Futility is deliberate and sparing. In the alliterative “At home, whispering of fields unsown,” the repeated use of the letter ‘s’ represents the wind blowing over a field. The effect is vital to the poem, as the sound of the wind is possibly the same that “always…woke him, even in France,” and the wind which whispered to the dead man on a sunny morning, reminding him of tasks not completed. With the line, the central concept is given weight and form, as within it, we can almost hear what it is that “gently… woke” him when he was home, and which the poem’s narrator forlornly hopes will rouse him from his final sleep. The difference is that this is spare and stands out from, rather than being lost in, the text: no word is wasted.
He starts with what is seemingly a more optimistic, gentle sentiment- the hope that a dead man can be woken up (“Move him into the sun/ Gently its touch awoke him once,”) But that, of course, is impossible, the young life cannot be given back by the sun’s warmth. He is already “too hard to stir,” (like Rosenberg’s dead man “sunk too deep”) and nothing can revive him. The over arching emotion, therefore, is of a different quality to Rosenberg’s shock and anguish; it is devastatingly poignant, pathetic. Owen is already heart broken. He can no longer be shocked into revulsion like Rosenberg and we are not distracted by extraneous musings.
Owen’s sun, more subtly, is apparently a kind and merciful saviour and reviver of the dead (” If anything might rouse him now/ The kind old sun will know.”). The blind trust of the ordinary soldier that those in charge know what they are doing is just as futile as the belief that the sun will bring a man back to life.
Futility’s furious line of questioning on the death of a young man- “Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides/ Full-nerved – still warm – too hard to stir? / Was it for this the clay grew tall? / – O what made fatuous sunbeams toil / To break earth’s sleep at all?” echoes Rosenberg’s description of the lives of those dead as “half used”. The poets share the feeling that death was visited upon these men too early, that their lives were unceremoniously cut short.
The last lines rhyme fully. At first this device creates a sense of uneasiness. Owen then emphasises and concludes his ideas with the misleadingly more comfortable and definite sound of a full rhyme at the end of the stanza, which expresses and then subverts comfort and hope.
The perspective of Futility shifts also, though less overtly, in the third line of the last verse. The pitiful hope that the man may still be saved, the desperate attempts to rationalise that hope (“Always it woke him…. Think how it wakes the seeds, -/ Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.”) are no longer apparent, instead Owen is left with anger, confusion and disillusionment. He is no longer concealing his true sentiments. He simply cannot comprehend the meaningless loss of these lives and is unable to entertain the idea that they had lived only to die-
“O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?”.
This language recalls Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est (“coughing like hags,” “blood-shod,” “guttering, choking, drowning” “blood…Come gargling forth from froth-corrupted lungs”).
The very lack of closure evinces an overpowering knowledge that these two men had died, thousands more had died, thousands more would die and there was nothing they could do.