Wilfred Owen Poems
Analysis of Owen’s “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 worldInto 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 stintBut 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 frownedYesterday 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.Works CitedOwen, Wilfred. “Strange Meeting.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry. 5th ed.Eds. Margaret Ferguson, et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 891-2.
“Fellowships Untold”: The Role of Wilfred Owen’s Poetry in Understanding Comradeship During World War I
In his recent study of the relationship between poetry and warfare, The Poetry of War, James Anderson Winn writes of the war poet’s ability to “convey, often in the same line or stanza, both the intensity of love between men of arms and the powers of forces that constrain the expression of that love; cultural taboos, personal embarrassment and the looming presence of death”. This analysis certainly holds true for the poetry of Wilfred Owen, a soldier whose writing details the uniquely harrowing experiences of front-line troops living and dying together in intense physical proximity. Accordingly, poems such as “Spring Offensive”, “Apologia pro Poemate Meo”, and “Strange Meeting” use stark realism and powerfully emotive imagery to explore the male bonds forged during combat. His depiction of male intimacy in the trenches has led some scholars to explore whether Owen’s work simply reflects an extension of late-Victorian values of honour and nobility, or whether the portrayal of comradeship and fellowship in his writing points towards something more subversive and unique. Therefore, it is also useful to consider Owen’s own sexuality when studying the way in which his writing combines front-line homoeroticism and depictions of the grisly realities of trench warfare. As direct witnesses to human loss and destruction on an unprecedented scale, the soldiers of World War One were united in an alienating knowledge of the senseless horrors of warfare. Indeed, much of Owen’s poetry addresses his comrades’ moral detachment from the rest of society, and, in particular, the older generation who encouraged young men to fight in the name of “glory” and “honour”. In his 1917 poem, “The Kind Ghosts”, Owen sneers at the self-satisfied ignorance of those back at home, suggesting that the young men on the front-line have been abandoned by an obtuse attitude of complacency. Adopting stark crimson imagery, the poem chastises the perceived attitude of indifference and neglect towards his fellow soldiers through the figure of a woman living in comfortable opulence, “Not marvelling why her roses never fall/ Nor what red mouths were torn to make their blooms”. A similar depiction of the psychological isolation felt by his fellow “outsiders” can be identified in the final stanza of “Spring Offensive”, where Owen questions the stance of silence adopted by the survivors of a military battle:“But what say such as from existence’ brink Ventured but drave too swift to sink. The few who rushed in the body to enter hell… Why speak they not of comrades that went under?” [138-46]By speaking for those either unwilling or unable to speak for themselves, Owen demonstrates the strong ties connecting men in battle, thus exuding a poignant sense of loyalty and duty towards the soldiers beside whom he fought. This display of allegiance and understanding recalls the words of fellow-poet Seigfried Sassoon, who expressed how the brutal conditions of warfare led to an unyielding affinity felt between men on the front-line: “The man who really endured the war at its worst was everlastingly differentiated from everyone except his fellow soldiers”. As the voice of broken comrades, Owen feels the need to testify on their behalf and awaken the “Nation at Home” to the futile and destructive nature of the war. As such, Owen’s desperation to rejoin his comrades in battle following his treatment for shell-shock – despite the knowledge that he will almost certainly die – is a testament to the strength of the bonds formed during warfare. The affecting faithfulness displayed towards fallen troops consequently illustrates how Owen uses poetry as an expression of devotion to his comrades, and as a means of honouring fellow soldiers through written verse. In this way, it is possible to claim that the sense of fellowship and comradery evident in Owen’s poetry serves to humanise the unfamiliar, hostile brutality of war, infusing into the carnage typically “British” values of loyalty, honour and community. This sense of moral elevation is strikingly demonstrated in “Strange Meeting”, a surrealistic poem that depicts a confrontation between two dead soldiers – the English narrator and a German enemy whom he “jabbed and killed” in battle. Rather than engaging with the dominant discourse of hostility and fear of “the other” evident in much pro-war propaganda, Owen details the striking similarities between the two men (“Whatever hope is yours,/ Was my life also”), and acknowledges the grim reality of “the truth untold”, a phrase laden with betrayal and regret at the pity of war. The poem replaces the destructiveness and brutality of battle with an act of reconciliation, culminating in the two soldiers joining each other in an eternal comradeship: “Let us sleep now…”. It is significant that Owen adapts a line of “Strange Meeting” from Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” (“Even with truths that lie too deep for taint”), as both lines are implicit of a highly symbolic process of restoration and moral rebirth. Thus, through the act of comradery in Owen’s poetry it is possible to identify a certain wholesomeness and unity in the face of vast human destruction. The dignified solidarity between the two soldiers also recalls the poignant symbolism of the 1914 “Christmas truce”, which saw several British and German troops temporarily cease hostilities to exchange gifts and play football in no man’s land during the festive period. Consequently, one can interpret Owen’s touching portrayal of male comradeship as a form of redemption and moral sustenance, thereby reflecting the contemporary Christian principles of honour, nobility and dedication . However, some have cited the themes addressed in Owen’s war poetry as an example of how male comradeship failed to function as the dominant culture intended. Rather than serving as a testament to British values, for example, his accounts of the hellish realities of warfare may imply a damaging relationship between male friendship in the trenches and psychological distress. Indeed, when tracking Owen’s writing during the course of his lifetime, it is evident that a stark contrast exists between the pre-war Christian traditionalist and the embittered, questioning individual of 1917. The literary critic Adrian Caesar has developed the issue of Owen’s growing disillusionment further by highlighting an unsettling sense of misogyny in a selection of his poems. For example, the violent condemnation of women in “Le Christianisme” starkly illustrates his resentment of wives and mothers back at home and their apparent endorsement of warfare – “One Virgin still immaculate/ Smiles on for war to flatter her./ She’s halo’d with an old tin hat, / But a piece of hell will batter her”. In any case, it is evident that Owen values the love of fellow soldiers over the conventional, domesticated love shared between a husband and wife. In the poem, “Apologia pro Poemate Meo”, he asserts the superiority of male intimacy and comradeship: “For love is not the binding of fair lips With the soft silk of eyes that look and long, By Joy, whose ribbon slips, – But wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong; Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips; Knit in the welding of the rifle-throng”. [19-25]It is clear that Owen’s fellow comrades, as opposed to women, serve as his inspiration and are the driving force behind much of his poetry. A similar faith in the uncompromising love between soldiers is present in his famed poem, “Disabled”, which details a young man’s isolation from society following a war injury which has left him “legless” and disfigured. Contrasting sharply with the ignorance and fickleness of the “giddy jilts”, who express revulsion and “touch him like some queer disease”, only his fellow warriors can appreciate the man’s honour and sacrifice. In an affront to the chivalric rhetoric of the age, therefore, Owen is associating the male body with protest and vulnerability. This has led some readers of Owen to claim that the emotional bonds formed between men in the trenches served as a rejection of hegemonic ideals of the time, thus bringing to the fore a previously unexplored dimension to male intimacy during trench warfare. It is this apparent departure from late-Victorian principles of chivalry and masculinity that brings into question the significance of Owen’s homosexuality in understanding the themes of his work. Indeed, Niall Ferguson’s claim that a “remarkably high proportion” of the British officer class were homosexuals ensures that the subject of front-line homoeroticism cannot be neglected in a discussion of male friendship and comradeship in the trenches. While, on the surface, the strong comradeship evident in his written verse could be construed as a conventional display of soldierly duty and solidarity, Owen’s deep love for his fellow comrades often borders on the erotic, a feature of his poetry that largely manifests itself through his apparent fixation with the male body. For example, in “Futility”, one of the few poems published during Owen’s lifetime, he uses the tragedy of a soldier’s death on the battlefield to reflect on the young man’s attractive vitality: “Are limbs so dear achieved, are sides/ Full-nerved, – still warm – too hard to stir?” Much of Owen’s war poetry expresses a homoerotic solidarity between soldiers at times of great stress and lingers on such details as “the hands of boys” and “their eyes”, thus merging images of horrific violence with something beautiful and untainted. Through the imagery adopted in his poems, Owen invites the reader to become a voyeur of sorts and share his respect of the vulnerable beauty of his fellow soldiers. It is this effective fusion of the representative and the erotic that sheds light on the intense attachment formed amongst soldiers in the trenches and thus demonstrates the complexities of male comradeship during the Great War. In conclusion, it is clear that powerful, distinctive bonds developed between soldiers during the intensely stressful and haunting experiences of trench warfare during World War One. The poetry of Wilfred Owen reflects this intimate sense of emotional fellowship by combining the harrowingly macabre with the beautifully erotic. Furthermore, Owen uses his poetry as a means of speaking on behalf of comrades whose voices have been silenced, either through death or through psychological trauma. Despite not necessarily functioning in the way that the dominant British culture demanded, the comradeship formed during the horror of trench warfare prompted the elevation and strengthening of male intimacy, with the love between soldiers serving as an impetus for a vast and affecting collection of wartime poetry.
The Exploration of Turmoil in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Storm’
For the Ancient Greeks, the concept of love was divided into six different categories: in particular, eros represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. While current societies tend to glorify this variety of romantic love, Greek culture viewed eros as something potentially dangerous; such intense ardour becomes the downfall of man, his weakness and insanity. For the main persona in Owen’s “Storm,” it is this power of unrequited love that creates a sense of turmoil ubiquitous throughout the verse.
A primary aspect of this piece’s approach is its manipulation of pathetic fallacy to convey the speaker’s feelings about the object of their affections. By comparing this person to the titular ‘storm’, Owen simultaneously expresses his own feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. For example, the very beginning speaks of beauty that is ‘as a cloud with glimmering lightning’; it is beauty that is as fascinating as it is dangerous, and immediately brings to mind the horror of being struck. In the speaker’s case, to be attracted to someone who could also be a source of harm is disconcerting, and sets up the inner struggle that is preserved throughout the following stanzas. Again, the personification extends to the lover’s cloudlike ‘shadowing’ of the speaker, almost as if stalking him, and their reaction is evident: ‘I shook, and was uneasy as a tree’. The discomfort caused is so great that the persona is trembling, but whether this unease is as a result of awe, fear, or anxiety is unclear – this ambiguity further supports the speaker’s confused mentality. Yet, regardless, the persona is ‘bowed’ to the sheer force of this storm: though they grapple with their internalised turmoil, they know there is an inescapable power the subject has over them, a ‘brilliant danger’ that they are madly drawn to.
It is this same sentiment that continues into the second stanza: the persona’s hesitant acceptance of their infatuation. It is his duty to ‘tempt that face to loose its lightning’ – this metaphor exists as an end-stop sentence, a fully-formed sentence that sits as a very stark confession to the reader. Despite the likelihood of unknown, negative consequences, there is a willingness to at least try. However, the characteristic sense of disturbance and unrest is still perpetuated. The lover is not only so unforgettable and dangerous that these qualities are immortalised in this metaphorical tempest, he is ‘lovelier than love’, too good to be true. As such, Owen’s desire for somebody so unattainable throws his heart into a desperate yearning, only further complicating the chaotic nature of the poem. In this simile here we learn that, not only are they in love with somebody beautiful to a fatal fault, but the implication is that this love may be unreciprocated. Owen’s penchant for classic allusions is employed to develop on this point, by referring to the Greek gods who ‘will laugh above’. Knowing they are infatuated with somebody who might not even know they exist is such a humiliating experience for the persona that they can see a higher power tormenting them for it – but it is clear to the reader that this is created in the speaker’s own mind. This turmoil is imposed on the speaker by themselves, a feeling of internalised shame and foolishness that the lover’s silence and difference has inflicted.
For Owen’s persona, the anguish of love is threefold: the previous quatrains dealt with the danger of this human storm and the pain of unrequited love, but the final stanza sheds the light on the most painful component. While there has been an implicit undercurrent of disturbance and unease in the preceding verses, it is now that Owen directly acknowledges these concerns when he defiantly questions the men who will ‘cry aloud and start’, and the women who ‘hide bleak faces’ at the sight of his maddening love. Yet again, there is a suggestion of mockery: the term ‘hilarious’ is chosen distinctly to describe the speaker’s downfall, bringing to mind an image of a relationship that is taunted and ostracised by the mainstream sections of society. To this persona, the most intimidating facet of this potential love is the disapproval it will face in the eyes of the public: it is against this condemnation that they will be ‘bright with their unearthly brightening’. This phrase is a specific example of various promises Owen makes to love against all odds, and the rhetorical question posed in the finale suggests that these odds are seemingly unsurmountable.
In the context of Owen’s own personal experiences, many schools of thought debate the possibility of this poem exploring repressed homosexuality. These ending lines compared with the use of male pronouns throughout provide strong evidence in favour of this argument. Presuming this poem could potentially serve as a confession of love to another man, Owen’s historical context is likewise important. Suppressed by an intensely homophobic community, this speaker’s turmoil could potentially also be a result of fear of the consequences of a same-sex relationship. Even in the structure of the poem, this is represented by the combination of Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnet styles in the changing rhyme schemes: the going against convention is a physical extension of the ostracism the speaker feels. This coherently supports the overarching feeling of turbulence and uncertainty that is present through this work.
However, where the two previous quatrains posed problems and queries, it is in this final sestet that Owen reaches a sense of calm and offers something of a resolution. The first two stanzas feature incredible varied lineation, creating an idea of wild, anguished movement, while the resolution is represented by a relatively normal structure. Here, even despite all the various and suffocating examples of pain and turmoil he has cited, the young lover persona is determined to ‘shine the opening of my heart’: they are ready for the light of their truth, and ready to experience this love.
Love is at times a state of war, and to love a person who is so destructively beautiful against all odds is nothing short of a bloodbath. Yet, in spite of these tangible fears of unrequited love and the societal pressure to quell the speaker’s passion, a quiet vow is made to love even if it their ‘sap consume’. No matter the self-sacrifice, Owen is resolute in this promise: but the courage it requires is incomparable, and the turmoil in the heart of a speaker who faces the world alone still lingers long after the reader finishes the last line.
“On My Songs”: Poetry as a Cure for Loneliness and Misery
In “On My Songs”, Wilfred Owen gives us an intellectual insight into the emotion of loneliness through the eyes of a young man, newly thrown into the world out of the arms of his loving mother. Owen also tells us of his idolisation of the Romantic poets, and the power that poetry holds in curing people of their misery. Owen presents these ideas in a manner of ways such as by exploring diction, using sound and language devices, by manipulating structure and by using symbolism.
In the first Shakespearian quatrain, Owen talks about how these great poets are able to cure his sadness “as if they knew my woe”. By capitalising “Poets” in line 1, he shows just how highly he thinks of these men, and by using the word “unseen” it reveals to the readers that even though these poets are not here, they are still able to “ease” Owen’s despair, as though they are almost spiritual. The word “fashioned” brings up images of the immense skill needed to create such poems, and it again shows just how much Owen idolised these poets – in particular the Romantic ones such as Keats. The repetition of the word “many” in “many and many a time” can be physically interpreted as the countless times that Owen has read through these poets’ work, so much that they are now like a perpetual loop in his mind, much like a bible verse to a vicar.
In the second quatrain, Owen starts using the first person tense as he tells of how sometimes even these great works of art are not enough to quell his sorrow. By contrasting his “dumb tears” with the “language sweet as sobs” he creates an ironic and oxymoronic image of how his inarticulate tears are usually cured by this beautiful language. “Sweet as sobs” is also oxymoronic as it contrasts something happy with something that is usually more sombre. When Owen talks about the “hoards of thought”, he is implying that these poems are items to be treasured and kept forever. The words “nothing for me” and the hollow, echoing sound they contain go on to show the profound feeling of loss he endures when these works of art don’t have an effect on him. The break between lines 6 and 7 further reiterates this idea of desertion and abandonment. By repeating the word “throb”, and by personifying the poems, Owen again demonstrates the pain that he feels when these verses, that are usually so entwined with his soul, are completely out of sync with the beating of his heart. The caesura and end-stopped line 8 further illustrate the feeling of detachment and dislocation that Owen can sometimes feel.
After line 8 there is a volta, and Owen begins to instead talk about his “own weird reveries”. He talks about the “low croonings of a motherless child, in gloom” – the “oo” sounds serving to create an eerie and dark atmosphere while the “motherless child” is perhaps a manifestation of his greatest fear. Owen was very close to his mother, and so the symbol of a “motherless child” implies that there would be no love or sympathy in this child’s life, and indeed this child would have to “sing his frightened self to sleep”. This child serves as an object that Owen is able to project his feelings onto as he lies, stuck in the “Sick Room” that is the Dunsden Vicarage. In line 13, by “Dreading the Dark”, Owen is personifying the dark into a symbol of undefined fear – as everyone experiences different “Dark”. The following, “thou darest not illume” shows Owen using archaic language which further promotes the childish fears that are held when one is alone.
After the volta the poem also changes its structure to assist in emphasising the change in direction and topic. The poem goes from a standard Shakespearian sonnet to a more irregular Petrarchan sonnet with a rhyme scheme of EFEFFE. In the final 6 lines Owen is essentially trying to convince the reader that he too is proficient at writing poetry that can lighten people’s souls, and by playing with the structure and genre of the poem, he is trying to demonstrate that he is capable of doing just that. By using the word “thou” in line 12, he changes the person and begins to address the reader, in an attempt to sound more poetic. By using other archaic words such as “shouldst” and “darest” Owen again tries to compare himself to the great poets of old. In the final line, Owen hopes that his “voice may haply lend thee ease”. This line clearly shows Owen’s longing to be like the great Romantic poets. This line is also ironic – as Owen does finally become a great poet, however his “voice” becomes the voice of the Great War, and he ultimately loses his life before he is able to enjoy his fame.
“On My Songs” is a poem based around loneliness and misery, and the pathway to happiness that is poetry. By using diction, sounds, structure, repetition and personification amongst other techniques, Owen unifies his key ideas into a powerful, personal poem about how he felt when he was at Dunsden Vicarage, and how one day he hopes that his poetry will cure people of their “woes”, just as other poetry had done for him.
Youth and War in Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem For Doomed Youth
Wilfred Owen incorporates many techniques in his poems to present his didactic views to the reader. In this case Owen attempts to teach the reader about the struggles of the youth affected by World War One allowing his concern for the youth to be developed in conjunction. By the manipulation of language techniques in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ Owen allows his concern for the youth to be developed.
In ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ Owen shows the social impact of the World War on the young men. Owen establishes this idea by describing the ‘innocent tongues’ of the war. By introducing this idea an atmosphere of global inclusion is established. This is achieved by the use of the plural noun ‘tongues’ which as a pun establishes the language variety in the war and by this referring to how the war is of global impact, affecting many nations. This is key as it represents the position of the youth. Also, the youth is established as the ‘innocent’ creating an idea of purity, relating to the idea that these young men have never experienced war and its consequences. Using this language describing the inclusion and innocence of the men Owen’s concern for all youths serving in World War One can be established.
Furthermore, in ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ Owen mentions the form of social expectations and the effects of propaganda on the society of his time. Owen does this by incorporating the idea that the youth are born to die. This idea of being born to die is supported by the statement that the ‘men die as cattle’. By the use adverb ‘as’ in the simile the young men are modified as being given the status of animals, illustrating a sense of youth’s submission as a result of social pressures and expectations. This is even further supported by the symbolic use of the noun ‘cattle,’ which with extra-poetic knowledge is known to have connotations of death as cattle are slaughtered for their meat. Using both the ideas of social pressures and being born to die an atmosphere of manipulation is created. This atmosphere of manipulation is key as it subtly represents propaganda which is a form of media which Owen works consistently through his poems to condemn. Developing the idea of social expectation and its impacts Owen again emphasizes his concern for the ‘doomed youth.’
Owen also demonstrates his concern for the youth as he speaks of their naive nature in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. Owen makes this opinion clear by stating that the boys are ‘ardent for desperate glory’. By the use of ‘ardent’ as a modifier a sense of great eagerness of the youth to enter the conflict is developed. This extract is an auxiliary to Owen’s concern as it discretely foreshadows the pain of which the boys will endure. This foreshadowing of pain, which most probably refers to the burning of the gas attacks used as a weapon, is achieved by the word ‘ardent’ deriving from the Latin word ‘ardere’ which means ‘to burn’. This idea of burning is affective in that it contrasts with the character of the youth which are modified as being ‘desperate’. By this modifier ‘desperate’ it can be found that the youth have been misinformed of their future in aiding in the war efforts. By this idea of information Owen presents to the reader his justification for his concern for the youth is further enhanced.
In addition, Owen presents his concern for the youth by illustrating the absence of great concern for the youths’ wellbeing by their families created by the expectations of patriotism. This is achieved as Owen asks the reader in ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ a vocative manner about ‘what candles may be held to speed them all?’ This is important as the direct tone and inquiring language aids in inducing and emotive response of the reader to the importance of the situation of the youth. Owen also supports his idea of division of family by using symbolic language to show this. Owen achieves this by describing the act of the families as ‘drawing-down of blinds.’ This extract is key as it directly relates to the family members of the young men, developing the idea of ignorance suffering of the boys in World War One. By this idea of division the concern of the youth of war is further detailed. By this development of the idea of ignorance of pain there is a sense of blind patriotism inflicted on the youth, which Owen is critically illustrating to describe the reasoning of his concern for the youth.
Owen’s view of the act of warfare is of heavy criticism in his poetic works and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ is no different. Using the four areas of: forced inclusion, social expectations, naive behaviour and division his condemnation of war is evident. Using his constant condemnation of war and these areas of description of the youth through both poems Owen allows the reader to know how important his concern for the youth is. As he states in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’: ‘The old lie: Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori (‘It is sweet and noble to die for your country.’)’.
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.
Nature as an enemy
Owen’s perception of blame is set on morality and the value of life rather than historical facts and occurrences. Nature is Owen’s enemy as it hinders the soldiers as well as makes them suffer more, thus being a factor that could lead to their demise. This uncontrollable force is shown clearly in his poetry as the soldiers suffer from its extremities or indulge in its warm and beauty. This contrast gives the reader a conflict in thought as to its actual importance in the war as its indirect effect could lead to either happiness or regret. Yet, through his poetry, Owen focused more on its hindrance at war and its effects on the soldiers themselves, who had to suffer from the ‘iced east winds’ and thus making war more strenuous than ever before.
In ‘Exposure’, the soldiers are being beaten up by the weather, an enemy more real than the Germans. This crushing weather has left them unable to fight and be free from persecution, leaving them in a state of ‘poignant misery’ with no way out of death and despair. Their wait for death tortures their soul as ‘nothing happens’ in the physical state, yet the mind is on a downhill slope to insanity where ‘all their eyes are ice’. Their sacrifice of greater love for the people around them achieves nothing except death and horror which cannot be forgotten by these ill-fated soldiers. Nature continues to increase the soldiers’ sacrifice as they suffer from the ‘merciless iced east winds that knive us’. This personification establishes nature as the foe, without compassion who inflicts pain upon the soldiers. The cold is compared with a stabbing from the enemy that could severely wound or even kill its victim. The ‘mad gusts’ show a personification where the wind is angry with the war that is going on and so imitates the ‘agonies of men’ who suffer on the barbed wire, a deadly line of defense. Yet for Owen, nature is deadlier than the ‘successive flights of bullets’, thus juxtapositioning these images of freezing weather that kills slowly and the sudden death brought about by a bullet hitting its target. The weather does not care in the face of mass suffering and it brings rain and storms and cold winds that are cruelly nonchalant. The snow and the freezing temperatures, ‘with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces’. This brings out the image of the soldiers suffocating under the enemy’s hands. The guilt of killing the soldier should haunt nature that has now also turned against them. Back at home, they were ‘sun-dozed’, but at war, this is just a dream as they freeze, ‘snow-dazed’ whilst cringing in holes like petrified animals. This pathetic fallacy shows that the war has brought about the harsh weather that the soldiers are experiencing. Thus, the future is bleak as their Christ-like sacrifice will lead to an inevitable death, ‘but nothing happens.’
The beauty of nature is contrasted with the ugliness of man-made weapons in ‘Spring Offensive’. In this poem, nature’s grace seems to flow into the soldiers like an ‘injected drug for their bones’ pains’. It lowers their guard and the men are lulled into calmness in this heavenly scene of beautiful nature, letting them rest with the help of nature’s healing power. However, it seems that nature is at one with the enemy as the drug now brought its repercussions. The waiting is over as the ‘May breeze’ becomes a ‘cold gust’, the last warning that will come from nature before it turns against them. In war, the relationship between man and nature is flawed and they no longer ‘breath like trees unstirred’. The soldiers have spurned God’s bounty by throwing away their life and so the sun becomes ‘like a friend with whom their love is done’. Thus, nature turns on the offensive, attacking the soldiers who had once trusted it. Nature ‘exposed’ them to their enemy bringing them into danger. Shells were aided by the sky which ‘burned with fury against them’. The once natural and eternally loving fields now ‘chasmed and steepened’ hastening the soldiers’ death and their blood was welcomed by the ‘soft sudden cups’ who took their life in revenge for the damage they had caused to the natural world. Desperation is felt clearly in this poem as Owen separated humanity from nature, thus breaking a bond that had now grown powerless. He reminisces for the beauty of nature that once surrounded him and made him feel at home. Now, it has become his foe, only to be regained in ‘cool peaceful air’ once enough men have died for the sake of nothing.
War was conditioned by nature yet its falseness can be seen as a great paradox where man-made weaponry has the power to destroy what was once alive. Nature made a mark on war through its ability to become a threat to the soldiers at the time when they needed its help. In ‘The Sentry’, Owen shows nature as the enemy that penetrated the trenches doing the real enemy’s work for them. Thus, rain had managed to enter where the bombs could not, leaving the soldiers struggling for their life. The ‘waterfalls of slime’ gives an image to a harrowing experience where a waterfall, which is pure and clean is soiled ‘[Chocking] up the steps too thick to climb’. These nightmarish conditions show the grave situations that the soldiers had to go through to survive. Such situations can also be seen in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ where the soldiers had to march out of the battlefield. However, there is no feeling of glory as they ‘cursed through sludge’. This shows that nature is punishing them for their wrongdoings, for killing other innocent men and for losing their youth, potency, and masculinity. Nature does not stop further harm from coming their way and so mustard gas burns their skin and leaves one to die. Thus, nature is potent in its revenge against the unnatural, making the soldiers unjustly suffer and presenting itself as the enemy.
During the First World War, the soldiers unjustly suffered a hecatomb arranged by those who Owen blames in his poetry. Nature is his enemy, yet he also believed that blame was to be put on the authorities who were too proud to stop such a murderous war. The enemy is not the Hun, but rather the Church whose ‘saints lie serried’ and the relatives of the soldiers who are at home in Britain, who do not care about what is happening at the front line as ‘They were not ours’. All these different blames put Owen’s poetry in a context of despair and misery where massacres are an everyday occurrence. Now, faith and hope have been lost to damnation and hell.
Subversion of pro-war sentiment in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’
In Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen uses a variety of literary devices to highlight the monstrous disjuncture between the gruesome reality of the battlefield and the romanticised image of war that circulated through poetry, newspapers, and magazines at the start of the World War I. Owen’s manipulation of traditional rhyming forms and metre, combined with his use of irony, figurative language and vivid sensory description help to establish the piece as a powerful anti-recruitment poem. The poem is also representative of a collective shift in values, as a generation shocked by the horrors of the First World War became disenchanted with pro-war romanticism.
Owen creates a strong sense of dissonance by contrasting the form of the poem with its content. Though he makes subtle alterations to the poetic trend, Owen makes use of traditional rhyming patterns and conforms to a loose iambic pentameter, echoing the form of a French Ballade. As the imagery becomes increasingly grotesque the stanzas deviate from these conventions, highlighting the gruesome reality of war. For example, to describe the ‘guttering, choking, drowning’ soldier plunging towards him, Owen isolates the event from the preceding verse, creating a new stanza that consists of only two lines. The shift in focus and tense (from the past to the present) suggests that this horrific image is of particular significance to Owen and is permanently stamped onto his consciousness. This technique also suggests that only by altering the form is Owen able to adequately communicate the scene before him; recognizable poetic forms, like the French Ballade, are no longer an appropriate way to convey the horror of a reality that is no longer recognizable to Owen and his fellow soldiers- any attempts to do so are now jarring and parodic. Like the title of the piece, the conventional poetic form has becomes a source of ironic tension. By subverting the conventions used by pro-war poets like Rupert Brooke and Jessie Pope (to whom the poem is addressed to in an earlier draft), Owen condemns the rhetoric of pro-war romanticists and their promulgation of self-sacrifice as the ultimate heroic act.
Owen’s feeling of disenchantment towards pro-recruitment propaganda is a pervading theme throughout the poem, and is particularly evident in the first stanza. Using onomatopoeia and alliteration, he creates a blunt, lumbering rhythm that mirrors the actions of the tired soldiers ‘trudging through sludge.’ The repetition of the hard t sound in the line ‘Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs’ gives the action a mechanical quality, and emphasises the monotony and purposeless of their endeavour. The result is almost soporific- they are at an ominous lull- and makes the break in the iambic rhythm in the next stanza more arresting. The line opens with ‘GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!–”, violently disrupting the metre with the use of exclamation marks and dashes. This gives the piece a surge of energy that parallels the adrenaline-fuelled panic of the soldiers ‘fumbling’ for their ‘clumsy helmets just in time’- an image of war diametrically opposed to the one in Pope’s poetry, whose enthusiastic verse paints conflict as a form of pseudo-recreation.
To fully convey this discrepancy between pro-war sentiment and the hellish reality of war- a war that, for many, shattered an entire world-view- Owen skilfully uses figurative language and vivid sensory description. The attribution of disappointment to a missile- a paragon of destructionis especially compelling, and can be interpreted in two ways: the bombs are disappointed because they have failed to fulfil their purpose (to kill), or because the apparent futility of the conflict renders their purpose meaningless. The latter interpretation creates a strong sense of pathos, as it is a psychological projection of the soldier’s mental states onto the conflict itself. The use of simile in the poem is another effective technique, particularly the comparison of the face of a soldier in agony to ‘a devil’s sick of sin.’ Owen highlights the absurdity of war by suggesting that even the devil is weary of the constant onslaught of human suffering. Like the ‘disappointed bomb’, the devil’s impulsion to destroy is the reason for it’s existence, and the nonsensical idea that war has disillusioned evil itself demonstrates the unreality of the the world Owen and his fellow soldiers find themselves in. The archetypes are subverted to further the pervading theme that war is an an unnatural transgression- one that violates even the devils standards of morality.
Owen further contributes to the relentless stream of horrific imagery in the third stanza by likening the prolonged death of the soldier to the obscenity of cancer. Dying ‘for one’s country’ is not portrayed as honourable- instead, like cancer, it is senseless and an affront to human dignity. The visceral immediacy of the word ‘cancer’ is especially effective, evoking the idea of something that kills indiscriminately, is malignant and universally despised. In addition, Owen’s corruption of the word ecstasy to mean a state of panic rather than intense joy is paradoxical, yet effectively conveys the psychological impact of a gas attack. The idea of ecstasy existing in a battlefield where joy can not be conceptualised means the word is reduced to it’s worst elements, and can only be experienced by the soldiers as a state of diminished awareness. Owen discards the concept of aestheticism and chooses to portray war in an entirely negative light. This divorce between popular notions of pro-war romanticism (the ‘Old Lie’, that Owen presumably once believed) and the gruesome reality of the battlefield is indicative of the shift in world-view that he, and many others, experienced during four years of war between 1914- 1918. In fact, in a recent article Nicole Smith (2011) interprets the poem as the work of a man not only completely disillusioned with pro-recruitment propaganda and literature, but by the entirety of Western culture: -2- ‘[ Dulce Decorum Est is] the grotesque and twisted words of a war-ravaged poet who finally understands that all of the literature, art, and knowledge in the course of Western history was a sham —that it was an elaborate farce and that by no means should young men be instructed in the idea that it is truly “decorous” to die for one’s country.’
Dulce et Decorum est vehemently rejects the jingoistic, pro-recruitment rhetoric that was popular in magazines and newspapers at the start of the First World 1, and the glorification of ‘selfsacrifice’ that preceded it. Wilfred Owen’s graphic depiction of the horrors of warfare is not only a incendiary response against this sentiment, but a representation of the shift in societal values and conventions from the romanticism of war to anti-war protest.
Smith, C. c2011. Poetry Analysis of “Dolce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen [Online]. [no pagination]. [Accessed 10 February 2015]. Available from: http://www.articlemyriad.com/analysis-dolce-decorum/
The use of language techniques in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’
Anthem for Doomed Youth is a poem written by Wilfred Owen. Anthem is written as a piece of mourning about the soldiers lost in WWI, this being especially ironic as Wilfred Owen himself died in World War I, two weeks before the Armistice. Anthem was written in 1917, when Owen was healing in a Scottish hospital after sustaining an injury during battle. Owen was interested in exploring the idea of why the war was occurring in the first place.
Similar to the style of Dulce et Decorum Est, Anthem for Doomed Youth explores the darker side of war, and it represents the massacre of thousands of young men. The very title of the poem describes what the poem is about, a song for young men destined to die in the war. Owen used his personal memories and experiences to illustrate the slaughter of the men, saying that “these who die as cattle,” this comparison directly compares men to cattle which are often reared to slaughter, the same as these men. Owen also talks of the rifles pattering “out their hasty orisons,” which illustrates that the prayers for the deaths are not recited, except for with the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.” This links in to the glowing contrast that repeats in the poem, as the words switch from describing the horrors of war to normal funereal processes that occurred at the time.
Owen then goes on to state that there are “no prayers nor bells” for the dead, prayers and bells are examples of common funereal practices at that time, further linking to my earlier observation, also the fact that earlier Owen said the guns pattered out the “orisons” here he further establishes that there were no technical prayers, but rather the rifles’ rapid rattle. Like the “rifles’ rapid rattle.” Owen later mentions the “shrill demented choirs of wailing shells” and that they are the only “voice of mourning.” This further agrees with the observation as choirs are used in churches, where most funerals involve, and that on the battlefield there are too many dead thus meaning that no one is mourning but for the “wailing shells.” This is also ominous as shells means artillery shells, which terrified every soldier as they came from nowhere and made a lot of noise while raining down death.
The last line of the stanza describes the “bugles calling them for them from sad shires,” this being especially powerful, as bugles have two main uses. The musical instrument is used in war band to assist troops with marching and as a call to arms when launching attacks but there is another use for the instrument, it is used to play The Last Post at military funerals. This contrast between the battlefield buglers and the lone bugler at the funerals suggests that as the men die, the bugle calls are what they will hear, whereas the family missing them “from sad shires,” will also hear bugles, but at funerals they hold at home for their dead family members.
The second stanza also begins with the relation between the massacre of young men, called “boys” in the poem to further illustrate the youth of soldiers in the war, and regular funerals back home. Candles are symbols of hope, light and holiness in life, Owen suggests that these candles will not be help by innocent boys, but reflected in their eyes, the “doomed youth.” The next line describes the “pallor of girls” brows shall be their pall” to illustrate that the paleness of girls mourning them back at home shall be their funeral shroud. Owen also opines that the flowers that are normally placed at the graveside will instead be the agony of their families back at home. The final line in the play is especially powerful as a family mourning a loss would traditionally include drawing your blinds as a respect to the dead, but as these soldiers lay dead on the slaughter fields, only the natural fading of the light will be present.
Anthem for Doomed Youth uses a peculiar form, as the poem is written in sonnet form. Sonnets are usually used to symbolize romance and love, whereas this poem describes the horrors of war, and war’s effect on the families of soldiers and their funeral procedures. The first lines of each stanza are like each other, they both begin with “What” and end with a question, then the question is answered in the next line. The same can be said of the final line of each stanza, as they too are like each other. The first stanza ends with alliteration and an example of an event that happens back at home with the families, in the first stanza this is the bugles performing the Last Post, and it also contains alliteration of “sad shires.” The use of repetition symbolizes the repetitive nature of war and World War I in particular, sending waves of young men to their death. The final line of the second stanza contains the process of drawing down of blinds symbolizing the tradition of darkness and solitude as a mourning gesture.
Anthem for Doomed Youth contains many literary terms and evidence of complex language. In the first line, Owen compares men to cattle in the simile “who die as cattle.” In context, Owen saw the death of soldiers, similar to the slaughtering of cattle, in person. In the second line, Owen uses personification to personify the “monstrous anger of the guns,” this is also a metaphor which illustrates the ruthlessness of the guns that the soldiers had to face. These tools are useful to aid the imagery of the reader and to animate inanimate objects.
In the third line Owen mentions the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” which, as he uses alliteration, onomatopoeia and personification clearly conveys the sounds that the soldiers heard as they were dying and gives the reader a chilled effect as it is powerful imagery. Owen later uses onomatopoeia again in the “wailing shells” and sibilance in “sad shires.” In the second stanza, Owen uses alliteration to describe the “the holy glimmer of goodbyes,” this further conveys the fact that the soldiers are dying by the masses. As mentioned before, Owen uses alliteration with the “dusk a drawing-down” to finish the piece, which was especially memorable as the light was fading from the lives of the soldiers, as was the poem.
In the third line Owen mentions the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” which, as he uses alliteration, onomatopoeia and personification clearly conveys the sounds that the soldiers heard as they were dying and gives the reader a chilled effect as it is powerful imagery. Owen later uses onomatopoeia again in the “wailing shells” and sibilance in “sad shires.” In the second stanza, Owen uses alliteration to describe the “the holy glimmer of goodbyes,” this further conveys the fact that the soldiers are dying by the masses. As mentioned before, Owen uses alliteration with the “dusk a drawing-down” to finish the piece, which was especially memorable as the light was fading from the lives of the soldiers, as was the poem.
Who Should Feel Guilty?
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.