Wilfred Owen Poems
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.
The Development of Ideas in Wild with All Regrets, a Poem by Wilfred Owen
A commentary on the development of ideas in Wild With All Regrets
Owen effectively conveys the emotions of a hopeless soldier, through the development and progression of thought in ‘Wild With All Regrets’. He uses various parallel trains of thought simultaneously, such as the past, present and future, magnifying people and then inanimate things, wandering into what could’ve been and having to return to what actually is, and the gradual distancing of himself from himself. The form, structure and language of the entire poem and individual stanzas contribute to the development of ideas and understanding the turns taken by the persona’s mind.
In the first stanza, Owen takes the persona’s memories to the past. Here, the reader finds the language pleasant. Words like “spring”, “lilac shoots” and “boyhood” create this atmosphere. Moreover he also uses mild, gentler words for negative thoughts as well, including “awful” and the expression “my buck!” As thought moves to the present, in the second stanza, the words get harsher, “lugged” and “coffin”, “blood” and “dirt” until finally in the third stanza the words are torturous, an inevitable “chill”, “sobs” and unpleasant emotions that “climb” through the persona. This difference in language between stanzas reflects the slow deterioration of the person, gradual loss of hope and the feeling of a harsh reality htting. Over time, the persona ceases to find comfort in the hypothetical.
Similarly, the length of the stanzas also reflects the loss of hope over time. The past had potential but was wasted and the persona cannot “renew” it. The second stanza, being present, offers little hope but the persona still holds on to it, he “thought” he could be a sweeper or orderly and in the third stanza the reader finds no reference to the hypothetical, but instead a definite will. Also to be noted in the last stanza is the lack of reference to God or an afterlife which suggests the persona has dismissed any hope of peace or rest for the future. This is seen in it having the fewest number of lines.
The poem starts off with the fading of the persona’s spirit, moving from “mutinied” to “fidget” to “stiff” and in the first stanza he looks back on all his life could’ve been, but was stopped by reality. The development of ideas is brought about by repetition. The word “old” is used in context of the persona fearing growing old and then, later wishing for it. Similarly, hitting, shooting and hunting are referred to as sport of youth and spirit, until later they have become horrors of war.
Yet another path of a developing idea is presented, and this one to emphasize desperation. Owen brings up “the arts of hurting” when looking into the past, but appeals to God for “spring” later. This shows the persona’s regret but also his willingness to give up what society considers fashionable, for life. He would envelop himself in beauty, not killing, should he have a chance at boyhood again.
However, in the second stanza, he dwells less on himself, instead magnifying things around him, both human and inanimate, making them more significant and personal. This is first seen in reference to the “orderly” some nameless man without connection to the persona, yet the persona in his pain, wishes to be him. Owen goes through the details of being the orderly, “sweep” “bustle” and “dirt”. He them zooms into the hands of the orderly, then further to the dust on his hands. This shows the persona escaping his own body and making large the things he craves.
Furthermore, depicting his desperation, are his exponential claims. First the persona would “like to kneel” play a humble submissive role, which he then claims he would do “for ever”. His sacrificial offers only build up as the stanza progresses. He offers to take “no nights off” and then, even when the “bustle” was over, not rest after the hardest hour. This development of offers carries off from his plea to God in the first stanza- he is wishing to exchange his situation for anything. Finally to top off his series of sacrifices, Owen says the persona would “enjoy the dirt”, for it would be better than where he is.
It is also interesting to note that Owen explores the situation the persona is facing as humbling, or as a punishment for his boyhood of killing. In this light the persona is asking for forgiveness and offering to condone for his sins in any way but this. However, Owen again suggests a loss of hope, and God, because the God that the persona is appealing to, does not heed the persona and by the end of the poem, becomes invisible even to the persona himself.
All through the first two stanzas, the persona is distanced from himself gradually, the poem starting with “my” the first person and moving to “we” and ”your”. In the second stanza, the persona is utinto the mind of the orderly, focused on the hand and then the dust. This progression comes to a peak, when Owen puts the persona in relation to the flea. The phrase “if one chap wasn’t bloody” shows the most distance as is does insensitivity. The persona has gone from being the bloody chap, to the flea that infests him. This contributes to portraying the regret and hopelessness on the persona’s part and also extreme desperation.
Also, a trend in the first two stanzas are the rhetorical questions. This emphasizes that whatever thoughts explored or situations experienced, the doubt and question carries on. Consequently, the lack of question in the final lines suggests that all doubt has been extinguished, and the persona has come to accept the harsh reality.
Similarly, the pararhyme that is sustained throughout the poem reflects the constant undercurrent uneasiness and feeling of being stuck. Subtly, Owen revels, through the sustenance of pararhyme through the end of the poem that the resolve and expelling of doubt has come to a very unfortunate and disturbing conclusion.
Owen uses a reflective style of writing, with long pondering sentences, and structure to show the development of though accurately. He takes the reader on a credible trip through the mind of a disturbed regretful man, by eloquently reflecting train of thought on paper. The specific language and connection between words, their connotation and implications help mark the paths taken by the persona’s mind and aid the reader’s understanding of it.
The Dehumanization in the Poems “Anthem for Doomed Youth”,”dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen, “Attack” by Siegfried Sassoon & “Reservist” by Boey Kim Cheng
My report explores the horrors of war across a range of war poems by examining the dehumanisation of the young soldiers in World War I and how war affects their families and society. The poems I chose to use were Anthem for Doomed Youth, by Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est, also by Wilfred Owen, Attack, written Siegfried Sassoon, and Reservist, written by Boey Kim Cheng. I felt that all four of the chosen poems had enough evidence for me to discuss the dehumanisation of the soldiers who fought in WWI and how war affects their families and society.
Dehumanisation of soldiers
Wilfred Owen presents the dehumanisation of the young soldiers in the meat grinder of the Western Front by sharing his experiences of war, to challenge society’s patriotic mindset. After analysing the poem, I found that Owen uses a range of language features to depict the dehumanisation of war. Owen begins the poem with a rhetorical question: “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?”. What Owen is alluding to here, is the fact the parish church bells which were used to lament the dead are starkly absent on the battlefield and that instead of the bells, the only sound giving the soldiers a send-off is the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle”. The simile also compares the death of the soldiers to the death of cattle as it shows that the soldiers are trapped at the mercy of others – similar to a slaughterhouse – indicating that there isn’t much hope in escaping death. Owen then asks the reader: “What candles may be held to speed them all? / Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes/ Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes”. This is ironic as we know that there will not be a formal funeral for the soldiers and that there won’t be any candles, just the sky garishly lit up with explosives.
Typically, people that die outside of the war get a proper send-off with a formal funeral service, which many would expect to be a basic human right. However, in the meat grinder of the Western Front, it is the complete opposite. Owen uses the contrast between the glorious expectations from the soldiers versus the reality, allows the reader to ask themselves: Why are we sending young men to the battlefield when they still have too much to live for? What Owen wants us to understand here is that they were ordinary young men who had more to live for than to die in the battlefield where they would be forgotten, and that war is not like how Jessie Pope (one of the main poets who glorified war) portrayed it – glorious and heroic. It is still quite common to see the dehumanisation of the soldiers today, in countries such as North Korea where their soldiers are deprived of basic human rights such as the right to have enough food and the right to be free.
The poem, Attack, written by Siegfried Sassoon differs slightly as he does not use irony to display the dehumanisation of the soldiers. Sassoon instead opts to display the message as clearly as possible in order to maximise the effect it has on the reader. Both Owen and Sassoon however, challenge the common gung-ho perspective on war, to expose the horrors of war. Sassoon starts by setting the scene with the “wild purple of the glow’ring sun” using a calm tone, however, in the next line the tone changes as he begins to describe the battlefield over the mountain. Near the end, he begins to describe the emotions of his fellow soldiers: “grey, muttering faces, masked with fear”. What Sassoon is eluding to here is the fact that these young soldiers have finally realised the horrors of war behind the facade created by Pope and Horace. Sassoon ends the poem with the striking metaphor: “Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop”. Sassoon wants us to understand that sending young men to war is essentially like committing suicide as the once gung-ho soldiers have no resorted to crying and begging for the torture to stop. Sassoon’s Attack emphasises the fact that these young men are going to war and risking their lives, but their country is unwilling to return the favour by giving them the right to die in dignity.
Owen’s most famous poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, is similar to Anthem for Doomed Youth in the sense that he shares his experiences of war, to challenge the fact that war is glorious and heroic. It is also similar to Anthem for Doomed Youth as it also has an ironic tone throughout the poem. The poem’s title which is Latin for “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country”, is ironic as it is the complete opposite of what the poem is actually about, thus maximising the effect it has on the reader.
Owen explains how the soldiers “limped on, blood-shod … drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots / Of gas-shells dropping softly behind”. The use of the words “drunk” and “deaf”, indicates that the soldiers were forbidden from sleeping and in some cases, even for a few days, in case the enemy attacked them. Owen could also be alluding to the fact that they were mentally fatigued as many of the soldiers sat silently for hours, waiting for the enemy to strike. The use of the word “blood-shod” also helps the further reinforce the zombie-like nature of the soldiers, as it shows that the soldiers were wearing blood-soaked shoes but still continued to endure the pain, in order ‘protect’ the country. However, what the soldiers don’t realise is that the country is not willing to do the same for them, by giving them a dignified funeral if the die, as they were promised by the propaganda Horace and Pope spread to lure young adults to join the Army. The juxtaposition Owen creates between the glorified title and the conditions of the exhausted soldiers, helps to expose the false image of war being dignified and glorious.
Like Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and Sassoon’s “Attack”, Owen’s most famous poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est” also has the same dehumanising message throughout the poem – the soldiers are denied the right to die in dignity by their country.
War affects the soldiers families and society
The poem, Reservist, by Boey Kim Cheng mocks the practice of military training that all men undergo in Singapore for a total of two years, until they are forty years old, to prepare for a metaphorical war. Cheng compares the training to medieval warfare through the use of medieval diction such as “joust”, “fanfare”, and “clarion”. Through the use of these words and the opening line: “Time again for the annual joust, the regular warfare”, we find that Cheng finds the practice of compulsory training pointless – like Don Quixote swinging his sword at the windmills, thinking it was some enemy.
Through the use of the negatively loaded tone in the quote, Cheng speaks on behalf of many Singaporeans to tell us that the yearly training is not worth it, as they “charge up the same hills [and] plod through the same old forest”, indicating that it is boring as they do they same course every year and also pointless as they do not do anything new. After reading the poem, Cheng makes us ask ourselves: Why are they forcing people to train for a metaphorical when they already have 75,000 troops? Even today, many young men in Singapore find the practice of military training to be purposeless as they “march up the same paths till they break”. After further researching how the reservist system works, I also found that the training was quite pointless.
The fact most young men are forced into the training right after school finishes makes no sense as once they spend two years in the army, they’ve most likely forgotten most of the stuff they do at school. The training also hurts low-income families the most, as many find that running a household with the small allowance they get is not enough. Many people also find themselves without a job as their workplace has replaced them because they have been gone for so long. Cheng like many Singaporeans, who have got past the propaganda, want to remove the compulsory training service as they want to live their lives without training for a metaphorical war.
Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth also looks at how war affects the soldiers’ families, but in a different time period. Once again, Owen uses a range of language features such as symbols and irony, to show us how war affects the soldiers’ families and the effect war has on the greater society. The line, “The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall”, is also a key metaphor which Owen uses the create contrast between the glorious depiction of war and the horrors of war. The fact this all of these rituals are absent on the meat grinder of the Western Front helps the reader to understand that the suffering caused by death, not only affects the soldiers themselves but also the greater society economically, but also emotionally as many will lose their best friends and neighbours.
Owen then goes on to show us how the civilians “each slow dusk draw-down [the] blinds”. This is a striking metaphorical symbol for civilians back on ‘civvy’ street, draw down their blinds, to keep the horrors of war out. What Owen really wants us to understand here is the fact that these people will continue glorify war in the day, but at night, close their blinds to hide from the darkness – the reality of war. Today’s society, however, has changed in the sense that we now know the horrors of war and how it can cause physical damage as well as emotional damage to those in the war but also those back at home.
In conclusion, I found that both of Owen’s poems, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “Dulce et Decorum Est” and Sassoon’s “Attack” helped to debunk the false portrayal of war: glorious and honourable, which was spread by Jessie Pope and many other poets who romanticised the ‘meat grinder’ of the Western Front. From this I was able to come to conclusion that both Owen and Sassoon wanted to expose the propaganda which was spread by Jessie Pope and many other poets who romanticised the ‘meat grinder’ of the Western Front, to create a change in society that would change life in the future by giving people the right to live in a place without war. Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and Cheng’s “Reservist” also help us to show how the preparation of war affects society and disrupts life. Today, society has changed for the better after realising that war is not as glorious as it seems, through the first-hand experiences of war seen on the news and that the only thing war causes are the death of innocent people.
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Storm’ and the Symbolism of Turmoil
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.
Curing Loneliness and Misery with the Power of Poetry
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.
The Poems Disabled by Wilfred Owen
The poems Disabled by Wilfred Owen and ‘Out, out by Robert Frost were written 1917 and 1916. the poems were both written with the theme of loss and adolescent mistakes prominently featured throughout this piece of poetry.
Wilfred Owen was an English poet, well known for writing poetry to recover, and soldier during the First World War, he wrote a tremendous amount of poetry which portrayed War and none the less his shocking, realistic war poetry which created a genuine contrast to the readers perception of war and his use of comparisons and harsh imagery keeps his readers entertained throughout the whole poem.
Robert Frost was an American poet who was highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life in the US. He uses literary terms, to anticipate the theme of loss in ‘Out, out’ using imagery and personification. Both poems acquire the theme of loss quite efficiently and adolescent mistakes to describe to the modern reader the detrimental effects of war.
The theme of loss and adolescent mistakes in Wilfred Owen’s poem is created from his surroundings when he wrote it; His poem was written mainly throughout his recovery period in which he had accommodated when he was in the trench or at war. Wilfred Owen’s view on the war was quite poor at this point as he had seen many horrors while fighting in the trenches and because of his exposure to victims of Shell Shock otherwise known as PTSD. The poem ‘Disabled’ talks of the tormented recollections and thoughts of a soldier in World War I who has lost his limbs in battle and is now confined to a wheelchair and is utterly helpless. The poem contrasts the living death he is now facing with the pleasures he once enjoyed “before he threw away his knees”. The main character then recalls the captivating crowds which had cheered as he joined up to fight in the war (this was the biggest mistake he made in his life). Wilfred then tells the reader, as he came back from war, the difference in which the public showed to him. No loyalty, no respect and most importantly no love. Is this moral but at. Wilfred Owen uses the poem title itself: ‘Disabled’ to exhibit the theme of neglection and loss, the title is quite important as it is what grabs the reader’s attention and gives a brief description of the poem furthermore the title is straightforward to acknowledge as this gives the reader a picture of sadness and loss due to the resourceful language features based throughout the poem.
The poem ‘Out, out’ can be used to demonstrate how grim the circumstances such as war can change a person’s appearance towards life and encourage innocent young boys and men to leave their precious childhood behind them, finally in which comes to a conclusion that circumstances created by the ‘responsible’ adult, as well as the idea that even if somebody dies life will go on as if nothing happened, are only portrayed if experienced by man.
Disabled is an imposingly and strong poem which illustrates the theme of loss and adolescent mistakes because the style, language feature and structure on what Owen operates upon. Harsh words are used to emphasize the theme of loss inside the poem through imagery; this is shown when the man is wearing a “ghastly suit of grey’ which shows the man’s morbid and depressed state of mind. The girls all touch him like a “queer’ disease” while he used to dance with them freely in his youth; this shows how he has paid for his egotism with the loss of his legs. The of adolescence mistakes is also further noticed as Owen creates a tragic atmosphere amongst himself as Owen come back from war. He regrets the loss of ‘throwing’ away his knees which suggests that the ideas and inspirations behind joining the war were not as patriotic or loyal as they should have been and his immaturity only has now left him a cripple, however from a broader perspective Owen didn’t grasp much information about the world and only made it upon the sources surrounding him. Propaganda was the main key factor.
Wilfred Owen also uses contrasting images to cultivate loss and adolescent mistakes throughout “out out”, the quotations “Town used to swing so gay” uses past tense to help compare the community in which he lived in and what were the before and after effects of war that impacted on him and his society, this helps to show how he is regretting the losses since he joined the army.
The quotation “Now he is old; and a leap of purple spurted from his thigh and his back will never brace” shows Wilfred’s loss through his active state and can be contrasted to the other quote: “for it was younger than his youth, last year.” The use of contrasting imagery is used when the narrator talks about the man’s life bleeding out of him through a wound on his thigh, and the use of the word ‘purple’ which is usually a colour denoting life and moral actions, shows what the scenic effect of what had on the soldier had gone through when he had been injured, In conclusion to this had a deep impact on him, as he no longer feels like he had a reason to live or be happy while compared to when he was younger when he was full of joy and was living life to the fullest.
The theme adolescent mistakes is anticipated in ‘Out, out’ with the repetitive and imaginative use of personification, an example of this would be the personification of the Buzz Saw which constantly buzzes and snarls while jumping out of the boy’s hand in ‘excitement’. The line: “leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap” as well as the word ‘excitement’ to describe the saw helps to create an image in the readers mind through personification that the saw is acting however it likes.
Robert Frost at first starts poem with mentioning the tragic event to come when he states that he wished that the workers would have “called it a day” and “given” the boy “the half hour that counts so much when saved from work”, this leads the reader to wonder what will happen as there is foreshadowing for an unknown event. This eventually leads to the sense of loss when the boy nearly unintentionally amputates his hand. After the boy’s hand is nearly in half, he is still mature and old enough to realize that he has lost too much blood to survive.
Robert Frost also shows the theme of loss when he writes: “the watcher at his pulse took fright….” this use of imagery shows that maybe an acquaintance and not a family member who is with the boy when he dies. This scene is a cold image and shows a lack of humanity to help demonstrate the theme of loss as the boy is shown to be without much family when he dies. The particular had truly touched me as it shows a lack of humanity
The boy is shown to desperately attempt to “keep the life from spilling” from his hand, but even that is only an attempt since nothing can be done and everybody including the boy knows he will die soon. Above all, the boy hopes to maintain his physical dignity in his death and would rather die with a hand than die with a missing hand, this helps to shows the theme of loss when the boy dies.
As we come close to the end of the poem the narrator says ‘Little—less—nothing’, this is an example of diminishing words used to create a pause hence putting some emphasis on what has just been said. The theme of loss is communicated here because it articulates a sense in which the boy has lost all hope/child hood life as a consequence of his mistake by going to war.
To communicate the theme of loss at the end of the poem Robert Frost writes that the workers: ‘And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs’, this shows that the family did not feel much emotion when the boy died and instead just carried on with their work without the boy. Another key language feature, Onomatopoeia is significantly implemented within the poem to help aid the personification throughout, an example of this would be: ‘And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled’, this helps build up tension for when the boy loses his hand to help further communicate the theme of loss and adolescent mistakes.
In conclusion both poems have created a vivid image for the reader to interpretate plus show as the 2 themes of loss and adolescent mistakes
The Concept of Death and its Significance in Modern Literature
Death has been a prominent theme across literature, with its countless interpretations showcasing the diverse ways it has influenced different authors. Thomas Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge is described by Hardy as “The life and death of a man of character”, and commences as events begin to lead Henchard to his death. Dylan Thomas, however, was able to base his depiction of death on how it was affecting his own life at the time of his writing. He wrote his poetry across a large expanse of time, from a young man unaffected by personal death, to an adult who had lost his father and experienced war. Wilfred Owen on the other hand was surrounded by loss as he wrote his poetry, in which he recounted the horrors of death that he and his comrades experienced. He is revered as one of the highest acclaimed poets of the Great War, the same war that took his life.
Thomas began to write when he was a teenager and his poems were quickly inspired by death, most notable within “And death shall have no dominion”, his first published poem. Thomas used the theme of death to inspire the conception that no matter what kind of life you lead, death would never truly have control of you. This is demonstrated within the line “when their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone” followed by “they shall have stars at elbows and foot”; as it implies that although death has claimed your earthly body, part of you will always remain. This spectral afterlife bares closer resemblance to scientific theory, rather than the Christian beliefs that were a majority in Thomas’ time. The image of becoming stars mirrors the scientific theory that all matter, including the matter of our own bodies, was produced in stars. This could be interpreted as Thomas writing about an afterlife in which we return to the stars once again to continue the cycle.
Death appears many times within Hardy’s novel, most pointedly at the demises of Susan, Lucetta, and Henchard. Through Susan’s death, Hardy explores the idea that the dead have no dignity. Mother Cuxsom, while talking about Susan’s last wishes said, “and things a’ didn’t wish seen, anybody will see”, meaning that all the secrets Susan had tried to keep would be revealed and any dignity she had would be shattered. This is effective in changing the atmosphere in the novel, giving it an air of anticipation regarding the contents of a letter that Susan had written in her last day of life, with the instructions “not to be opened until Elizabeth Jane’s wedding”. This begins the build-up of Henchard’s slow fall from power, as not only has he lost Susan but, as the letter would reveal, his own daughter had died years ago and he was not Elizabeth-Jane’s father.
The idea that all of Susan’s secrets would be revealed illuminates a new meaning in Thomas’ line, “when their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone”, as picking someone clean is another way of saying ‘taking everything they have’. Once she was dead, all Susan had left were her secrets, yet the reader knew that they would inevitably be taken from her as well.
Not all of Thomas’ poetry shares the optimistic view demonstrated in his earlier work. His later famous portrayal of death, “Do not go gently into that good night”, takes on a more pessimistic and violent approach, as it was written for his father who was approaching blindness and death. The poet implores his father to “rage” and not accept his fate without a fight. Thomas writes “curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray”, as his father had been of a strong independent mind, yet had been weakened and tamed by his illness. The afterlife promised within this poem is simpler than the one previously portrayed, described only as “that good night”. Yet within that one line, the poet pours forth his fear of death as an unknown force that is attempting to take his father away from him. By comparing death to the night, Thomas creates many images, one being a description of the helplessness he feels, as night is an inevitable part of the day, just as death is an inevitable part of life. Another interpretation is that Thomas is embracing a childlike fear, as the fear of night and darkness is a phobia shared by children across the world. Both interpretations create an atmosphere of foreboding about the poem as, unlike ‘And death shall have no dominion’, the reader is offered no silver lining to death.
Sleep is a common comparison used to refer to death in poetry, yet within Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Asleep’, the poet implies that death is easier than life. The line, “He sleeps less tremulous, less cold, Than we who wake, and waking say Alas!” refers to the act of dying as less painful than the grief of those who were left behind. Unlike Thomas, who focuses on death as a concept, and Hardy, who accuses the living for many of his written demises, Owen uses his poem to blame death itself. Both the lines “Sleep took him by the brow” and “Death took him by the heart” use death and sleep as names rather than states of being, personifying them as the causes of his poems suffering. Another interpretation of these lines can be found by looking at them through the lens of war. While Owen was writing, everyone was looking for a scape goat on which to blame the damage caused by the war and, due to the magnitude of events that started WW1, everyone was able to blame different people. Owen, instead of looking to a leader or a country to blame, offers the reader the choice of blaming death itself.
The illnesses suffered by his family members significantly altered how Dylan Thomas viewed death. His first poem had been calm and controlled in its choice of wording. For example, lines like “Shall be one”,” “Windings of the sea” and “Where blew a flower”, use soft and tranquil language, attempting to create a placid view of death within his reader. However, in his later poem, Thomas writes with more ferocity, producing lines like “forked no lightning” and “who sees with blinding sight”. Although both poems use natural imagery, the latter creates a far more forceful effect, which could show how Thomas wanted to inspire his father into fighting death and is an example of how, like Owen, Thomas describes the painful effect death has on those who are left behind.
Susan’s death also allows Hardy to explore the way death affects the living, through the effect she had on the townsfolk. It was once traditional to place coins on the eyes of the recently departed in order for them to pay the ferryman who took them into the afterlife. Susan asked for her coins to be buried after their use and for them to be left alone, “don’t ye go spending ’em, for I shouldn’t like it”, however despite her request it is revealed that “Christopher Coney, went and dug em’ up, and spent ’em”, with the excuse that, “why should death deprive life of fourpence?”. This question acts to undermine death’s effect on life, as once Susan was gone there was nothing she could do to affect their decisions and the living characters, though some thought it wrong, “’twas a cannibal deed”, agreed that there was no way it could affect her now, “she’s helpless to hinder that or anything now”. Hardy’s portrayal of life verses death views death and the afterlife as less significant than life and the living. He focus’ almost solely on the townsfolk and their views directly after her passing as, where Susan’s close family would be mourning more deeply, these characters focused on how they had been personally involved her last moments.
Lucetta’s death was drastically different to Susan’s just as Thomas later poem was different to his first. Where Susan died calmly, “After this her mother was silent, and dozed”, Lucetta’s illness is described as, “being in great mental agony”. Hardy seems to use their deaths to reflect how the women lived; Susan is often described as, “simple” and, “meek”, by Henchard and as “not what they’d call screwed or sharp”, by Newson. These mannerisms were reflected in her death, as very little is explained about her illness. The reader is only told that she became weaker and weaker until she quietly passed.
Lucetta, on the other hand, was killed almost directly by her past. For Hardy’s contemporary reader, sex out of wedlock was considered deeply shameful and, although the extent of their relationship is not made clear by Hardy, it is implied that Lucetta and Henchard have had a sexual relationship in the past. When reading the love letters written by Lucetta the townsfolk’s reactions are not of anger or disgust, but of pride. They suggest a skimmity-ride, creating effigies of the involved parties and parading them around town on a donkey, as if it were a form of social justice. This suggests Hardy is linking their reactions to the social structure of the time. Many of the townsfolk do not like Lucetta as she puts on airs and acts above them, “she’s never been one to thank me”, giving their actions an air of petty spitefulness, which adds to the tragedy felt when Lucetta both miscarries and dies from their resentment.
Hardy used death to illuminate the slow downfall of Henchard, as his world appears to be crumbling around him. Hardy’s own description of the novel is ‘The Life and Death of a Man of Character’, setting the events of the plot out to be a slow build up to an inevitable death. The loss of Susan leads to Henchard, by way of her letter, discovering that Elizabeth Jane was not his daughter. The passing of Lucetta acted to fortify his depression. While contemplating his losses, Hardy writes “Susan, Farfrae, Lucetta, Elizabeth – all had gone from him”, which acts as a reminder that these figures had almost entirely made up his life in the eyes of the reader, as the years without them were skipped by Hardy. This writing technique illuminates the loss of self that Henchard is going through and creates a vivid sense of dread for the reader as it foreshadows his upcoming death. Another interpretation of this time skip is that it was used to humanize Henchard. Before this point he comes across as detached, a man able to sell his wife and child to a stranger and risk Lucetta’s reputation by abandoning her as well, yet his dependence on those he loved begins to deteriorate his unlikable characteristics, leaving only pity from the reader, as he has nothing left.
The Mayor of Casterbridge was said to be about “a man of character” and, throughout the chapter of Henchard’s life that Hardy writes about, we see Henchard take on many different characteristics that can be illuminated in comparison to the deaths of the various men in ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. Dylan Thomas’s poem focuses on “wise”, “good”, “wild”, and “grave” men, as well as finally on Thomas’s own father. Henchard is wise and good mostly in his years during the novels time lapse. He was able to raise himself up from the shame of selling his wife and having almost nothing in life, to a respected mayor. When he sees Susan again he tells her “I don’t drink now – I haven’t since that night” as if desperately trying to prove that he has become a better man. The wise men of Thomas’ poem fear for their actions in life, as though they were wise, they, “forked no lightning”. Like Henchard, these men long for life so that they may prove their worth, a contrast that creates a vivid sense of fear, as although the wise men knew their time was coming, Henchard is yet unware of his impending death.
However, as the book progresses and problems occur he becomes increasingly wild. His argument and fight with Farfrae reveals an almost bloodthirsty side to his character, with the line “this is the end of what you began this morning. Your life is in my hands”. Within the poem, Thomas writes that wild men “learn, too late, that they grieved it on its way”, this could be interpreted as the men learning, too close to death, of their many mistakes and the consequences of them. Henchard, after the fight, “became possessed by an overpowering wish to see Farfrae again”, to gain pardon for his madness, however, as events continue he is unable to restore his former friendship or write any of his wrongs. The critic Laurence Mazzeno wrote that, “his failure to understand and his lack of moderation in his desires incite him to brutal aggression followed by pain and regret”; this sheds new light on the wild men who “caught and sung the sun in flight”, as the power and majesty the sun represents shows the lack of moderation in the lives of the men.
Nearing his death, Henchard mostly suits the description of the grave men, as he begins to think desperately of all he could have done, however his death itself it is most closely related to Thomas’s description of his father. Thomas begs his father to “curse, bless, me now”, as he fears he will go gently into death. When told of Henchard’s final moment, it is revealed that he was quiet and, after wondering for hours in misery, he “got weaker; and today he died”. This calm, almost pathetic, death comes as a shock for the reader after the vibrancy of his life. Just as Dylan Thomas could not believe it of his father, both the reader, and his fellow characters, find it hard to believe that Henchard would “go gentle into that good night” and succumb to his death without a fight.
After the tragedy of World War II, including the events of the Holocaust and the use of the H-bomb, Dylan Thomas feared both war and for the future of mankind. Within the war itself he was classified as a grade III, meaning he would be among the last to be conscripted, due to his lungs and history of illness. Thomas drank excessively during war time, as his friends all left to fight and he was struggling to support his family. The poem that best illuminates Thomas’ views on war is ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by fire, of a Child in London’, written in 1945 during WWII. Thomas uses a rhythmical writing techniques, filling his poem with alliteration such as, “mankind making”, “last light,” and “sow my salt seed,” as well as rhyming every third line. This rhythm allows readers to immerse themselves within the imagery of the poem despite its violent nature. The line, “the dark veins of her mother” holds many connotations, for example, her mother could be taken to mean her birth mother, who has lost her daughter to war. This would make sense with Thomas’ fear of what would become of mankind and his refusal to mourn her would refer more to a refusal to disgrace her death with further war propaganda, implied by the line, “nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath with any further elegy of innocence”. It could also refer to the line “London’s daughter”, where her mother is the city itself. Here her vines are either the rivers that run through the city, or the fire that ran through the streets after the bombing.
Many theorists have argued over whether Thomas’ poetry was religious; W. S. Merwin said that he found Thomas to be a religious writer because “that which he celebrates is creation, and more particularly the human condition”, yet Thomas portrayal of death and afterlife does not appear to fit into any conventional religion. R. B. Kershner wrote that “his God has been identified with Nature, Sex, Love, Process, the Life Force, and with Thomas himself”. This comes into effect in ‘A Refusal to Mourn’ as Thomas juxtaposes natural imagery with religious symbolism within the poem, for example, “the synagogue of the ear of corn”, and “the last valley of sackcloth to mourn”.
The poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’, by Wilfred Owen, also refuses to indulge in the patriotic view of war spread about by propaganda. Owen details the gruesome death of a soldier, using language such as, “he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”, as well as descriptions of his surroundings, “cursed through sludge” and, “under a green sea”, to immerse the reader in the reality of war. During WWI, when this poem was published, it would have held immense power, as the majority of men had gone off to fight, making this their reality. Owen condemns this cruelty, comparing the innocence of the boys who wanted to join to nativity, with the line, “to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie; Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori”, which translates to, “it is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country”, an idea spread around by propaganda to convince young men to sign up.
Throughout their works, all three authors refer to death not only as natural, but as one of the most powerful forms of nature. Thomas focuses his work on how each of us becomes one with the world once we are dead; his writing often refers to his own fears and views on the afterlife. Hardy however, while writing prose as opposed to poetry, focuses on the personal nature of death. He includes the opinions of characters both close to the deceased, as well as characters who did not know them well, as this allows him to illuminate the consequences of life brought about by death. Owen on the other hand, as a war poet, writes mostly about the violence of war, using his own experience to create blunt contrast between life and death.
“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?”
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
Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
Knit in the welding of the rifle-throng”.
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.
Journey’s End And Wilfred Owen Poems
A key conflict that both Owen and Sherriff explore in their literature is that many soldiers may experience ambivalent feelings towards their duty to fight for their country and their instinct to escape danger. In ‘Journey’s End’, Sherriff portrays this through the character of Hibbert who “can’t stand” the trenches any longer and attempts to use his ‘neuralgia’ as an excuse to leave. The broken syntax of “ill go right along, now I think-“conveys his hesitant feelings towards wanting to escape to the safety of the hospital and remaining to fight with the rest of the men. Employing the adverb “slowly” to describe how Hibbert walks away from the dugout emphasizes his reluctance to desert. Sherriff himself suffered from neuralgia but from letters sent home he expressed his beliefthat he should continue to fight like the other soldiers, and Hibbert is arguably a less sympathetic character demonstrated by his whining, while Stanhope remains acquiescent despite the stresses of warfare, so perhaps Sherriff is using Stanhope and Hibbert’s opposing behaviors to criticize the doubts men have about their duty to fight, seeing it as dishonorable.
Owen explores this struggle in the first line of ‘Spring Offensive’ – “Halted against the shade of a last hill”; the verb “halted” arrests the reader’s attention and conveys the soldier’s tentativeness to proceed into battle. Furthermore, the infinitive ‘halt’ is a military command, this juxtaposition illustrates the warring feelings for soldiers to follow orders or to become deserters and lose their honor. The critic Adrian Ceaser argued in ‘Taking it like a man: Suffering, Sexuality and the war poets’ when discussing the poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ that ‘suffering authenticates the morality (of the poem),… Owen becomes the hero of his own poem, and suffering is glorified as the means to wisdom’.
I would dispute this critique as it is widely known that Owen was a pacifist, even writing to his mother ‘Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonor and disgrace; but never’ resort to arms’. He also wrote “The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum Est Pro patria mori”; condemning the futile suffering of the men for their country. His antagonism towards the death and suffering that soldiers face is clear from the sinister connotations invoked in the metaphors “Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud // Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues”. This exemplifies Owens contrasting views to Sherriff in that he unyieldingly believed it was wrong for soldiers to fight in war and that they had a duty to themselves to remain innocent, not their country. The conflicting emotions that survivor’s guilt brings is a concern that both Owen and Sherriff share. Owen ends ‘Spring Offensive’ with the line “Why speak they not of comrades that went under?”; ending the poem with such a poignant message suggests that he felt strongly about how surviving soldiers of war should feel about those that died, which could be interpreted as they cannot speak because they feel guilty for surviving. Although Owen has taken a more reflective view in ‘Spring offensive’, contrastingly in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ Owen has immersed himself in the poem. In this description of war neurosis, the dead soldier torments Owen in his dreams, punishing him for watching him die. Owen employs the first-person plural, explicitly including himself as well as a reader living in 1914 in his accusation. “He plunges at me, guttering choking, drowning. If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace behind the wagon that we flung him I”. Owen’s own survivors guilt manifests itself in these lines, having escaped sharing in the man’s fate, Owen could not avoid in his own mind, sharing the responsibility for his suffering. The ‘you’ he directs this rhetoric of anger at is ambiguous and could refer to the establishment who make the major decisions about war, General Kitchener the war minister in 1914 who was in charge of the recruitment campaign or even Jesse pope a woman Owen disliked intensely who wrote popular jingles for The Daily Mail that would evoke feelings of shame in men who did not conscript.
Arguably, Owen is referring to all these people, and believes them all culpable for the man’s agony, conceivably suggesting that soldiers should not shoulder the burden on their own but can pass blame to others. Sherriff characterizes survivors guilt through Raleigh’s reaction to the death of Osbourne. When Stanhope asks Raleigh if he is going to eat he replies exclaiming; “How can I sit down and eat that when-… – when Osborne’s – lying out there”. The italicized ‘can’ and the fragmented speech employed here, depict Raleigh’s struggle to understand why he did not die with Osborne and whether he is deserving of life, considering food is vital in sustaining life. Raleigh also states to Stanhope “You resent me being here”; he could be suggesting that Stanhope resents him for being ‘here’ in life instead of Osborne, reinforcing the notion that he feels guilty for surviving Osborne. Sherriff may have incorporated this as a reflection of his own sense of survivor’s guilt as; Captain Archibald Henry Douglass a man Sherriff fought with seems to be represented by a few of the characters. When Sherriff first met Douglass, he was drying a sock over a candle flame, a scene given to Captain Hardy in ‘Journey’s End’. Douglass was known to his comrades in the battalion as ‘Father’, similar to how the men in the play coined Osbourne as ‘Uncle’; as he was the son of a clergymen, a background given to Stanhope.
The conflict of faith is explored in both ‘Journeys End’ and Owens poetry but whereas Owen depicts the struggle of the men in their Christian faith; Sherriff portrays the soldiers conflicting feelings of faith in what they are fighting for. On the surface of Owen’s poetry, it is ostensible that the men have begun to lose faith in God as they are subjected to the brutality of war, while he does nothing. This is demonstrated in ‘Exposure’ in the line “For love of God seems dying”; the verb “dying” implying a spiritual death of the soldiers who no longer believe in the love and protection of God and in ‘Futility’ when the soldier questions whether God made men just so they could die in war ‘Was it for this the clay grew tall’. It could be argued that Owen is attempting to convey conflict between soldiers and the church institution, highlighting the hypocrisy of the creeds of the church which seem to be complicit in the brutality of war; the leader of the Anglican church even wrote a pastoral letter published in the Church Times on the 1st January 1915 stating “no household or home will be acting worthily if in timidity or self-love, it keeps back any of those who can loyally bear a man’s part in the great enterprise on the part of the land we love. ”. This is especially resonant in ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ as the violence of trench warfare is set against the passive atmosphere of the church. ‘The monstrous anger of the guns’ which ‘patter out their hasty orisons’ suggest that the anger of the men against the church for endorsing war but giving them no comfort for their sacrifice, is so powerful it smothers any faith they had. Owen’s strife to contest the rhetoric of his time that all men able should fight for their country, comes from his own rejection of religion, even writing to his mother in January 1913 “ I have murdered my false creed”. In ‘Journeys End’ Sherriff seems to critique the point of war and the institution that sanctions it by having his characters question their faith in the war they are fighting. While discussing the blowing up of trenches with Osbourne, Raleigh questions “it all seems rather – silly doesn’t it?”
The fact that Raleigh questions this suggests he is conflicted on his faith in the battle he is fighting. Putting the adjective ‘silly’ in italics emphasizes the impracticality of war. Trotter states matter of factly “it was murder” when talking about a fatal raid against the “Boche”; the employment of the loaded noun ‘murder’ implies the men have lost faith in what they believed was the righteousness of destroying their ‘enemy’. While the colonel continues to have blind faith in his superiors, even somewhat ignorantly suggesting to Osborne and Raleigh that “a great deal may depend on bringing in a German. It may mean the winning of the whole war. ”; Stanhope questions this by arguing against the brigadier’s decision “But surely he must realize-?”. This would resonate with a viewer in 1928 as many watching the play would have lost their loved ones to futile raids that did not aid in winning the war but lost valuable men. Owen and Sherriff explore the conflict between the men and nature as it can act as their enemy as well as guiding them through their struggle in and out of the battlefield.
Nature’s personified attack against the soldiers is especially prevalent in ‘Exposure’. Immediately the reader can see natures affect on the soldiers in the first line “Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us”; the sibilant ‘s’ combined with hard consonants ‘d’ and ‘t’ create a cutting edge to the wind that knife the men. One could interpret the attack of the wind as a signal for the attack of the human enemy to cause fear in the men as they are made ‘nervous’. Nature being used as a signal can also be seen in ‘Journey’s End’ as the “faint rosy glow of the dawn” deepens “to an angry red”, marking Raleigh’s rapid descent into death. In ‘Spring Offensive’ nature abets the death of the soldiers; the pathetic fallacy used in the line “And instantly the whole sky burned… With fury against them” urges a readerto understand the low odds soldiers faced when going to war, as even the ubiquitous sky seemed to be against them. This was because Owen may have believed that those left at home could not comprehend the suffering of the soldiers, so by evoking pity in them through his powerful language, they would be able to empathize with the soldier’s anguish.
This could also, perhaps be a warning to future generations that the natural world has no place for war. Throughout ‘Journeys End’ the sun symbolizes the running out of time for the men as they come closer to their impending death; the “pale shaft of sunlight” signals the early morning and “the sunlight has gone from… the floor, but still shines brightly” marks the afternoon. As the play draws to an end the sun ‘glows’ ‘red’ no longer shining brightly for the men; the ‘red’ hue of the sun which could be interpreted by a reader as representative of the blood shed as sacrifice by the men for the war. Contrastingly, Owen illustrates in ‘Spring Offensive’ how the sun can protect the men during battle. The rhyming couplet “summer oozed into their veins… Like the injected drug for their bones pains” shows how the sun can heal the men of their afflictions from fighting. In ‘Exposure’ the men drowse ‘sun-dozed’ as they remember the warmth and love they received at home, a welcome distraction from their ‘dying’. Similarly, Sherriff demonstrates how nature can distract the men from the reality of war. Osbourne and trotter discuss the beauty of nature to keep themselves distracted from thinking about “the big attack”; Trotter states “Ope we ‘ave an ‘ot summer’ which implies he has hope that he will survive to feel the warmth of the oncoming summer”. The natural idyllic images that would be imagined by the men from the line “geraniums, lobelia, and calceolaria – you know, red, white, and blue. ” would remind them of the comforts of home and give them motivation to continue their fight.
The line “the earth walls deaden the sounds of war” illustrates how nature can also shelters the men from the realities of war. This again demonstrates how nature guides the men through battle. Lastly, Sherriff explores the conflict between the ‘Comrades’ in the trenches, whereas Owen depicts the importance of ‘camaraderie’ for survival. A lot of conflict between the men in ‘Journeys End’ arises due to social divide in the army rankings. The characters presented in the play are mainly junior officers or subalternates, they are public school legacies and therefore bring a set of beliefs and values from the English middle class. These men formed the officer class and there is a clear distinction between them and the ‘men’. One of the most uncomfortable confrontations between Stanhope and Raleigh comes when Raleigh, dazed and bemused after his first taste of battle, admits to having been ‘feeding with the men’ rather than having dinner with his fellow officers. Whilst reprimanding Raleigh, Stanhope says ‘My officers work together. ’; the fact that ‘together’ has been written in italics reinforces the separation between the officers and the men; an audience in 2018 may not relate as much to this notion due to the breakdown of social classes compared to an audience in 1919 to whom which division of social classes was still an important societal concept. Sherriff may have highlighted this concern as he was rejected to join the war as an officer because he went to a grammar school, so perhaps he was critiquing the class-based hierarchal structure of the army.
Contrastingly, Owen demonstrates how the men work together through any conflict they face. In ‘Spring Offensive’ the men ‘raced together’ towards the battle and their impending deaths. They find “comfortable chests and knees” so they can sleep ‘carelessly’. The narrative viewpoint in ‘Exposure’ is first person plural which brings a sense of collective experience and comradeship between the speaker and other soldiers against the adversity they face from the ‘winds’ that knive them and the ‘bullets’ that “streak the silence”. Owen even wrote a letter to his mother stating ‘‘you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here” illustrating the love and appreciation he himself had for his comrades.