not experience the battles of World War One.
Interestingly, Owen allows a possible sarcastic representation of praise towards theology relating to his view of indoctrination by the use of emotive language in ‘Soldier’s Dream’. This idea is supported as he says that he dreamed that “kind Jesus fouled the big-gun gears” which caused “a permanent stoppage of all bolts,” creating a discrete mood of sarcasm by the use the of the basic modifier “kind”. Using this language with plosive sound technique the power portrayed by Jesus is enhanced. In addition, the use of the modifier “all” creates a mood of inclusion, referring to Owen’s own presence in this church, this accumulating into the benign emotive language. This consequently contributes to the possible sarcasm Owen has presented as this idea can be further backed up by as Jesus is said to have “rusted every bayonet with his tears,” with this unexpected shifting of emotion without symbolism nor foreshadowing there is further evidence for sarcastic tone and expression on Owen’s behalf. As this is the case Owen’s sentiment is further emphasized by discrete sarcastic tone he offers to the reader.
Furthermore, in ‘Maundy Thursday’ Owen elaborates on the power and superiority of the church built up by society, this is described in the poem by detailed symbolic language. Firstly, Owen states how the “Young children”, “came, with eager lips and glad,” the children being a symbolic representation of pure innocence. These quotes describe how those youths have absorbed religious teaching by their behavior in the church. This idea of indoctrination is further developed for the induced visualization of Owen’s emotions and inner conflict as he states that he “too, knelt before the acolyte”. By the use of the verb “knelt” a sense of unwilling submission is created. “Knelt” also relates to a previous instance of the text when Owen speaks about the men who did the same “reluctantly, half-prejudiced” also. Furthermore, the value of Jesus is diminished as the result of the noun “acolyte,” which creates a demotion of Jesus by stating that he is no god, but Saint. The depiction of “kissing the emblem of creed” is another way Owen uses allusion to Catholic practice to allow the reader to be assured that Owen is in a Catholic church. In summary this idea demonstrates further that Owen’s sentiment towards religion, specifically towards Catholic religion, is of great questioning.
Lastly, in ‘Soldier’s Dream’ God is portrayed cunningly by Owen to further emphasize Owen’s views on the reach of religion. He states that “God was vexed,” that the fighting had ceased as the armaments had been sabotaged by Jesus. God’s portrayal is displayed furthermore when Owen speaks about how God as he was annoyed “gave all the power to Michael,” who Michael himself had “seen to our repairs,” illustrating how the war would seem never-ending even after divine acknowledgement. The weight of religious context is enhanced in this manner by the use of Michael as an allusion to the archangel Michael, and too by how Michael had repaired the armaments before Owen had awoken, when he was asleep, as with caution and a sense of concealment from Owen’s view. The characteristic of concealment is symbolic in that it shows that Owen has not seen Michael, so he is not certain that Michael exists or what absolute effect he has on the war, this also emphasizes Owen’s idea of false hope of religious beliefs he speaks of previously and the subtle idea of “seeing what you only want to see,” relating to indoctrination. By these ways Owen further shows his view on the indoctrination of religion, by this contributing to his didactic intents to convince the reader of his sentiments toward religion.
Although it is true that Wilfred Owen exhibits strong objection by the use of these various language features such as in ‘Maundy Thursday’ and ‘Soldier’s Dream’ to criticize religious practice it can be noted that he is mostly focused on Catholicism. This is the case as across his poetic works there are frequent portrayals of how in Catholic beliefs contradicting practices have been incorporated. Overall his view on the world’s impact of religion written in his poetry can be too acknowledged of being of great consequence from serving in the war. This is the case as the result of his experiences with war’s bloodshed and harrowing horrors he had begun to lose faith in a truly benevolent and perfect god existing; this idea of God being one he would have believed in with little question before he began serving in the war efforts, summarizing idea of indoctrination which Owen stresses in his work.
The Portrayal of War in “Journey’s End” and “Exposure”
In both Journey’s End and “Exposure,” war is generally presented in a gloomy light as Owen and R.C. Sheriff, respectively, focus on the attitude of the soldiers throughout their experience on the frontline. Whilst Owen draws more attention to the strain created by the harsh winter conditions in the trenches, Sherriff concentrates on the inside events of the trenches and how the soldiers are subject to emotional stress as a consequence of the war. Nevertheless, both texts constantly refer to the slow pace of World War 1 and suggest that the soldiers spent the majority of their time simply waiting for the enemy’s next move. Furthermore, Owen and Sherriff imply that the soldiers almost lived in a false reality – as they avoid much mention of the enemy or any serious events in the war, and tend to have rather mundane conversations. Similarly, both writers hint at the psychological strain on the soldiers as a result of their continuous exposure not only to the weather conditions, but to the variety of horrors they face on the battlefield.
The idea of war as a tenuous state is reinforced throughout Owen’s “Exposure” as at the end of stanzas 1, 3, 4 and 7 the phrase ‘but nothing happens’ is repeated. The fact that the phrase opens with ‘but’ indicates that despite how prepared the soldiers may be, they still have to wait painfully until the opposition decide to make an attack. This implies that the men grow more distressed as time progresses because the waiting simply allows them to overthink the situation more – increasing their panic. The repetition of the statement and the ab ba rhyme scheme produces a cyclical effect, therefore allowing the reader to reflect on the tediousness of war and the monotonous routine of the soldiers. Likewise in Journey’s End Sherriff often uses stage directions of ‘there is silence’ to convey the eerie atmosphere which is produced as a result of the lack of action. When talking about the German attack Osbourne states that ‘it’s been expected for the last month’ which again shows the slow development of the war, as the soldiers have no choice but to entertain themselves whilst they anticipate the next raid. In fact, one of the potential names for Journey’s End was ‘Waiting’, so it’s evident that Sherriff viewed the war as a sort of inane waiting game causing great irritation, but mainly distress to the soldiers on the frontline.
Denial is another common theme in “Exposure” and Journey’s End as the authors suggest that the soldiers block out the nightmarish nature of war by almost refusing to accept that it’s real. For example, in “Exposure” Owen’s use of rhetorical questions creates a sense of disbelief and confusion as they question ‘what are we doing here?’ and ‘is it that we are dying?’ This shows how the soldiers have become so overwhelmed by the whole process of war, that they have practically forgotten their actual purpose; therefore triggering feelings of denial. The soldiers question their existence in a dazed tone, as if they are half-conscious which again demonstrates their loss of engagement in the war. In the fifth stanza, Owen’s alliteration in the words ‘dazed’, ‘deep’, ‘ditches’, ‘drowse’, ‘dozed’ and ‘dying’ produces a heavy, trance-like tone – creating an image of a limp, exhausted soldier plodding along. This adds to the idea of sub consciousness and produces a dream-like mood which verifies the soldiers’ retraction from the war. Owen also compares the sound of artillery gunfire to ‘a dull rumour of some other war’ – similarly this indicates how the soldiers block out the war to the extent that they pretend they’re almost not even involved at all; as if they’re spectators. The phrase ‘some other war’ reduces the overall significance of the concept of war – it’s evident that it’s become an everyday aspect of life for the men on the frontline as they refer to it in such a vague manner (like it doesn’t really concern them in the slightest). In Journey’s End Sherriff maintains this idea of hyperreality, as the soldiers discuss such trivial issues such as ‘getting dirt in your tea’ and ask each other about whether they prefer ‘black pigs or white pigs’. The discussion of these minor, unimportant subjects shows how the soldiers are desperate to avoid any talk of war, however in Sheriff’s interpretation it appears as if the men are purely doing this on purpose ‘to forget’ the harsh reality of battle. Unlike Exposure, where the soldiers appear to be more bewildered and dazed, Journey’s End highlights the soldiers’ inner turmoil which they attempt to disguise by focusing on unnecessary things.
Moreover, both Owen and Sherriff express the mental and physical strain on the soldiers from the constant pressure of war. For example the opening stanza in “Exposure” states, ‘wearied we keep awake’. The alliteration of ‘w’ produces a dull tone, as if the speaker is mumbling which suggests that they have been weakened by the continuous cycle of battle. The fact that the men force themselves to stay awake even though they are wearied shows how they push their bodies to the limit and refuse to give in, despite the great hardship of the war. In Journey’s End Sherriff makes it clear that Captain Stanhope has suffered under the strain of war as he turns to alcohol to calm his nerves. Osbourne reveals that Stanhope was once ‘on his back all day with trench fever – then on duty all night’ which demonstrates his determination to fulfil his duty even when he is hit by serious illness. Furthermore the repetition of the word ‘all’ in this sentence reinforces the idea of the soldiers being stuck in a constant cycle of battle which obviously contributes to the deterioration of their physical and mental health. Osbourne also says that Stanhope has ‘stuck it till his nerves have got battered to bits’ which further indicates how the war has such an immense impact on the men – as their nerves are destroyed by the horrors they have to endure.
Overall, it is evident that “Exposure” and Journey’s End capture war in a similar light, as both perspectives consider the importance of time on the frontline in addition to the soldiers’ feelings of denial in the trenches. Moreover each text shows how the men are worn down by stress, as the war appears to drain all their energy and hope. Although Exposure concentrates more on the idea of nature acting against the soldiers, both outlooks allow the reader to consider the internal effects on the men rather than solely the physical impacts that are normally associated with war.
Literary Analysis of “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen
The poem Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen was written during World War I in 1917, when Owen was recovering from shell shock in a war hospital in Edinburgh. Hence, Owen writes from the perspective of a soldier on a battlefield. The persona presents in this poem the effects of war on young male adults sent to war: their loss of identity and their premature death as well as, the indifference or even lack of respect of society towards their premature death. It could be suggested that the author is exploring the theme of the horror of war and the separation war creates between those who stay at home and those who thought: the so-called two nation effect. In order to convey these themes the author employs irony, aural imagery, visual imagery, repetition
The structure of Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth is ironic. It is written in the form of a hybrid sonnet, as it combines the structure of the Petrarchan sonnet with the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet except for lines 11 and 12. The Petrarchan sonnet is a variation of the Elizabethan sonnet as the fourteen lines are divided in two unequal stanzas. The Shakespearean rhyme scheme is ABAB, CDCD, EFFE, GG. One should note that Owen uses a half-rhyme for B. The fact that Owen uses the structure of a sonnet is ironic because these ones have traditionally a joyful mood and are themed around love. This is directly opposite to Owen’s poem which has a gloomy mood and is themed around war. The lines are written in iambic pentameter, as a line contains five pairs of syllables where the first syllable is unstressed and the second stressed. Except for line 2 and 3 where the stress falls on the first syllable in the first pair in each line. The structure of the poem is ironic and highlights the fatalism of war.
The beginning of the second stanza brings forth a shift in setting, imagery, structure, tone and rhythm which contribute to the theme of the two nations. The first stanza talks about soldiers on the battlefields and their premature death whilst the second about those who stayed at home and are mourning the dead. The persona uses primarily aural imagery in the first stanza and visual imagery in the second one. The first stanza is an octet which is contrasted with the second stanza which is a sestet. The tone in first stanza where the persona describes war on the battlefield the tone is acerbic and condemning while in the second stanza where the persona describes war for those back home the tone is sympathetic and fatalistic. The tone is similar to the one in the poem the sendoff also written by Wilfred Owen. Furthermore, the first stanza is written in the present in order to make the horror of war more real to the readers as well as emphasize the fact that this is happening right now as we read this poem while the second is written in the future emphasize the fact that the death of these boys will never be forgotten.
The rhythm of the poem should also be taken into account as it starts off with a quick pace, and then slows down throughout the poem, drawing to a slow and sombre close. This not only enhances the theme of the two nations but can also be associated with the attitudes of the youth who enrolls in the military thrilled to honor their country but soon realize the truth about war. Nevertheless, both stanza use rhetorical question on their first lines to which the persona goes on to answer in the stanza itself. “What passing-bell for these who die as cattle”? line 1 and “what candles may be held to speed them all?” line 9. These one question the readers and allows the readers step into a soldier’s shoes, thus, increasing their emotional response to the lines following.
The title used for the poem is ironic and instantaneously shatters the fantasized images of war contributing to the theme of the two nations. The poem is entitled “Anthem for Doomed Youth.”, one should note that the word anthem refers to a song, patriotic in nature which is synonymous with praise for one’s country and support of its troops. In fact an anthem is a song that is supposed to conjure up feelings of love and honor for one’s country. Owen contrasts it with the word “doomed” which implies that the soldiers are destined to die soon. Furthermore, the word ‘doomed’ not only foreshadows the fate of these soldiers but also of the poem itself, as the persona seem to come to the conclusion that these deaths will continue to come. The word “youth” follows it which reminds the readers of the innocence, strength and vitality of these young soldiers. In addition, the long vowel sound given by the two words combined is intended to be melancholic and contrasting with the idea of strength. Thus, this title highlights the theme of the two nations as those back home sing “Anthems” to praise the honor and support the soldiers on the battlefields as well as highlighting the glamour of war while actually war is synonymous to the inescapable death of innocent young males. The title summarizes the poem a mixture of thoughts related to religion and death, irony, and cynicism.
Owen extensively employs figurative language in order to explore the theme of the horror of war. The simile soldier “die as cattle” line 1, the amount of deaths occurring on the battlefield is compared to cattle being slaughtered hence, emphasizing it large number and its repetitive occurrence, as though mechanical. Furthermore, the use of the word cattle evokes the lack of identity of the soldiers, the contemptuous of their death and the lack of emotion towards their premature death. A hyperbole is used in line 2: “monstrous anger” in order to exaggerate the fury of war and evoking the lack of rationality. This anger is personifies the guns creating the image of guns being completely out of control and appearing to take the upper hand on the soldiers. Hence, making the guns appear responsible for the deaths of these soldiers. It should be noted that ‘Guns’ is a loud and rhythmic word, creating the impression that war is fierce, like a monster. The effective use of onomatopoeia in “stuttering rifle’s rapid rattle” (lines 3), evokes the sound of guns and destruction as highlighted by the extensive use of “r” and “t” letters. The alliteration also presented by these words emphasizes the quick pace of war. The use of “hasty orisons” line 4 which means here funeral prayers leaves the readers with the certitude these soldiers will die.
The persona contrasts the battlefield with religious imagery suggesting his condemnation of war as well as exploring the theme of the two nations. Weapons of destructions “guns” (line 2), “rifles” (line 3) and “shells” (line 7), are followed by antagonistic religious imagery “orisons” (line 4), “bells” (line 5), “prayers” (line 5), suggesting the persona’s condemnation of the war as deprived of morals. Who will commemorate these boys’ lives? There will be “‘No mockeries no prayers nor bells” “nor any voices of mourning” line 5 and 6, showing the lack of respect of society towards their premature death as no traditional religious ceremony will take place. “The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells”, line 7, the hard and strong word “shrill” implies that the funerals were not quiet and peaceful. The aural imagery suggests once more, that it was not an appropriate way of saying goodbye. This line shows that the church has no place on the battlefields as the choirs are described as demented. The demented choirs also serve as personification for the shotgun shells which stresses the fact that the weapons are the ones controlling the situation and are going insane as well as evoking disturbing and frightening aural imagery of shells. Furthermore, the personification and onomatopoeia “wailing shells” implies the suffering and the irrationality of these soldiers’ deaths. The alliteration used in the last line of the first stanza “sad shires” suggests the suffering for relatives and friends back home in England countryside where many soldiers came from. The soldiers are not give the proper funeral rites, and instead are treated as if they were “cattle” on the Western Front.
The funeral deprived of all sanctity on the Western Front is contrasted with the funeral marches at home. The sanctity of the life of these soldiers is recalled by those at home highlighted by the words “candles” line 9, “holy glimmers” line 11, and “flowers” line 13. The aural setting is contrasting: explosions of the shells, and at home, quite, sorrowful cries highlighted by “pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall” line 12. This evokes an image in the readers’ minds of mothers, wives and girlfriends with tears streaming down their colorless faces, showing their hopefulness. The compassion and grief of relatives is evident in the lines 10 and 11 “Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes / Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes”. They are described as “boys” line 10, emphasizing their innocence and their naivety of the soldiers. This creates a very powerful and emotive imagery for the readers, showing how war has deprived them from a joyful life back home underlined by the use of the alliteration. It also replies to the rhetoric question put forth in the first line of the second stanza, “what candles may be held to speed them all?” line 9, it will not be candles but the holy last glimmer in their eyes will mark their passage from the living. The soldiers though appearing to die without identity and dignity on the battlefields will be forever remember by those at home as suggested by the use of “flowers” as a metaphor of their memories of the dead.
“each slow dusk” (14): dusk speaks of finality, it shows how slow time passes for those who mourn “a drawing-down of blinds” (14): privacy for mourning families, indicating maybe that a coffin is inside, sign of respect for the loss of life. The final line of the poem an alliteration using the sound “d”, accompanies the drawing dusk over the battlefield where soldiers lie, and the drawing down of blinds in the houses where they are mourned, and this appears to be a vivid comparison between the two worlds.
In conclusion, Wilfred Owen’s poignant use of irony, figurative language and onomatopoeia in “Anthem for Doomed Youth” allows him to explore the two main themes of this poem: the horror of war and the effect on the two nations. Overall, the poem engenders a clear condemning message towards war. I believe this message to be highly relevant to society of War World I as propaganda and pro-war poetry was popular at the time which did not and could not reveal the truth about war as Owen did due to his firsthand experience.
The Real Victims of War
Owen means to present to his readers the true victims of war – those who lived and not the dead. In doing so he seeks to bring out the truly horrific aspects of war. These aspects lead their victims to end up in varied severe dispositions. We can point out five types of victims highlighted in Owen’s poetry amongst others; the physically disabled, the mentally traumatized, those whose sacrifice is not acknowledged, the soldiers who are on the battlefield and those who suffer the indignities of war.
The physically disabled are perhaps the most thought of when speaking about war victims. These victims are mostly seen in Disabled. Owen vividly brings out the soldier’s disfigured state through the use of sensory detail, particularly visual images such as the description of ‘his ghastly suit of grey,’ and how he is ‘Legless, sewn short at elbow’. Contrast is also made use of in order to further emphasize on his inabilities. The contrast is made between his past youthful life and his present depressing life. A significant contrast can be seen in the different ways in how he was carried. Whilst before he was ‘carried shoulder-high’ now he is also carried around in a ‘wheeled chair’, which shows his dependent state. Apart from his physical disfigurement the soldier also seems to simply have gotten older as a consequence of war. He no longer has ‘an artist silly for his face’ but ‘he is old’. Owen continues to go beneath the physical appearance and explores mental trauma in other poems.
Mental trauma is seen mostly in poems such as The Deadbeat and Mental Cases in particular. The two poems tackle mental trauma in different ways. Both poems point out the soldiers’ dumbfounded state post-war and portray this through animal imagery. However whilst The Deadbeat continues to expand in this, Mental Cases does not, and goes into the eternal torment suffered by the victims and shows this through blood imagery and death imagery. In The Deadbeat, Owen seeks to evoke our pity for those who have suffered the mental trauma. This is done by first exposing their confused, vulnerable state, ‘lay stupid like a cod’ and then showing how badly he was treated because of his disoriented state and how much he was sought to be rid of.
None of us could kick him to his feet /
‘That scum you sent last night soon died. Hooray!’
In Mental Cases does bring out the soldiers’ helplessness and it does evoke pity in the readers, however he further explores the mental torment through which they suffer. This is seen through death imagery throughout the whole of the poem and particularly through blood imagery in the final stanza. Whilst these soldiers have not actually suffered any physical disfigurement as those in Disabled their mental state can be seen in their physical appearance. This is made clear through animal imagery, ‘drooping tongues that slob their relish’ and through death imagery, ‘Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ teeth wicked’. The torment is emphasized in how various aspects that lead to their mentally deteriorating state are personified, such that ‘the Dead have ravished’, ‘memory fingers’ and ‘misery swelters’. This shows how the horrors have war have completely engulfed their victims and left them incomplete as ‘purgatorial shadows’. The idea of the never-ending torment is seen in how their pain is giving a slow pace and it continuously lingers on. The use of blood imagery is another key tool used to convey this idea. Any hopes of a peaceful night are put down in how ‘night comes blood-black’, whilst a the traditional idea of a new day bringing new opportunities at change and improvement is subverted into the idea of a new day that brings only the same reoccurrences of that never-ending pain.
These people suffering from mental trauma are not helped whatsoever and are looked down upon and not shown the appreciation they deserve. Owen expands into the way these sacrifices are not acknowledged in various poems particularly Inspection and Disabled. In Inspection we see another instance of blood imagery. Here the blood imagery is meant to portray sacrifice. This sacrifice however is not valued, ‘blood is dirt’. The soldier is also punished for showing his sacrifice. Owen presents to us a harsh idea which is in fact true, that the authorities disapproved of any demonstration of sacrifice despite their full knowledge of it, ‘young blood’s its great objection’. This is done in order to keep to ‘The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.’
In Disabled we see the authorities’ work being done in Inspection taking its effect on the public since no one acknowledges the soldiers’ sacrifice and they remain indifferent to what they passed through, since they do not know of it. Owen wants to evoke this pity in his readers in order to compensate for this indifference towards the victims’ state. The women who had ‘glanced lovelier as the air grew dim’ now see him as ‘some queer disease’ and they shun him and abandon him, not even trying to acknowledge what brought him to that state. Apart from the women a broader section of the general public as only ‘Some cheered him home’. This shows the heavy lack of appreciation for the soldiers’ sacrifice. These victims of war that suffered on the battlefield continue to suffer even after when they are not acknowledged of their sacrifice. Owen expands on the harsh environment on the battlefield as well, so as to give us a full picture of what they had to suffer through before, during and after the war.
The battlefield is clearly brought out in poems such as Anthem for Doomed Youth, Dulce et Decorum Est and S.I.W. Owen first creates the horrific landscape in the former two poems through aural imagery and a description of the soldiers’ state respectively. Owen then shows the response to this environment in the S.I.W. As stated before, in Anthem for Doomed Youth the poet makes use of various aural images to truly portray the battlefield. Through the use of various alliterations and onomatopoeias we are brought into contact with the disturbing sounds made by the ‘wailing shells’ and the ‘stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle’. Various harsh sounds also help to vividly show the bleak future that awaits them after leaving the battlefield. Another aural aspect of this poem is the contrast between these same harsh sounds and the soft sounds used to describe he peaceful homes of the soldiers. This contrast continues to bring out the harsh reality on the battlefield. In Dulce et Decorum Est Owen then explores the soldiers themselves where they are suffering through weariness and exhaustion and have to live in a severe environment.
Men marched asleep. Many lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Despite living in these conditions they need to stay alert and ready for anything that might happen. This can be seen in how later on in the poem they are victims to a gas attack. This idea is explored more in S.I.W.
Owen correctly presents the soldiers as being under constant fear of death. It is ironic however that they are afraid of death since they actually long for it since it is the only means of escape that they have. The way ‘the misses teased the hunger of his brain’ shows how much ‘the Dead have ravished’ (Mental Cases) him and what state he is left in. The soldier introduced in S.I.W. is seen to be unable to survive those conditions such that he eventually commits suicide. The fact that death is the best and only solution that the soldiers have can clearly show us how desperate they were to leave the battlefield. We can however, also see that the soldiers did not merely give up at once but endured through the whole experience to the point that they could not take any more, ‘Courage leaked, as sand From the best sandbags after years of rain.’
Owen also highlights the indignities suffered by the soldiers on the battlefield through the use of various features seen in different poems already mentioned above. In Anthem for Doomed Youth he compares the soldiers to ‘those who die as cattle’. This comparison shows the insignificance of their deaths in the eyes of the public and the authorities. I believe that it also highlights the large amount of men that die in war which leads to the soldiers appearing only as numbers and not humans. Another example of the indignities suffered by the soldiers is seen in Dulce et Decorum Est. Instead of being appreciated of their sacrifice they are only seen as ‘old beggars’ and ‘coughing / hags.’
‘This book is not about heroes.’ Owen truly does not speak about heroes but rather about those that merely lived after the war. He does not portray them as survivors since in one way or another they left the battlefield incomplete and eternally scarred. He therefore seeks out to evoke pity for those that did live and not for those that died since death was the next best thing after leaving the battlefield unharmed, because they would not suffer for long.
A Wild Image of War
Wilfred Owen utilises poetic techniques to create vivid imagery, expressing the trepidation and squander of war. This is most prominent in the poems ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ as well as ‘Insensibility’. ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ disruption of the ode form and violent imagery reveal the inhumane waste and horror of war. ’ Insensibility’ free verse and irregular meter is countered by his pararhyme, those ‘tuneless tendencies’, prevalent in Owen’s poetry.
‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ stanza length is irregular, the first two quatrains of traditional iambic pentameter, which is then discarded like the blind patriotism of the innocent within the horror of war. The visual imagery of the soldiers ‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks’ graphically generates images of a suffering beyond recognition for the young soldiers are ‘Knock-kneed, coughing like hags’ and ‘cursed’ replaces a simpler verb to create the image of the unworldly. The soldiers that ironically limped away from the ‘Haunting flares’ of the front line, towards a ‘distant rest’ are so metaphorically ‘drunk with fatigue’ that they are impervious to the peril of the ‘Five-Nines that dropped behind’. As they limp away from the battlefield, alliteration and emotive language is used to mimic the distressful journey of the soldiers. They are revealed as men only after the visual image of reduced humanity is conveyed, ‘lame, blind, drunk, ‘deaf’ even to the bombs. The image of the ‘haunting flares’ foreshadow the human haunting in the couplet that is given visual emphasis in form. Evidently , Owen’s use of poetic form and language techniques expresses the ideas of horror and the waste of war.
In the sestet, in an explosion that discards the traditional convention of iambic pentameter, the reader is now participatory in the repetitive cry and command that leads to an panicked ‘ecstasy of fumbling’ that reconnects the innocent ignorance of the soldiers who are now reduced to ‘boys’. The death of the soldier is seen ‘Dim through the misty panes and the thick green light’, and as the metaphoric imagery suggests, Owen sees this in his dreams in a turning couplet that alters pace and tone.
The broken sonnet form and the irregularity reinforce the feeling of a dreary otherworldliness and in the couplet comes the nightmare conveyed through the present participles ‘guttering, choking, drowning’, foreshadowed by those of an innocent disarmed, for the ‘fumbling, ‘stumbling’ and ‘floundering’ of the sestet suggests a toddler’s wild dance as they learn to walk. This scene haunts the narrator’s sleep indefinitely thereafter. Evidently, through poetic form, Wilfred Owen creates vivid imagery that expresses the horror and waste of war, manifested through the broken sonnet form, the nara In the first sonnet, Owen refers to the action in the present, placing himself in the same position as fellow soldiers as they labour through the sludge of the battlefield, while in the second he narrates the scene almost dazed and contemplative.
Owen’s third stanza confronts the viewers, with the anaphoric ‘If’, the change to second person, declarative that directly urges the reader to contemplate the imagery and the simile that graphically conveys in a biblical allusion even the devil’s distaste at the horror, ‘His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin’. The reader is taken into the madness with the onomatopoeic ‘gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs’ and in an image from Futility written a month prior, the soldiers are likened to cattle, embittered by the ‘cud of vile, incurable sores innocent tongues’. Owen ensures the reader is tasked with not only the nauseating sight of a face ravaged in pain, but also the disturbing sound and obnoxious taste of gratuitously endured agony. The complicit reader therefore is tasked with the ‘cud’. Owen hearkens back to the tradition of history and disrupts it, naming it as ‘The old Lie that alludes to the lie being one told by elders. Evidently, Owen’s poetic form and vivid imagery to provoke and express the horror and waste of war.
‘Insensibility’ by Wilfred Owen expresses the concepts of the horror and waste of war through its structure and language. The poem’s beauty is in its stark dismantling of the patriotic honour of war. The soldiers, called as a divine instrument by the churches and governments of England, are now ciphers, devoid of humanity in order to survive the wasted carnage and savagery of war. It is a poem which ironically presents those who are reduced to Owen begins by saying, through a metaphor, that the soldiers are happier when they are able to desensitize themselves to the war, ‘Can let their veins run cold’. They must not allow themselves to feel any human warmth. Also, the soldiers are given the mission as just ‘gaps for filling’ and therefore their life has little value, conveying a pitiful representation of mankind. Soldiers are dehumanised, shell shocked and stunned by cannons, enough to ‘laugh among the dying’.
Metaphors and symbolism in ‘Insensibility’ create graphic images that convey to the reader the horror and waste of war. In the poem, there is a moving metaphor, half hidden as a form of reality, at the end of stanza 4. Here the ‘wise’ observers of war, the naive youth untouched by war, who ‘never trained’, can easily forget while they sing ‘along the march’, that the soldier’s experience, their ‘relentless’ move from ‘larger’ to ‘huger’.
‘Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,
The long, forlorn, relentless trend
From larger day to huger night’
Owen symbolises a more final movement: the march from life to death, innocence to inhuman, complicit ‘dullards’ to inhumane who ‘By choice…made themselves immune to pity and whatever mournes in man’. Owen conveys men as the metaphorical walking dead, unaccompanied by sensibility. They have reached a stage where ‘dullness best solves’ the physical and psychological attack of war. Also the use of the enjambment gives fluidity to his writing, which evokes the concept that as the men march along, the narrator contemplates the realities of what the men will be forced to become. Owen effectively provokes the horror and waste of war, through the numerals indicating each stanza in a removal of the beauty of poetic form, like the removal of the beauteous human form in war.With the poem being predominantly focused on the notion of hopelessness, the ‘eternal reciprocity of tears’ creates a visually graphic image about the horror of war, suggesting that the living will exchange tears with the dead forever.
In conclusion, Owen’s poems ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Insensibility’, use a compelling poetic form that, through the disruption of traditional structures and a dramatic imagery created foremostly by diction, tell of the trepidation, the cursed horror and unjustified squander of war.
Literary Analysis of the Poem Strange Meeting
Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting” explores an extraordinary meeting between two enemy combatants in the midst of battle. Owen forgoes the familiar poetics of glory and honor associated with war and, instead, constructs a balance of graphic reality with compassion for the entrenched soldier. In fact, the poetic appeal of the text comes from pity and sympathy for the work’s characters rather than an inflated idea of the characters’ heroism. Owen accomplishes this appeal through both narrative and device. First, the narrative in the poem is built upon shared humanity, especially in the face of death, between the speaker and the stranger, evoking the reader’s sympathies for the young men. Second, consonance, semantic connotation, onomatopoeia, and tone subtly build an impression of the characters’ piteous situation.
The poem begins with the protagonist, a soldier, moving into a tunnel to escape battle. He says, “It seemed that out of battle I escaped / Down some profound dull tunnel” (1-2). The tunnel is profound in that the realistic world above is now mute; in fact, the surreal quality of a subterranean world makes it only seem that he escapes out of battle. The tunnel itself is scooped through long-formed “granites” from previous “titanic wars,” reminding the reader of man’s unending timeline of war and helping to establish the epic quality of the poem (3). He continues, “Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned, / Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred” (4-5). His separation from battle allows him a new perspective. Here, though feet from war, lie soldiers in transition to death. That they are too fast in death to be disturbed suggests that this is their proper place to be burdened by death, especially since it is far more peaceful to die in the dreamlike underground than in the battle raging above. After one soldier rises up to acknowledge him, the speaker remarks of the stranger:
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,–
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell. (7-10)
“Piteous recognition” suggests many meanings. As the soldier stares at the speaker, it may be that he recognizes the speaker (perhaps a sort of foreshadowing given the poem’s conclusion) and pities the speaker’s predicament because he, too, is caught in the war. It may be that the soldier’s “fixed eyes” are themselves pitiable, that they are glossed over with images of the fallen. Also, line eight contains several instances of the letter “s,” presenting a great deal of consonance. This consonance, given the context, evokes the sound of the dying soldiers’ shallow, troubled breaths. Combined with semantic interpretations of the line, we have both image and sound: the image of a distraught man acknowledging an unexpected face; the sound of the dying soldiers’ labored breathing.
The speaker continues:
With a thousand pains that vision’s face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.” (11-4)
The speaker’s use of “grained” carries particularly important connotations. First, we get the impression that the pains of war have, in a sense, removed this soldier’s identity; his face is simply a canvas of the pain he has endured. Further, one might think of a grainy, black and white, WWI-era photograph, one in which the faces of the individual men are nearly indiscernible. The speaker informs the stranger that he has no cause to look so bothered, given they are safe from the war above. Indeed, the onomatopoeia in the words “thumped” and “flues made moan” bring a degree of momentary reality (as much as can be afforded by recitation of the poem) to otherwise cold descriptions of battle.
The stranger replies, “None […] save the undone years, / The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours, / Was my life also” (15-7). The soldier argues that the real losses, the real cause to mourn, are the years spent on war and the years that will never come. In fact, he says, “save the undone years,” as though his words were a command. The last words of the soldier’s sentence, “the hopelessness,” are forced onto a new line; the pause that precedes and follows forces the word to linger on the reader’s mind, giving us a slight taste of this man’s desperation. Most important of all, the stranger invokes the common bond he and the speaker share. Both men had lives before the war; now, only the speaker’s hopes remain alive.
The stranger continues:
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress. (26-9)
In these lines, the stranger’s hopelessness discussed in the previous paragraph becomes mythologized. His feeling of despair is not isolated to his own personal condition. Rather, he despairs for all men, men numbed by the sights, sounds, and tragedies of war. In fact, he is fearful that people will be content with the ills of war, of the world’s beauty being spoiled. That the stranger invokes the image of the [T]igress (the river upon which man’s first great civilizations were built) suggests that this contentment toward spilled blood is historical, that the sensitivities of fighting men have been deafened by the wars of yesteryear. Worse, complacency with such offenses will only promise more conflicts as men refuse to challenge the historical precedents for war–or “break ranks”–even as their nations cease to prosper.
In lines 30 to 39, the strange soldier considers how he, were he given life, might save humanity from its depravity:
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled,
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were. (30-9)
The courage to fight did not bring satisfaction. It only brought mystery–the mystery of never knowing the years of his later life, of never knowing peace and old age. Yet, in his death, he has wisdom. In fact, by invoking the notion of mastery, he seems to suggest that wisdom has taught him to ignore the drumbeats of courage in favor of peace, that wisdom has given him a mastery over the contentment toward war. He knows, now, that it is wisest to stave fighting, to “miss the march” into combat, the consonance of those words evocative of the stomps of parading, synchronized soldiers. Were he able to live, he would return to the weary combatants and wash their bloodied chariots, pouring into them truths and sympathies too lasting, too intrinsically human, to be tainted by the scourge of war. Indeed, it is not a physical wound the strange soldier seeks to heal. It is the wounded mind of man, its failing to refute the blood-letting, upon which his sympathies–his very “spirit”–shall be poured.
In his final waking moments, the estranged soldier reveals his relation to the speaker:
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . . (40-4)
He identifies the speaker both as enemy and friend. It is a fitting juxtaposition, as it highlights the tragedy (perhaps absurdity) of their predicament–that they are enemies–while maintaining the integrity and intent of the text and informing the poem’s theme of shared humanity–that they are, after all, friends. These lines are markedly different from the rest of the text in their plainness. Most of the words are monosyllabic and, out of context, are rather straightforward. Yet, this simplicity enhances the lines’ effectiveness. There is a painful truth in its plainness, a reminder of the characters’ condition. The soldier even admits that he fought back, but his loath and cold hands prevented him from repelling off the speaker’s jabs. One is not tempted to label him a bard or some other silver-tongued hero. He is merely a man who did what he thought he must. In his plainness exists a canvas for us to see countless other men who fought and died in battle, and we wonder if they, too, gained a wisdom in death that came too late. The plainness of the lines also serves to deafen and shorten the prose, a reflection of how the strange soldier must sound as he succumbs to death.
Finally, one must note the use of half-rhyme and broken meter present throughout the poem. Perhaps a simple rhyme scheme would be too easy for us. Maybe we are meant to view the lines’ scans with difficulty. Issues of war, life, and the value of our shared humanity are as difficult issues as any, and most certainly, it would not be decorous for us to read through such text with passing ease. Undoubtedly, a rhyme that is only half complete must further reinforce the “strangeness” and broken nature of our characters’ world. There is the world above–the chaotic, noisy expansiveness of the battlefield–and the world below–a quiet sanctuary–, where the soldiers find themselves. Thus, the two worlds are “broken” in that they are separate and “strange” in that their characteristics, though the places are so close in proximity, are wholly different. There is, of course, one piercing similarity in the two worlds: death. Only, in the world below, the soldier’s are given shelter enough to reflect upon their condition; they are afforded the chance to grasp at their newfound, death-borne wisdom. And it is in this world that the two men meet and see each other for who they are. As the strange soldier dies, he says, “Let us sleep now” (44). Though one might read this statement as a revelation that the protagonist, too, is dead, at least one conclusion is irrefutable. In the throws of war there is no you or I; there is only us. Both men are victims of war, and both wish to live to see tomorrow. The definitive strangeness and lesson of their meeting is that it is equitable.
Owen, Wilfred. “Strange Meeting.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry. 5th ed.Eds. Margaret Ferguson, et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 891-2.
The Concept of Guilt in Owen’s Poetry
The notion of guilt is very strong in Owen’s poetry. He uses guilt in his poetry so as to highlight the indifference of those back at home as well as the authorities. These should feel guilty for sending their youth to die but they do not feel so. On the other hand, Owen also expresses his own guilt as well as the soldiers’ guilt. In doing so Owen means to emphasize on the mental torment that the soldiers suffer from due to this guilt.
In Inspection the theme of indifference is very evident. Here the authorities are aware of the suffering that the soldiers are going through but they claim that ‘blood is dirt’, meaning the sacrifice is not worth acknowledging. Here the use of blood imagery signifies the sacrifice of the soldiers. At various instances throughout the poem this sacrifice is meant to be eradicated and not known of; the ‘stains’ are to be washed out and the ‘cheeks’ to be not so ‘red’. The authorities continue to hide the soldiers’ sacrifice and their own guilt simultaneously for the sake of national pride, since it was themselves that cause these premature, untimely deaths of these young soldiers. This idea ties in with the ‘Ram of Pride’ mentioned in The Parable of the Old Man and The Young. The deviation from the original story line in the Bible shows how the authorities would rather kill ‘half the seed of Europe, one by one’ rather than give up their pride. They will therefore refuse to feel guilty for this reason, despite what they force the soldiers to suffer from during war. This notion of national pride teamed with false patriotism is also significant in other works by Owen. These notions fuel more propaganda and therefore lead to more soldiers being brainwashed into going to war. The propaganda also simultaneously leaves the public in a state of ignorance and thereby indifference towards the actual reality.
The war propaganda based on false patriotism is particularly evident in Disabled and Dulce et Decorum Est. Owen provides us with clear examples of how the youth were brainwashed into thinking of war as being glorifying. In the latter work the poet harshly criticizes the war poets that promoted ‘The old Lie’ through their poetry. These too should feel guilty since they had a major part in manipulating the youth of Britain to go die in war. Through his poetry Owen wanted to stray away from the poetry at the time which promoted war and spoke of the truth in his poetry. Propaganda, however was also supplied by the authorities, as is seen in Disabled. Owen presents us with a list of false ideals that glorified war such as the ‘jeweled kilts /For daggers in plaid socks’. This propaganda is one of the factors that led the youth to recruit. Apart from this Owen also blames the general public to have encouraged them to go to war. He sought to please ‘the giddy jilts’ however these same who encouraged him now ‘touch him like a queer disease’. The absence of guilt is felt strongly here since we also get the notion of betrayal and treachery. This also leads Owen to expand on another reason why the public should feel guilty since there is no affection or type of connection whatsoever between the public and those sent to war. This is seen not only in Disabled but also in The Dead-Beat, The Send-Off and S.I.W.
In Disabled the lack of connection is clearly seen as already stated between the women and the young men. Whilst the former encourage them to go to war they are repelled by the soldiers when they return back; disfigured. In this work by Owen the lack of affection is also seen where the authorities go through anything and even accept underage recruits to go to war. This also highlights how the authorities do not appreciate the beauty and value of youth whatsoever. The guilt that should be felt is therefore continued to be emphasized here were the readers realize the great loss of youth. This is also seen, as well as the lack of connection, in The Send-Off. Here we have the authorities that are completely abandoning and cutting off any ties they ever had with the soldiers; ‘They were not ours’. The pinnacle of where the lack of affection is truly expressed is in The Dead-Beat. Here there is no spirit of camaraderie whatsoever. The already worn-out soldier is continued to be beaten around because of the state he is in. Even the soldiers that are against a common enemy have no type of connection between them. Rather they beat the vulnerable, since they are only seen as dead weight and are therefore disposed of. They should feel guilty of how they maltreated one of their own to the extent that we are given the impression that he either was left to die or was killed. The absence of affection is also seen where in both this work by Owen and in Disabled the soldiers are ‘drafted out with drums and cheers’, glad to be rid of, but return back in silence. In The Send-Off the lack of affection is seen where the women cheer them off and give them wreaths and spray, unknowingly and ironically foreshadowing their imminent death. Even these should be guilty of celebrating their departure since they are merely celebrating their death. However, these celebrations are fueled by the propaganda to which the public is exposed to.
In S.I.W. we also see the guilt supposed to be felt by the general public which set social expectations on the young men to go to war. This too is fueled by the propaganda that not only brainwashed the young men to go to war but also the public to continue to encourage the latter to recruit. ‘Death sooner than dishonor, that’s the style!’ here we see the strongly oppressive social expectations that put pressure upon the soldier to recruit no matter anything. The public, particularly the families of the relatives should also feel guilty of what they were doing to the youth of Britain. They were aware that they were sending them to war, and that they would probably not return; nonetheless they remained in as state of denial that whoever they sent to war died for the glory of Britain – however this was obviously not the reality. This immense pressure on the soldiers sent to war only led them to feel guilty since they could not stand up to the expectations. This eventually led to them wanting to die. This guilt of the soldiers in war was not only seen in S.I.W. but was portrayed more clearly in Mental Cases.
In Mental Cases we get a clear portrayal of the guilt as it is felt by the soldiers themselves, for two main reasons. We get survivor’s guilt and the guilt of killing. The soldiers feel violated by what they have seen, such that ‘Memory fingers in their hair of murders’. The fact that they tread on ‘lungs that had loved laughter’ reminds them on the indignities those dead had to suffer because they killed them. Those body parts and dead corpses were once persons as the living soldiers are however, they suffered a different fate than them. This guilt is continuously accentuated at various instances throughout the poem. The capitalization of ‘Dead’ signifies that the deaths they witnessed are continuously tormenting them. This idea of eternal torment is seen in the image of both day and night being characterized by thoughts on the dead. The description of the soldiers as ‘purgatorial shadows’ also presents them as being tainted by sin (purgatorial) and as therefore being constantly tormented by their guilt of killing. This work by Owen also continues to aggravate the guilt supposed to be felt by the authorities, since the readers are furthermore enraged upon seeing and experiencing through gruesome detail the indignities and atrocities suffered by the soldiers at war; that the authorities sent to be a part of. In Mental Cases as well as other poems we see Owen to be feeling guilty as well. This is seen mainly in Inspection apart from the latter work itself.
In Mental Cases Owen makes use of the first person to show that he too feels guilty of causing the young soldiers ‘war and madness’. Here Owen adopts the role of the victimizer where he is constantly tormented by these feelings of guilt. This is seen in how the ‘Dead’ are seen ‘snatching’ and ‘pawing’ at him. These two verbs cause a certain uneasiness within the reader which reflects the anxiety felt by Owen himself upon imagining those dead soldiers blaming him for the indignities they suffered. In Inspection the feelings of guilt as being felt by Owen are more vivid to the reader. Whilst in the former work Owen is using the first person ‘us’ only, in the latter he is fully assuming the role of the officer; the same person who acted completely indifferent towards the sacrifice of the soldiers by claiming ‘blood’ to be ‘dirt’. Owen becomes one with those authorities whom he criticized harshly in other works of his. He therefore takes his responsibility as being a high-ranking officer in war and is guilty of having taken part of the slaughter of ‘half the seed of Europe.’
When taking everything into consideration, the reader may appreciate the irony within Owen’s poetry and, in the reality of the situation. The authorities have succeeded so greatly in pursuing with their propaganda that those who should feel guilty do not whilst those that do feel guilty, should not actually feel like so. The glory of war has been so embedded into the minds of the general public that these set social expectations based on war propaganda, which led to the soldiers feeling guilty; after what they do and see on the battlefield.