The Exploration of Turmoil in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Storm’
For the Ancient Greeks, the concept of love was divided into six different categories: in particular, eros represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. While current societies tend to glorify this variety of romantic love, Greek culture viewed eros as something potentially dangerous; such intense ardour becomes the downfall of man, his weakness and insanity. For the main persona in Owen’s “Storm,” it is this power of unrequited love that creates a sense of turmoil ubiquitous throughout the verse.
A primary aspect of this piece’s approach is its manipulation of pathetic fallacy to convey the speaker’s feelings about the object of their affections. By comparing this person to the titular ‘storm’, Owen simultaneously expresses his own feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. For example, the very beginning speaks of beauty that is ‘as a cloud with glimmering lightning’; it is beauty that is as fascinating as it is dangerous, and immediately brings to mind the horror of being struck. In the speaker’s case, to be attracted to someone who could also be a source of harm is disconcerting, and sets up the inner struggle that is preserved throughout the following stanzas. Again, the personification extends to the lover’s cloudlike ‘shadowing’ of the speaker, almost as if stalking him, and their reaction is evident: ‘I shook, and was uneasy as a tree’. The discomfort caused is so great that the persona is trembling, but whether this unease is as a result of awe, fear, or anxiety is unclear – this ambiguity further supports the speaker’s confused mentality. Yet, regardless, the persona is ‘bowed’ to the sheer force of this storm: though they grapple with their internalised turmoil, they know there is an inescapable power the subject has over them, a ‘brilliant danger’ that they are madly drawn to.
It is this same sentiment that continues into the second stanza: the persona’s hesitant acceptance of their infatuation. It is his duty to ‘tempt that face to loose its lightning’ – this metaphor exists as an end-stop sentence, a fully-formed sentence that sits as a very stark confession to the reader. Despite the likelihood of unknown, negative consequences, there is a willingness to at least try. However, the characteristic sense of disturbance and unrest is still perpetuated. The lover is not only so unforgettable and dangerous that these qualities are immortalised in this metaphorical tempest, he is ‘lovelier than love’, too good to be true. As such, Owen’s desire for somebody so unattainable throws his heart into a desperate yearning, only further complicating the chaotic nature of the poem. In this simile here we learn that, not only are they in love with somebody beautiful to a fatal fault, but the implication is that this love may be unreciprocated. Owen’s penchant for classic allusions is employed to develop on this point, by referring to the Greek gods who ‘will laugh above’. Knowing they are infatuated with somebody who might not even know they exist is such a humiliating experience for the persona that they can see a higher power tormenting them for it – but it is clear to the reader that this is created in the speaker’s own mind. This turmoil is imposed on the speaker by themselves, a feeling of internalised shame and foolishness that the lover’s silence and difference has inflicted.
For Owen’s persona, the anguish of love is threefold: the previous quatrains dealt with the danger of this human storm and the pain of unrequited love, but the final stanza sheds the light on the most painful component. While there has been an implicit undercurrent of disturbance and unease in the preceding verses, it is now that Owen directly acknowledges these concerns when he defiantly questions the men who will ‘cry aloud and start’, and the women who ‘hide bleak faces’ at the sight of his maddening love. Yet again, there is a suggestion of mockery: the term ‘hilarious’ is chosen distinctly to describe the speaker’s downfall, bringing to mind an image of a relationship that is taunted and ostracised by the mainstream sections of society. To this persona, the most intimidating facet of this potential love is the disapproval it will face in the eyes of the public: it is against this condemnation that they will be ‘bright with their unearthly brightening’. This phrase is a specific example of various promises Owen makes to love against all odds, and the rhetorical question posed in the finale suggests that these odds are seemingly unsurmountable.
In the context of Owen’s own personal experiences, many schools of thought debate the possibility of this poem exploring repressed homosexuality. These ending lines compared with the use of male pronouns throughout provide strong evidence in favour of this argument. Presuming this poem could potentially serve as a confession of love to another man, Owen’s historical context is likewise important. Suppressed by an intensely homophobic community, this speaker’s turmoil could potentially also be a result of fear of the consequences of a same-sex relationship. Even in the structure of the poem, this is represented by the combination of Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnet styles in the changing rhyme schemes: the going against convention is a physical extension of the ostracism the speaker feels. This coherently supports the overarching feeling of turbulence and uncertainty that is present through this work.
However, where the two previous quatrains posed problems and queries, it is in this final sestet that Owen reaches a sense of calm and offers something of a resolution. The first two stanzas feature incredible varied lineation, creating an idea of wild, anguished movement, while the resolution is represented by a relatively normal structure. Here, even despite all the various and suffocating examples of pain and turmoil he has cited, the young lover persona is determined to ‘shine the opening of my heart’: they are ready for the light of their truth, and ready to experience this love.
Love is at times a state of war, and to love a person who is so destructively beautiful against all odds is nothing short of a bloodbath. Yet, in spite of these tangible fears of unrequited love and the societal pressure to quell the speaker’s passion, a quiet vow is made to love even if it their ‘sap consume’. No matter the self-sacrifice, Owen is resolute in this promise: but the courage it requires is incomparable, and the turmoil in the heart of a speaker who faces the world alone still lingers long after the reader finishes the last line.
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