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Wilfred Owen War Poems Essay Sample

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Wilfred Owen War Poems Essay Sample

“Owen presents an exclusively bleak view of human experience in WW1. Discuss”

Wilfred Owens collection of letters and poetry can be seen as incredibly insightful accounts of the experiences of war. Owens dramatic personal transformation is evident in the evolution of his writing due his surrounding influences such as Sassoon, and his experiences with war, and it is in this change of writing we witness the way in which war and its barbaric conditions can utterly transform a man. It is this notion which Owen attempts to convey through his writing, and the accumulation of personal experiences translated into imagery, and language devices and techniques such as alliteration, onomatopoeia and personification is what expresses the truly abominable and melancholic nature of war.

A common theme which runs throughout Owens pieces are the descriptions and references to the physical conditions and environments of war that made it so frenetic and clamorous. Owen uses oxymorons such as “ a waterfall of slime” in Dulce et Decorum Est, to provide the reader with something relatable, which we view as pure and free, and contaminates it with the foul effects of war in order to provide us some basis of beginning to understand the conditions of war. Whilst Owen makes clear that no person can truly appreciate the futility of war unless they experienced it first hand, he attempts to put a twist on things that are relatable, to evoke as much understanding as possible. Another re occurring element to Owens descriptions of war is the inescapable feeling, that caused soldiers to feel trapped, isolated and extremely far from normalcy of civilisation.

Owens selection of words in “The Sentry” such as “deluging muck”, “mud”, “sploshing in the flood” “thick fumes” and “waist high slush” recreate a sense of urgency and frantic desire to get out and be rid of the harsh and unforgiving environment. Such language is also found in “Dulce”, where soldiers “curse through sludge” and stumble through “misty panes” of “thick green light”.

This language is so beneficial to the purpose of Owens writing as it expresses not only war itself that soldiers had to endure, but also the harshness of natures conditions that added to the stress and daily struggle to survive. Owens writing depicts the way in which war is an attack on nature, which in turn can cause it to become hostile and unforgiving to the soldiers who play on its fields. Poems such as “Spring Offensive” and “Exposure” depicts the harshness of nature, such as the “ice east winds that knive” soldiers, and the rain that “soaks” the “deathly air that shudders black with snow”, where “clouds sag stormy” all of which present threatening and repugnant environments that soldiers had to not only endure, but survive in on top of the macabre series of murders.

The overwhelming dreariness of war is also conveyed in the way Owen discusses the lack of respect and remembrance of soldiers who became victims of war. This is a key feature in the poem “Disabled”, where an injured soldier reflects on his life pre war, where girls would look at him, and he would be considered brave and heroic for the “blood smear down his leg” when he played football. The attention and praise he received as he was sent off to war was exciting and encouraging, but throughout the poem, the soldier reveals the way in which war had stripped him of any attention he truthfully deserved, and the respect and appreciation of his town. The reader here feels sympathy for the disabled soldier who is cheered home less than when he would score a goal wonders why no one attends to him. This shows Owen revealing the disturbing truths about war, and how there was such an ignorant and blinded attitude amongst society who didn’t want to know about the effects of war.

Whilst the town shared in the celebration of soldiers leaving for war, those who return are ignored and stared at like some “queer disease” due to naivety and a fear of learning about the truths of war. A similar message is conveyed in Dulce, where there is no time or resources to respect the dead, who instead, are “flung” upon a “wagon” or dishonoured and forgotten like the soldiers in “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. The sense of disrespect is especially poignant in this piece, as Owen refers to men who “die like cattle” who do not receive “prayers nor bells”.

This depicts the way in which soldiers died in mass, stripping them of human quality and denying them with the unique personalities and qualities they possessed. In place of a remembrance service is only the “shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells” and the “drawing of blinds” at dusk. These impersonal and unthoughtful gestures, which occurred at every death, reveal the utter absence of appreciation and respect for the brave men fighting for their countries. This provides a miserable tone to Owens pieces, as it puts to shame the humanity of this time, and conveys the holistic mindset of war that did not mourn for each individual life that was lost in desperation, but the position of power from those higher ranked who never had to experience the tumultuous conditions of the battle field.

Owens language and graphic imagery depicts war in its most explicit and miserable form, and reveals the truths of war, rather than the propagandist poems of Jessie Pope and others which concealed the truths of war to innocent and ignorant soldiers. Mental cases, is possibly Owens most illustrative and confronting poems that conveys in as much detail the ugliness of madness and suffering experienced during the war. In this piece, soldiers are described as having “drooping tongues” from “jaws that slob their relish” exposing the uncontrolled nonsense that leaked from disturbed men’s mouths. The word slob frames the ‘strong, courageous’ men as having lost all self control and sense of reality, due to the wickedness and evil they have encountered.

The “chasms” that “gounged round their fretted sockets” conveys the unnatural physical and also psychological effects that war has caused these men, and the sheer fear and mental disruption is expressed in “their eyeballs” that “shrink tormented” Owen also makes references to shell shock and the night terrors that so many soldiers were victims of, which is powerful in the line “sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?” the notion that men are haunted by war even in their sleep reinforces the entrapment they experience. This is juxtaposed with the small reference to sweet dreams in the poem “soldiers dreams” which conveys that sleep is the only reprieve for soldiers among the fierce conditions of war. Whilst this poem provides readers with a small sense of hope for the soldiers, the notion of optimism is undercut by the last line which harshly states that when soldiers wake up, the cruel reality of war will still be waiting for them, and that they can never escape.

The array of Owens poetry has differing focal points, wether it be on wars physical conditions, the aftermath of war, or the lack of dignity and respect for the deserving soldiers who endured such inhumane and unimaginable circumstances during war. However, what is common and resonating throughout the compilation “War Poems” is the dreary and worthless nature of war, that caused such devastation and negative impact to the health of not only the soldiers involved in the war, but of the families, communities and country’s that were inflicted with pain, loss and futile devastation. The collection of Owens poetry is extensive and each poem posses unique qualities and messages which are influenced by the place in which Owen wrote, the timing and the existing experiences he had undergone, and whilst it is these surrounding circumstances that provide the poems with their character and individual voice, the underlying tone of frivolousness is consistent throughout his works.

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