The Sentry is a very vivid poem by Wilfred Owen who fought during world war one. It describes the harsh and horrendous conditions the soldiers endured during the trenches. The poem focuses on a particular memory of a sentry who endured severe injuries during a blast whilst on duty. The fact that this poem is a real life experience makes it even more poignant. The very first line of the poem brings into realisation the abysmal conditions of the trenches the soldiers encountered. It starts off as almost conversationally with a slight understated menace in ‘’and he knew’’. The poem starts off with the use of iambic pentameter but when the regular rhythm descends into chaos other examples of pentameters such as trochaic are used like in line 4. The use of more than one form of pentameter reflects the turmoil and action on the battlefield. In line 2 the pentameter is interrupted with a caesura creating a disjointed effect. The opening lines use a combination of repetition and rhyme ‘…hell, for shell on frantic shell’ and ‘hour by hour…sour’ this establishes a cadence. Owen personifies the weaponry when he mentions ‘frantic shell’.
This shows how soldiers where devalued and could suggest that they were considered nothing more than entities to the government just like the weapons. The word ‘Frantic’ creates a chaotic image in the readers mind blurring the distinction between objects and humans. ‘Hammered on top’ describes the relentless shelling and attacks by the enemies also later depicted later with ‘the shrieking air’, a kind of personification which detonates the screaming of the air which is banshee like. The word ‘guttering’ is a use of an onomatopoeia which gives the metaphor more of an effect and also puts more emphasis on the quantity and noise of the water. ‘Waterfalls’ is plural which suggests the abundant quantity of the water which must’ve turned the mud into slime, painting an image of how dirty the trenches where. ‘waterfalls of slime’ can be seen as an oxymoron as the usual notion of water is of pure and clean cascade. ‘waist high’ could suggest that the soldiers not only endured the Germans as their enemies but also the harsh conditions. Both lines 4 and 5 show how nature has become an enemy of the soldiers. ‘Hour by hour’ describes the length of their endurance.
There is a use of alliteration in the 6th line with the repetition of harsh c/k sound with words like choked’ and ‘thick’ imitating the squelching sound of the soldier’s boots in the mud. This sentence is not easy to say when mirrored with the movement of the soldiers in your mind. Owen’s use of imagery continues within this stanza when the sounds and smells of the trenches are depicted. Words like ‘murk’ could suggest the thick and dense fog like air. ‘Stank, old and sour’ describes the intolerable smells of the trenches. ‘Corpses are an insinuation of death and its inevitability. The use of punctuations such as commas, dashes, semicolons and full stop break up the sentences mirroring the movement of the soldiers. The break at this final line of the stanza ‘If not their corpses….’ suggests that Owen could be looking for the reader to pause and maybe gasp. The second stanza shows how the soldiers are dehumanised with the use of the word ‘herded’. It shows how the soldiers had no importance as proven by the words ‘…next for duty’ few lines down the stanza. This shows how they were seen as nothing more than cattle herded away once they were killed.
There is more use of onomatopoeia with the succession of identical vowel sounds of ‘u’ with words like ‘buffeting’, ‘snuffing’, ‘thud’, ‘flump’, ‘thumping’, ‘pummelled’ and ‘crumps which could be a suggestion of the hard hitting assaults on the soldiers and the describes the result of the bombs. The use of sibilance with ‘the steep steps’ shows how slippery the trenches were. The words ‘mud’ and ‘ruck’ repeatedly denotes the sound of bombs and that the terror that goes with it.The sentry is introduced in this stanza as being nothing more than being an object and distinct. It is as if he is possessed by life rather than being a living human being I think there is a combination of direct and indirect speech as well as plain description. The direct speech is witnesses when the sentry speaks and says ‘O sir, my eyes-I’m blind, I’m blind’ which is rather childlike as if he needs to be coaxed by another which is one feature of war , the paternal role of a junior officer.
The fact that the blinded sentry is addressing the officer with ‘O sir’ stands ironically because he has lost his sight therefore inspiring more sympathy towards him. The use of similes like ‘Eyeballs, huge-bulged like squids’ paints a grotesque yet vivid imagination in the readers mind. The ‘j’ sound in the word ‘bulged’ adds to the revolting image of the sea creature. I think ‘Watch my dreams still; but I forgot him there’ is a connotation of being haunted because a sense of selflessness gave way there. The final stanza is a continuation of the fact that war has a dehumanising effect as the soldiers are described as ‘wretches’ The third line of the final stanza where it says ‘I try not to remember these things now’ is the only one in the poem which switches to the present tense bringing the reader back up to speed.
The ‘wild chattering of his broken teeth’ is horrifying and unforgettable. The words ‘dense din’ gives an impression of the heavy strain the soldiers must have been feeling mentally and physically. The job of the sentry was to make sure that no light was visible to attract enemy fire. He shouts ‘I see your lights!’ which is a pointless and spasmodic shout from a man who soon shall taste the bitter sweet taste. ‘But ours had long died out’ could be referring to the light of hope and that it has already disappeared .It is also a exposure of the sentry’s noble pretence that he can see.