* Discuss the language and structure of four or more poems you have studied;
* Provide comparative critical analysis;
* Demonstrate an understanding of the poems’ place in the literary tradition.
You must discuss at least two of Wilfred Owen’s poems.
Early poets such as Rupert Brooke, who were taught at public schools, tell their stories in heroic and accurate detail. However, poets such as Wilfred Owen who were not privileged enough to be sent to good schools describe war and tell the events and conditions of war as they saw it. The cultural background of the poet is reflected in the structure and contents of the poem. Poems were seen as vehicles for hero worship; some recounted history in narrative mode and others dwelt on emotions and questioned the wisdom of the people, especially leaders. For example, Tennyson wrote ‘not to reason why but to do and die’. Certain purposes for war poetry were to glorify war like deeds, however so many poets had so much experience about war but wrote very little about it, as they were more concerned about home. In addition, other poets were searching for a reward of great devotion and courage and found writing an enjoyable way to express their experiences and emotions.
In the poem ‘The Soldier’, Rupert Brooke uses the iambic pentameter to structure the rhythm of the poem. The first stanza, being an octet, glorifies the image of England.
“A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home”
The poet discusses the pastoral imagery of mothering England, personifying the natural beauty of ‘breathing English air’ and the body of England metaphorically being ‘washed by the rivers’. Patriotism is present throughout the first stanza describing how ‘a dust whom England bore’ was produced such a heart. However, in the second stanza, Brooke explains how that heart is now giving back the ‘thoughts of England’ or implicitly thanking his mother – England. The peaceful and pleasant emotions are dwelt on explicitly; the heart that has ‘all evil shed away’ and ‘dreams happy as per day’. Unlike the poem ‘Exposure’ by Wilfred Owen, which explains the brutal suffering and awful weather conditions, Brooke describes the emotion of soldiers containing ‘laughter’ which they ‘learnt off friends’.
“Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent”
The poem ‘Exposure’, mentioned above, describes the ‘misery’ and ‘agonies’ men had to go through during the war. The first stanza is very informative and engaging as the reader is immediately given physical conditions that they were in. Owen uses the metaphor ‘winds that knive us’ to express the cold and bitterness of the ‘iced cold winds’. The poet methodically continues to describe the brutality of the weather during the weather. In the third stanza he personifies the ‘rain soaks’ and ‘clouds sag stormy’. In the fourth stanza, Owen deliberately contrasts the words within the sentence structure: ‘air that shudders black with snow’; ‘pause and renew’; ‘wandering up and down’. The words ‘black and snow’ explain the contrast in colour of the air, which is personified as ‘shudders’. The poet also uses the colour ‘grey’ to express the evil and dull side of the ‘dawn massing in the east’. There is use of hyperbole in the verb ‘massing’ to exaggerate the size.
“Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces”
The use of personification to describe the movement of ‘flakes’ effectively brings the scene to reality. The poet writes imaginatively by adding colour and movement to the writing. There is also the use alliteration in the sound ‘f’, not only in the quotation above but also in the line, ‘flowing flakes that flock’. The comment of flakes which ‘come feeling’ emphasise how the weather conditions were against them, as if to be their attacking opposition, therefore, describes the ‘fire burns’ as ‘kind’ because they soothe and contrast with the coldness of the weather.
Similar, to poem ‘disabled’, also written by Wilfred Owen, the last stanza relates to a completely different tense from the rest of the poem. In the poem, ‘Exposure’ the poet concludes the poem by narrating the future events of the ‘burying-party’.
“The burying – party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
Pause over half – known faces. All their eyes are ice.”
The poet relates to the party as having picks and shovels in their ‘shaking’ grasp. The verb ‘shaking’ effectively describes their emotions of fear and coldness causing their hands to tremble. Their reaction from half – known faces turns their eyes to ‘ice’. By using the word ‘ice’, Owen is describing the sudden shock of these faces causing them to freeze and then their cold, motionless feelings.
In the poem ‘Disabled’, the reader is instantly inspired of the life of a disabled. The fragment of the first line, ‘waiting for dark’ creates the thought that he was possibly for death. The explicit description of ‘legless, sewn short at elbow and his appearance, metaphorically described as a ‘ghastly suit of grey’, establishes the atmosphere and the scene which the poet is relating to. The poet uses the simile ‘voices of boys rang saddenly like a hymn’ to describe the sounds which could be heard within the atmosphere. In the second stanza, Owen talks about the past and at the same time relates to the present situation of the disabler’s life. He personifies the town as it ‘used to swing so gay’.
“Girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.”
The stanza is structured in a way, which explains his life when ‘girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim’, and then to the time which he is presently in. The poet metaphorically writes that he ‘threw away’ his knees. The phrase ‘threw away’ is a use of colloquial language which Owen uses to explain that the person my as well have thrown away his knees. In the third stanza, the poet metaphorically writes that he lost his colour as he ‘Poured it down shell – holes till the veins ran dry’. The metaphor implicitly suggests that the disabled is responsible for losing his knees. The metaphor creates a very vivid image.
“It was after Football, when he’s drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join. – He wonders why.
In the fourth stanza, Owen begins to once again write about a different stage of the disabler’s life. He writes about his life before he joined the army. The alliteration in ‘wonders why’ implies how he regrets ever having joined and possibly only joined because someone told him he looked a ‘god in kilts’. There is the use of hyperbole in the word ‘god’ and once again the use of colloquial language in the word ‘Aye’ to express his thoughts. Although Owen explains how he decided to join the army, the reader is given very discreet and vague detail about his experience during the war. In comparison to the poem ‘Exposure’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ there is no mention of suffering or guns, bombs and death. The real thoughts of suffering have been neglected.
“Why don’t they come?
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?
The poem ends with the use of a rhetorical question. By ending the poem in such a way, the reader is left wondering and the poet is expressing that now ‘the women’s eyes passed from him to the men that were whole’. Due to his disability and lonely life of no one wanting him, he is ‘waiting for dark’. The use of repetition towards the end of the stanza is creating the tone and emotions of poet asking ‘Why don’t they come?’
Unlike the poems ‘Disabled’ and ‘The Soldier’, the poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est describes in detail the obscene violence and suffering during the war. It is written in narrative mode, explaining individual scenes descriptively. The poet refers to the appearance of the young soldiers by using the simile ‘Bent double, like old beggars under sacks’. Immediately after, the use of simile in ‘coughing like hags’ describes them as animals that ‘cursed through sludge’. The detailed descriptions of the physical conditions of the men create the general setting of the scene.
“All went lame, all blind; Drunk with fatigue;
Deaf even to the hoots of Gas-shells dropping softly behind.”
The precise description once again creates a dramatic Scene. The poet exaggerates the deafness of the men by adding that they were deaf ‘even to the hoots of gas-shells’ which were dropping ‘softly’ behind. The tiredness of the men is described as ‘drunk with fatigue’. The adjective ‘drunk’ effectively implies how exhausted they had become. The last stanza begins as the poet writes imaginatively implicitly asking the reader to place himself in the same conditions as these men. Owen explains that if ‘you’ were to hear every ‘jolt the blood come gargling’ and see the ‘hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin’ you wouldn’t believe the old lie. Owen makes a moral judgement in the simile of the face like a ‘devil’s sick sin’. Towards the end of the stanza, he concludes his point his has been explaining.
“My Friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory”
The poet deliberately refers to the reader as my friend to personally express the bitter sarcasms he feels about the old lie: Dulce et Decorum Est Pro patria mori which means how sweet and proper it is to die for one’s native country. However, by describing the awful conditions and experience of the war, Owen expresses just how sweet and proper it really is. The words ‘such high zest’ emphasises the pleasantness and glory one believes about dying for one’s country.
In all the poems studied, the use of language has helped to create either the atmosphere or the drama within the scene. The poets, in particular, Wilfred Owen describe the physical conditions in such a way which the reader is easily engaged the scene and able to picture the writing. The structure of all poems is carefully thought about as the poets write each stanza in either a different tense or about a different subject.