Nature as an enemy

May 31, 2019 by Essay Writer

Owen’s perception of blame is set on morality and the value of life rather than historical facts and occurrences. Nature is Owen’s enemy as it hinders the soldiers as well as makes them suffer more, thus being a factor that could lead to their demise. This uncontrollable force is shown clearly in his poetry as the soldiers suffer from its extremities or indulge in its warm and beauty. This contrast gives the reader a conflict in thought as to its actual importance in the war as its indirect effect could lead to either happiness or regret. Yet, through his poetry, Owen focused more on its hindrance at war and its effects on the soldiers themselves, who had to suffer from the ‘iced east winds’ and thus making war more strenuous than ever before.

In ‘Exposure’, the soldiers are being beaten up by the weather, an enemy more real than the Germans. This crushing weather has left them unable to fight and be free from persecution, leaving them in a state of ‘poignant misery’ with no way out of death and despair. Their wait for death tortures their soul as ‘nothing happens’ in the physical state, yet the mind is on a downhill slope to insanity where ‘all their eyes are ice’. Their sacrifice of greater love for the people around them achieves nothing except death and horror which cannot be forgotten by these ill-fated soldiers. Nature continues to increase the soldiers’ sacrifice as they suffer from the ‘merciless iced east winds that knive us’. This personification establishes nature as the foe, without compassion who inflicts pain upon the soldiers. The cold is compared with a stabbing from the enemy that could severely wound or even kill its victim. The ‘mad gusts’ show a personification where the wind is angry with the war that is going on and so imitates the ‘agonies of men’ who suffer on the barbed wire, a deadly line of defense. Yet for Owen, nature is deadlier than the ‘successive flights of bullets’, thus juxtapositioning these images of freezing weather that kills slowly and the sudden death brought about by a bullet hitting its target. The weather does not care in the face of mass suffering and it brings rain and storms and cold winds that are cruelly nonchalant. The snow and the freezing temperatures, ‘with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces’. This brings out the image of the soldiers suffocating under the enemy’s hands. The guilt of killing the soldier should haunt nature that has now also turned against them. Back at home, they were ‘sun-dozed’, but at war, this is just a dream as they freeze, ‘snow-dazed’ whilst cringing in holes like petrified animals. This pathetic fallacy shows that the war has brought about the harsh weather that the soldiers are experiencing. Thus, the future is bleak as their Christ-like sacrifice will lead to an inevitable death, ‘but nothing happens.’

The beauty of nature is contrasted with the ugliness of man-made weapons in ‘Spring Offensive’. In this poem, nature’s grace seems to flow into the soldiers like an ‘injected drug for their bones’ pains’. It lowers their guard and the men are lulled into calmness in this heavenly scene of beautiful nature, letting them rest with the help of nature’s healing power. However, it seems that nature is at one with the enemy as the drug now brought its repercussions. The waiting is over as the ‘May breeze’ becomes a ‘cold gust’, the last warning that will come from nature before it turns against them. In war, the relationship between man and nature is flawed and they no longer ‘breath like trees unstirred’. The soldiers have spurned God’s bounty by throwing away their life and so the sun becomes ‘like a friend with whom their love is done’. Thus, nature turns on the offensive, attacking the soldiers who had once trusted it. Nature ‘exposed’ them to their enemy bringing them into danger. Shells were aided by the sky which ‘burned with fury against them’. The once natural and eternally loving fields now ‘chasmed and steepened’ hastening the soldiers’ death and their blood was welcomed by the ‘soft sudden cups’ who took their life in revenge for the damage they had caused to the natural world. Desperation is felt clearly in this poem as Owen separated humanity from nature, thus breaking a bond that had now grown powerless. He reminisces for the beauty of nature that once surrounded him and made him feel at home. Now, it has become his foe, only to be regained in ‘cool peaceful air’ once enough men have died for the sake of nothing.

War was conditioned by nature yet its falseness can be seen as a great paradox where man-made weaponry has the power to destroy what was once alive. Nature made a mark on war through its ability to become a threat to the soldiers at the time when they needed its help. In ‘The Sentry’, Owen shows nature as the enemy that penetrated the trenches doing the real enemy’s work for them. Thus, rain had managed to enter where the bombs could not, leaving the soldiers struggling for their life. The ‘waterfalls of slime’ gives an image to a harrowing experience where a waterfall, which is pure and clean is soiled ‘[Chocking] up the steps too thick to climb’. These nightmarish conditions show the grave situations that the soldiers had to go through to survive. Such situations can also be seen in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ where the soldiers had to march out of the battlefield. However, there is no feeling of glory as they ‘cursed through sludge’. This shows that nature is punishing them for their wrongdoings, for killing other innocent men and for losing their youth, potency, and masculinity. Nature does not stop further harm from coming their way and so mustard gas burns their skin and leaves one to die. Thus, nature is potent in its revenge against the unnatural, making the soldiers unjustly suffer and presenting itself as the enemy.

During the First World War, the soldiers unjustly suffered a hecatomb arranged by those who Owen blames in his poetry. Nature is his enemy, yet he also believed that blame was to be put on the authorities who were too proud to stop such a murderous war. The enemy is not the Hun, but rather the Church whose ‘saints lie serried’ and the relatives of the soldiers who are at home in Britain, who do not care about what is happening at the front line as ‘They were not ours’. All these different blames put Owen’s poetry in a context of despair and misery where massacres are an everyday occurrence. Now, faith and hope have been lost to damnation and hell.

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