Wilfred Owen Poetry Essay Research Paper Owen

Wilfred Owen Poetry Essay, Research Paper Owen’s war poetry is a passionate expression of outrage at the horrors of war and of pity for the young soldiers sacrificed in it. It is dramatic

Wilfred Owen Poetry Essay, Research Paper

Owen’s war poetry is a passionate expression of outrage at the horrors of

war and of pity for the young soldiers sacrificed in it. It is dramatic

and memorable, whether describing physical horror, such as in‘

Dulce et Decorum Est’ or the unseen, mental torment such as

in‘ Disabled’. His diverse use of instantly understandable

imagery and technique is what makes him the most memorable of the war

poets. His poetry evokes more from us than simple disgust and sympathy;

issues previously unconsidered are brought to our attention.

One of Owen’s talents is to convey his complex messages very

proficiently. In‘ Dulce et Decorum Est’–‘ If in

some smothering dreams you too could pace / Behind the wagon that we

flung him in’ the horror of witnessing this event becomes eternal

through dreams. Though this boy died an innocent, war allowed no time to

give his death dignity, which makes the horror so more poignant and

haunting. This is touched on in‘ Mental Cases’–‘

Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter / Always they must see

these things and hear them’. Many of the sights which will haunt

the surviving soldiers are not what the officials have ordered them to

do, but what they have done to save their own lives. It is the tragedy of

war that you are not able to stop to help a dying man. They then, not

only physically scarred and mentally changed, carry remedyless guilt with

them. They have survived, at the expense of others–‘ Why

speak not they of comrades that went under?’ (‘Spring

Offensive’). Another dimension is that even the enemy soldiers are

just like them, it is the politicians and generals who have caused this

war, not these ordinary men. This is explored in‘ Strange

Meeting’ – the meeting of an enemy who is really a‘


Many of Owen’s poems share resentment towards the generals and

those at home who have encouraged war.‘ Disabled’ has a very

bitter tone–‘ Aye, that was it, to please the giddy

jilts’.‘ His Meg’ didn’t stay around after he

joined to‘ please’ her– presumably she is with a‘

strong man’ who is‘ whole’. In‘ The Send

Off’ and‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’ the prayers and

flowers for the soldiers are mocked– useless offerings to men who

are being sent as sacrifices. In‘ Apologia pro Poemate Meo’

Owen again adopts a harsh tone to those at home -‘ You shall not

come to think them well content/ By any jest of mine . . . They are worth

your tears / You are not worth their merriment’. Much anger is

directed towards those ignorant of the full implications of war, but,

perhaps ironically, his poetry would serve to make them aware. The

thought of killing, watching your comrades be killed and constantly

trying to survive sounds horrific enough, but the precise detail of the

emotions, thoughts and sights of the soldier, succeed to drive the full

horror home. This is where much of Owen’s originality lies, not

vague reporting, but deep cynicism and conveyance of the situations.

Owen sympathises profusely with the vain young men who have no idea of

the horrors of war, who are‘ seduced’ by others and the

recruiting posters. He bitterly rejects the patriotic reasoning for war

in‘ Dulce’. That they eagerly join up for vanities makes

their situation all the more tragic– he‘ threw away his

knees’.‘ Smiling they wrote his lie’ depicts officials

who not only accept this under age boy, but smile knowingly while they do

it. In‘ The Send Off’ a lack of support for these men is

suggested. The young men are to give up their lives as a sacrifice for

their country, but their leaving lacks passionate good byes as‘

they were not ours’. In‘ S.I.W’ the full impacts of

social pressure are highlighted. Though the man’s family clearly

love him, they would‘ sooner him dead than in disgrace’,

leaving him only suicide to escape. This notion of escaping into hell

from war is also in‘ Strange Meeting’.

A recurring theme in Owen’s poetry is the notion of unseen scars.

Though the soldier may return alive or uninjured, their lives will never

be the same. In‘ Disabled’ the pain of the man’s life

is not his injury, but how others react to him. He will never feel love

or live life to the full again. The moment when‘ the women’s

eyes / Passed from him to the strong men’ is wonderfully picked out

by Owen, the women’s embarrassment at staring, and the man’s

misery at no longer being seen as a valid person. Though sleep is relief

from his tortuous life in‘ Disabled’, sleep becomes a hell

for many of the poems. In‘ Dulce et Decorum

Est’–‘ In all my dreams . . . He plunges at me’

and in‘ The Sentry’ the persistent memories–‘ I

try not to remember these things now’.

The detail in Owen’s poetry puts forward his scenes horrifically

and memorably. His poems are suffused with the horror of battle, yet

finely structured and innovative.‘ His bleeding cough’–

a scene unimaginable by us, something only a true witness would see

and‘ puckering foreheads crisp’– more than frozen to

death, Owen acutely describes the impact on the skin and face. The scene

witnessed by Owen is so detailed we feel familiar to it ourselves. As

with the unseen scars, Owen delves beneath the surface of cover ups and

expectations. As in‘ Disabled’ and‘ S.I.W.’, the

full horror behind these unemotional terms is described.

The particular techniques adopted by Owen in his poetry underline his

messages. His use of speech and present tense give his poems urgency and

directness. All the senses are utilised by Owen, a constant input of

sound, smell, touch as well as sight increase the dimensions of his

images and overwhelm us as he must have been. Owen’s appliance of

half-rhyme gives his poetry a dissonant, disturbing quality that

amplifies his themes. His stanzas jar, as war does.

Owen is more famous for his angry and emotional poems such as Dulce,

though his quieter poems can pack just a strong a punch. Futility has a

barely controlled emotion to it, we are used to Owen questioning war and

people but here he questions life itself. His desperation and hollow lack

of hope, so resigned against life, is intensely emotional, beyond anger

and beyond help. His use of sounds and assonance give the poem a quiet

tone, almost as if the speaker is whispering. There is no appeal to God

or to anyone, he includes no physically horrific imagery, but mentally

tormenting ideas.

Religion is a recurring theme in Owen’s war poetry. The intensity

of war can either bring crisis of faith (Futility) or spiritual

revelation -‘ I too saw God through mud‘’ (Apolgia Pro

Poemate Meo). But most poems seem to question God–‘ For love

of God seems dying’ (Exposure). Then in‘ Futility’ the

Christian idea of God is ignored and a more pagan view of nature and life

is turned to. Futility ultimately questions life’s motives and

offers neither religious comfort nor reasoning for war. In‘ Spring

Offensive’ some of the imagery used echos passages of‘

Revelations’ in the bible–‘ And instantly the whole sky

burned/ With fury against them; earth set sudden cups / In thousands for

their blood’. In this same poem he adopts a sneering tone about

belief in God–‘ Some say God caught them even before they

fell’. But though the Christian church officials are criticised as

hypocrites, and the rituals of Christianity are rejected (Anthem for

Doomed Youth) many of the Christian values are supported. The church

officials are depicted as hiding behind the church, and encouraging the

soldiers to fight. The soldiers are the only true supporters of

Christianity – prepared to die, the ultimate sacrifice.

Understandability of his poems was Owen’s main objective– in

a letter to his mother in 1918 Owen states “I don’t want to write

anything to which a soldier would say‘ No Compris’.” This is

reflected in his very direct techniques. Instantly recognisable sounds

and words– such as onomatopoeia are used frequently. In‘ The

Sentry’–‘ And thud! Thump! Thud! Down the steep steps

came thumping . . . The Sentry’s body’. This has the effect

of appealing to more of our senses– we don’t just see the

body falling, we hear it too. Alliteration and repeated sounds adds to

the flow and images of the poem without compromising its

clarity–‘ Slush . . . choked the steps / too thick with clay

to climb’. We hear the clogging footsteps, see the mud and most of

all feel the effort to walk through the mud. Though all the poems are

understandable to most, Owen adds things, for example in‘

Inspection’, his use of the term‘ damn?d spot’ is a

reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. If this is not picked up by the

reader it doesn’t leave them at a loss, but if it is understood it

enriches the poem further– adding the image of the guilt and

frantic scrubbing at the blood. This creates layers in Owen’s

poems, creating appeal through many groups of people.

The use of concrete, everyday material for his images creates great power

in his poems. This application of common notions could account for the

dismissive attitudes of some towards him. Yeat’s verdict was‘

mud and sucked sugar stick’ and promptly refused Owen recognition

in his 1936 edition of the‘ Oxford book of Modern Verse’.

This is to miss the point and the power of his poetry. He makes the

situation real, dramatising the experiences, making us share his

suffering. However full recognition as a highly esteemed poet did come,

sadly after his death.

So many of Owen’s poems bring across poignant themes and images,

which stay in the mind long after having read them. Though he states his

primary aim is not poetry, but to describe the full horrors of war, he

tells his experiences and opinions with such clarity and beauty–

adding to the poignancy as war is so ugly and confused. I love to read

his poems over many times, because each time I notice some new cleverness

or point unseen before. His ability to pin point certain images and

moments makes the moments recognisable, even to those who have never

experienced war. He attempts to connect war with other aspects of human

suffering, making him much more than simply a war poet.


‘ The Collected Letters’ Edited by H. Owen and J. Bell 1967

‘ A War of Words’ English Review S. Badsey Feb 1999

‘ The Wilfred Owen Association’

http://www.wilfred.owen.association.mcmail.com/ 1999