Wilfred Owen used poetry to show his opinion of war. Owen said, “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” Both “Exposure” and “Disabled” show different aspects of War, however, both come to the same overall conclusion and show Owen’s feelings on the brutality that is War.
These poems have strong contrasts, especially in the subjects. “Exposure” shows the consequences of war and “Disabled” gives a detailed account of a situation that was commonly found in the First World War. Also, the time periods are different. Both are written in the present tense but it is the time period that the piece is set in that separates the two. “Exposure” is written actually during the war. “Disabled” however, talks of a man that is a survivor of the war and it describes an event that occurred as a result of the war. Both pieces are different in content but both show how Owen conveyed the true horror of war through his poetry.
“Disabled” is a poem about a man who has survived the war yet has lost both legs and has lost at least one arm up to the elbow. It shows the consequences of war and even though not traditionally a subject of Owens’ it helps him explain why war is such a tragedy.
The poem is written in the third person and this allows Owen to be entirely forthright about the situation and describe the feelings of the man easily, which couldn’t be done very well if the man wrote the poem himself.
The tone of the poem is melancholy as this man is waiting for death to come to stop the pain he is being put through. “Disabled” shifts tone throughout the piece – it changes from depressing to reflective to bitter to solemn and then finally to melancholy. The melancholy tone is expressed in the very first line – “He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark.” Dark can be interpreted as night but can also be seen as death, which in this poem is more likely. There are other examples that prove the overall meaning of the poem – the man has no real life left, he is just waiting for death to come.
The poem consists of five verses, the first is six lines long, three are seven lines long and there is a large verse consisting of 16 lines. This structure of similar line lengths and number of syllables corresponds to the fact that everyday is the same for the man and once again, he is simply waiting for his end.
Finally, people don’t really care for him anymore; even the hospital chaplain doesn’t seem to pay any real attention to him and the carers are paid to look after him. He has nothing left to live for and is waiting for his time to come.
The language in “Disabled” is very clever and is quite contrasting to itself in some places. For example, “blood – smear down his leg” implies that he was full of life and liked to play football, not caring about losing a bit of blood from a scratch. However, “poured it down shell – holes till the veins ran dry” makes the reader think of the fact that as blood is essential, it is almost life draining to lose a large amount of blood after losing a limb on the battlefield. Also, in the third verse, there is a contrast in two consecutive lines, “For it was younger than his youth, last year. Now he is old; his back will never brace.” This is a before and after comparison and invites the reader to consider the happy man before the war and the miserable invalid that was left as a result.
In lines two and three, there are alliterations – “sewn short” and “ghastly suit of grey”, this shows how bad the situation of this man is. Also, a caesura is used a couple of times in the poem for example, “sewn short at the elbow. Through the park.” This is a pause mid sentence and allows you to think about the last statement; also shorter statements have a greater impact on the reader.
The poem contains many similes as well, for example, “all of them touch him like some queer disease.” This refers to the girls that used to love him yet now think he might be contagious in some way and avoid him.
There is a hint of irony to this poem. Owen likes to point out that many men who were conscripted went to their deaths. However, in this poem, the man actually joined voluntarily. He did it to please his “Meg” obviously his girlfriend at the time. He didn’t have any idea of the politics of the war, he simply did it to please a woman and now it is women that are ignoring him. It is also ironic that he forged his age when he was a teenager just so he could get into the army where time and experience mattered. However, in his current state, no one cares about his experience, even the chaplain doesn’t really care and the carers are paid to look after him. He is now the victim of time, however, he does not want to keep time still, to prolong life, he wants it to pass so that his nightmare of being disabled can be over.
The poem closes on a very depressing note. It suggests that this man hasn’t got long to live and in his state he doesn’t see much to live for. This relates back to the original subject and the overall meaning of the poem. No one cares anymore and there are no true feelings there from anyone. He is lonely, this is shown in the first and last verses, when the man has to be put to bed and no one comes to do it, also when he is sitting on his own in his wheelchair waiting for dark. This makes the reader feel pity for the man and this means Owen has achieved his aim, to make the reader feel the pity of War and its victims. The repetition of “Why don’t they come?” shows the emphatic feeling of this man, as the girls do not want to come to him anymore and that was the sole reason he went to war.
“Exposure” is a poem based on a small section of men, maybe 5 or 6, who are literally exposed on a salient, either manning sniper posts or defending an advanced position. However, the poem also shows how the soldiers, not just the ones featured in the poem, were exposed to the terrible conditions of winters on the front lines. As well as showing the exposure of the men to the elements and also the enemy, the poem also relates to the monotony of war, even if action is taking place.
The tone is very solemn and melancholy. The poem is written in the first person; however, this person is speaking on behalf of all of the soldiers, so it is plural first person. The soldiers are almost in desperation for something to happen, to take away the fear that arises when it is silent and they do not know what will happen to them next. They also want some action to prevent them from dying a slow, cruel death caused by the bitter conditions. This is shown on the end of four of the eight verses with a simple line of three words, “But nothing happens.” This not only shows that war is depressing and monotonous, but that they have no control over what will happen and have no idea as to what that would be; they are passive onlookers.
The tone of this poem is similar to “Disabled” in that it is melancholy and quite depressing, however, it maintains its tone throughout unlike “Disabled”, which frequently changes.
Owen’s usage of language is very effective in illustrating his attitude towards war. “Exposure” is composed of eight verses of five lines of uneven lengths. The line length is about 13 syllables and this varies by one or two syllables throughout the poem. However, the last line of each verse is half the length of the others, about 6 syllables long. This line is either a statement or a question for example, “What are we doing here?” The line lengths, even though not entirely uniform, are continued throughout the poem and can be related to the subject – a regular line length in a poem about monotony is very effective.
The language is serious and is poetic however; it seems somewhat restrained. This is probably due to the situation the soldiers are in. There is a lot of imagery in this poem; it describes many aspects of the salient and also the thoughts of the soldiers. The weather is the main issue to be described, as it is the most prominent thing to the soldiers at the time. An example of this is, “the merciless iced east winds that knive us.. ” This line is a good example of how severe the winds actually are and Owen uses personification to be able to show the true effects of them, as the term, “that knive us” portrays images of bitter winds that go right through the men. Owen also uses a daring half rhyme as well – “knive us/nervous.” To be able to put two words, which have such unpleasant meanings together shows, how the poem portrays the awful conditions.
Owen also uses personification in both verses one and three. The line, “Dawn massing in the east, her melancholy army.. ” shows how the soldiers have to cope with the elements and also the army can be interpreted as the actual enemy and as dawn will definitely come, so will the enemy’s army. This is a perfect way to show how the war is the same everyday and is as certain to continue as the daily rising of the sun. Additionally, it shows how the soldiers’ main enemy is the weather, not the opposition’s forces.
Verse three also sees the use of an alliteration – “sudden successive flights..” This allows Owen to give the feeling that something fast is happening. It is also a contradiction of the situation – nothing is happening to the men on the salient yet all of the other soldiers are seeing action.
The latter verses show how the soldiers are desperately fighting death and trying to hold it off. They are constantly reminded of death, whether it is a result of the elements or combat and are trying to think of other situations to stop themselves sliding into a hypothermia induced trance which would lead to death. They think of home and their country, however this just reminds them that not only are they isolated from them, but also from the rest of the men. They are completely on their own. They even begin to lose their faith in God. They question their beliefs, as they cannot think why God would put them in such a dreadful situation. The line “For love of God seems dying” is ambiguous – it has two meanings. They think that they are losing their love in God as he has put them here and also, that they are dying for the love of God – it would be an honour to die of the battlefield and go to heaven.
Unlike “Disabled”, these men were probably conscripted, as there is no mention of fighting for glory unlike in “Disabled.” However, they are fighting for the freedom of the people back home, this is a similarity between the pieces.
The poem ends in verse eight, where it is left quite open ended. However, the last line “But nothing happens” implies that they can only really last one more night of this before they slide into death. Strong adjectives such as “shrivelling” and “puckering” describe the burying party and seem to conclude that these soldiers will come to a very cold and ugly end.
Both poems are very effective in showing how Owen expressed the horror of War. Whether it was on the battlefield or as a result of it, War is ugly and there are no winners. The use of language in both poems is very clever and allows the reader to truly get into the role of the party involved and feel for them and the others that suffered.
In my opinion, “Exposure” is the better poem for expressing the horror of war as not only are the men attacked by the enemy, but they have to survive against the elements as well. “Disabled” allows the reader to understand the consequences however; it does not give a real feeling of how men felt when they were being attacked constantly in a foreign, unknown country.