In this piece of writing I’m going to discuss Wilfred Owen’s portrayal of the First World War, focusing in on his use of language and his attitudes towards the war.
I think to be able to draw a stronger conclusion at the end of the essay, it’s only right I briefly summarise the background of Wilfred Owen. Owen was born in Shropshire in 1893. His education begun at the Birkenhead institute and culminated at the technical school in Shrewsbury. Already showing a keen interest in arts, Owen’s earliest experiments in poetry began at the age of 17.
During the years of 1914 and 1915 Owen became increasingly aware of the magnitude of the war and he returned to England in September 1915 to enlist in the artists’ rifles a month later. After almost two years of fighting in the war, Owen was diagnosed with shell shock and was sent to the CraigLockhart war hospital. It was there he met up with fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was also a patient. Sassoon already had a reputation as a poet and after an awkward introduction, he agreed to look over Owen’s poems. As well as encouraging Owen to continue, he introduced him to such literary figures as Robert Graves, which in turn, after his release from hospital, allowed Owen to mix with such luminaries as Arnold bennett and H.G. Wells. This all helped Owen develop his obvious flare for poetry and made him able to express his views of the war in this form of writing.
Obviously Owen’s poetry was about the war, but what set his work apart from similar poets was the harsh imagery that he included in his work, for instance that of lambs being led to slaughter. As well as the colloquial language used by Owen to portray a certain character in the war, a good example of this can be seen in the poem inspection where Owen actually portrays two separate characters. Other characteristics of owen’s poetry are pararhyme, alliteration and assonance, these can be seen throughout his poetry.
Themes seen often in Owen’s Poetry are death (which should actually be expected seen as the genre of poetry is war). Actually Owen usually ends his poems with an image of death, for instance ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ ends, “And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.” Another example of this can be found in ‘The Sentry’ where it ends, “I see your lights! But ours have long died out.” However what Owen usually ties in with death is religion. He uses a lot of religious words, for instance in ‘inspection’, just the title of that poem can be seen as a metaphor of judgement in heaven as he makes reference to God’s inspection at the end of the poem. ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ has quite a bit of religious imagery. Like where it says, “No mockeries for them from prayers or bells.” Also words such as choirs, orisons – which means prayers, and pall which is a funeral cloth all give that sense of religion. It would seem that religion plays a pivotal role in Owen’s poems.
Owen’s poetry is very realistic, he uses harsh imagery show the reader just how real the whole thing is. For instance in ‘The Chances’ he describes how a soldier died by saying, “He was blown to chops.” This gives us the image of perhaps animals or more specifically lambs that are being led to slaughter, which is how he feels the young soldiers are who have been forced to fight in this war. This can be linked to the section in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ where Owen writes, “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?” Again using similar imagery to get his point across. Another way that Owen incorporates realism into his poems is by narrating the poem and acting as person in the poem ( i.e. soldier, general etc). He even uses colloquial language so he can put that character over and make him seem realistic. Like in ‘The Chances’ where Owen acts as a soldier in the trenches and uses phrases like, “e’s seen some scrappin.” Also Owen uses some powerful words and devices such as metaphors and alliteration to make the poems meaning stand out and appear as realistic as possible.
Owen’s attitude to the authority figures in the war was not very friendly to say the least. He believed that they forced the youth of all the countries that participated in the war out on the trenches and in the battlefields to die. In ‘Inspection’ Owen at one Point portrays the sergeant and an inspection officer and paints them out to be the bad guys of the poem who frown upon the soldiers who have blood stains on there shirts.
Owen shows aspects of the war in all of his poems, he describes how the soldiers felt that were fighting and their feelings and emotions. He gives us the point of view of those who are sitting at home waiting and hoping that there loved ones will return home safely. He also describes the weapons that were used to kill each other. A good example of this can be seen in Anthem, where Owen writes, ” Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.” He describes the conditions of the war and in ‘Exposure’ uses the weather, almost as a character in the poem.
Overall Owen is an Anti-war poet who cannot make any sense out the war. His attitude to the war is that we are just sending out our young to be slaughtered. Poems such as ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and Disabled all show this. He uses his poetry to portray this fact, and to let people know that the Generals who are not fighting but giving out orders that say it’s a noble thing to die for your country are talking rubbish.
Owen uses his poetry to express to the reader that the first world war was just a waste of young lives and that people were being slaughtered for reasons that most of them fighting and dying didn’t really understand anyway.