In your answer, explore the effects of language, imagery and verse form, and consider how this poem relates to other poems by Owen you have studied.
Owen is a rebellious poet he goes against blank verse by including a rhyming scheme within his work furthermore, his poetry is distinctive as it does not express beauty only if it is used ironically. Instead his poetry is about the pity of war in a preface for one of his poetry collections he had written ‘that the pity is war and the poetry is within the pity’. The response to Owens’s work was mostly negative by poets that tended to focus more on issues of beauty they did not understand why Owen would use pararyhmes when, it creates a distorted musical element. Owen also went against the romantics’ use of pathetic fallacy which describes there being a connection between nature and human emotions. He describes nature as being hostile and describes that war is unnatural in numerous of his poems such as: Exposure, The Sentry, The Show, Futility and Apologia Pro Poemate Meo.
Exposure originates from Owens’s letter he wrote home to his mother on the 4th February 1917. In this letter he described his manoeuvres in icy weather. The poem was originally named Nothing happens as described during the course of the poem the soldiers are described as waiting for death either, from a sudden attack from the Germans or from the hostility from the weather. The word Exposure could represent the soldiers being over exposed to elements of nature, death and the futility of war.
Exposure is structured into a romantic quatrain but, has been modified to create a repetitive cycle of nature which, gives an indication that while the soldiers are dying nature is continuing. The poem has form of a threnody(musical element) which is used to express sorrow however, nothing happens in this poem therefore this is a ballad about nothing. The other poems which have a musical element are: ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth , ‘Arms and the Boy’ and ‘Futility’.
Anthem For Doomed Youth is structured as petrachan sonnet which consists of 14 lines this restricted structure is used to compress ideas and creates tension. This poem can also be interpreted as a lyric by the word ‘Anthem’ we can mistaken this poem as song of praise when, in fact it is expresses death. Arms and the Boy is structured into three quatrains and takes the form of lyric. This poem is an anthem against propaganda explaining what will happen to the nature of the boys during the course of war. Futility has the length of a sonnet (14lines long) it is divided into seven line stanzas. It takes the form of a elegiac lyric which is also used to express sorrow in this case the futility of war, death and the creation of human life. Unlike the poems above it includes both full rhyme and pararyhmes this is used to ironically create harmony about a discomforting subject.(War.)
The first line of Exposure is a echo of Keats Ode to a Nightingale – ‘ our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us’. This line is also a metaphor which describes the east winds as being murderous as they are stabbing it’s victims. (The soldiers). In addition this presents the idea that there is no escape for these men as there is obviously more wind than there is men therefore, everyone will be receiving the same hostile treatment. Furthermore, wind has the ability to strike them all over there is no protection against the wind like there is equipment against the Germans. This gives an insight that overall nature is superior in the war as it occurs on a more gigantic scale. Owen has not used pathetic fallacy on the wind to show that it is sympathising with the soldiers instead it is causing their death.
In line 23-24 Owen has tried to use nature to freeze time to give a chance for soldiers to reminisce about their lives in a idealised countryside in England. ‘So we drowse, sun dozed, – Littered with blossoms trickling where the black bird fusses.’ The word ‘drowse’ could be another echo of Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and it also shows the effect that the harsh weather has taken it’s toll on the men causing them to fall into a dangerous state of hypothermia.
In addition in line 40 – ‘all our eyes are ice’ Owen has created effect that natural creator the sun which represents new life and hope is blocked from the soldiers. There are two interpretations of this quote in biblical terms light represents light and hope if their eyes are ice this indicates that they will forever be left in the dark and be hopeless. In the terms of nature the sun is a fundamental requirement for life and if their eyes are ice this suggests that the soldiers are already dead and can not be saved. To conclude it could be interpreted that Owen is simply suggesting that these men will never be able to recognise the truth of war and will forever be trapped in it’s lies.
‘The Sentry ‘ has a chronological account of an personal incident that occurred in a dug out where, one of Owens’s sentries was hit by a shell and left blinded. The environment within this dug-out is described as being equivalent to a swamp. In this poem Owen uses nature to create a contrast between beauty and death in the line ‘waterfall of slime.’ This oxymoron is used to describe that even the most beautiful serene outcomes of nature have become ugly and can cause death. The ‘waterfall of slime’ shows that Owen may have become disillusioned about beauty and nature. In addition if the soldiers are trapped in a waterfall of slime this could indicate slow death as this would give it the same qualities as quick sand. Owens’s quest for beauty seems like a failure as there is no beauty that can be found in war.
‘The Show’ has a dream like quality that shows that the narrator is distanced form his body. This poem is told through a first person narrative who has aerial view of the battlefield. The battlefield is described as being destroyed by war. Owen has used natural imagery of death and a metaphor to show the soldiers loss of youth and hope. ‘There moved thin caterpillars, slowly uncoiled.’ Caterpillars feed on rotting corpses this suggests that the soldiers have become predators of death. Also caterpillars have the chance to develop into butterflies which is their beautiful stage of life. However these soldiers will never have this chance as they dying prematurely and the war would not allow them. The soldiers are being described as caterpillars which are usually associated with green fields however, here they are coming up from the mud. The mud could be a representation of hell and the green fields might represent heaven. The fact of the matter is the soldiers are arriving to battlefield from hell. Their purity and innocence is gone and they have been reduced to a more sinister approach.
In the poems of ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ and ‘Futility’ Owen has used nature to create the soldier’s desperate attempts at finding God and their disillusionment of God. In Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ the soldiers are trying to find God in the mud. ‘ I too saw God through the Mud.’ This quotation represents that these soldiers are desperately in search of God but they can not see him through the mud. The word mud is associated as being dark and thick it could be suggesting that the loving God they are searching for is gone. Instead they are left with the medieval assumption of God who is punishing them for their involvement in war by not showing up in their time of need. The commas within this quotation is used to slow down the pace of the poem and to grab the readers attention that these men are venerable. Whereas in Futility Owen has used the sun has a framework to symbolise the creator of life (God). In the first line the soldiers are trying to resurrect a dead soldier by moving him into the sun. ‘Move him into the sun.’ This is an ironic use of pathetic fallacy that the soldiers would think the sun would be able to bring him back to life. However the sun fails to help him come back to alive this, also shows that these men are so desperate for God that they have even mistaken the sun for God. In addition Owen is portraying that God is distance from the war and may not be as all loving as people may believe or else God would have put a stop to the war and to the suffering of the soldiers.
In difference to all of the poems above in the poem ‘Arms and the boy’ Owen explores a different aspect of nature instead he focuses on human nature. In this poem Owen is describing the lost of innocence of the soldiers and the effects of violence and weaponry has had on them, ‘Madman’s flesh’ this quote suggests that these men are becoming psychotic this is contrasted with their calm youth. Another example of the soldier’s loss of innocence is ‘let the boy try along this bayonet blade’. The boy has become disillusioned about sexual desires as he is caressing the bayonet blade. This gives the sense that the boy and the bayonet blade have a sensual relationship and as a results of this the blade is turning him evil. This is proven by the repetition of plosive sounds of the letter b which are used to express violence. Owen is showing that the boys who have joined the army would lose all their human qualities that were given to them by their mothers and become possessed by weaponry.
To conclude Owen has used nature to effectively give an insight to the readers that war is unnatural and was not caused by nature but, by humans. As a result of their actions the humans will suffer at the mercy of nature who did not wish for war. Owen has created this in Exposure by the way the soldiers described as suffering mentally, physically and emotionally from their icy weather climate. The soldiers may be able to defeat the enemy but, they can not defeat nature as nature will always be superior. Furthermore Owen has also shown that during the war all the beauty of nature ends and everything becomes linked with death.