Wilfred Owen was an officer who fought throughout the war and achieved admirable accomplishments. He was not a man who was unpatriotic and he believed in the war as a whole as he thought that this was necessary to overcome the pure evil demonstrated by the opposition and achieve a greater good for the rest of mankind and future generations. He was seen as a man that did not agree with the events and suffering that occurred within the war, and believes that some of this was not necessary, although it did ultimately achieve a better world in his viewpoint.
He was a strong believer in God, as is evident by his early background; the fact that he starting reading the Bible at a very young age and was raised in a typical Christian family; however during the war Owen questioned his views on religion, the war and its effects in every aspect. Although his beliefs were strong at the start, they weaken throughout the war and as he familiarises himself with the terror of war, he learns the extent in which himself and the soldiers are driven to.
I am going to analyse the poem ‘Exposure’, which clearly displays all of Owens’s thoughts, doubts and fears. I will particularly focus on the fact that Owen emphasises nature as an enemy to the soldiers as well as the opposition. The poem does not only use nature in one context, it varies throughout and I will how he creates this effect and why it is so effective to express his views. Firstly, the title ‘Exposure’ can be drawn to a number of metaphorical conclusions by the reader as it is a deliberately ambiguous title.
For example, it could be the physical exposure to which they are revealed, the conditions that are expressed, the uncovering of the soldiers fears and doubts, all exposed within war situations. However, another conclusion that could be drawn from this title could be the fact that they are exposed to extreme weather conditions, which in those conditions, can be more of a threat than the actual scene of the fight and waiting for the next vicious attack. By the title alone, Owen reveals that the soldiers are exposed not only physically by the weather, but also mentally as it slowly crumbles them.
These views become more blatant as the poem progresses. The first line immediately captivates the readers’ attention, drawing the reader into the theme of the nature against them from the beginning. Owen relates to the weather harshly and within that line, the reader has learnt the mood of the poem. ‘the merciless winds that knife us’ refer to the wind as being very icy blowing from the east; this is then also personified as an opposition who would knife them as it draws nearer as it is in close contact with them.
The gust is displayed as being ‘merciless’, which means that the weather is enjoying their suffering and does not care about the consequences the soldiers are left with and this also emphasises the brutality of the attack and the way the surroundings made their world crumble. The weather does not alter because it strives on the fact that the soldiers are hurting and the fact the defences weaken as a result. The weather is personified constantly to develop its own human-like characteristics and demonstrate its sole purpose: to attack.
It ‘attacks once more’; this develops the weather as another army; another enemy, who is attacking repeatedly and obviously does not need, nor is willing to, discontinue the violence, even for a while. This is significant because as the opposition begin the attack at dawn, it is suggested that the weather takes a turn for the worse then also to add to the terror that occurs daily at that particular time. The snow is demonstrated as being ‘flowing’, which means that it is happy and is fulfilling its purpose and Owen is suggesting this purpose is to bring fear to the soldiers.
In contrast to what snow is normally related with; all things that bring happiness to people, typically for example, Christmas, the scene of children running around playing and snow mans, this seems a very different image for the reader to come to terms with. The line ‘flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces’ is particularly significant of this observation and the snow is given a nasty human-like characteristic and this also projects a definite strong image to the reader by the alliteration that attract the reader to this phrase.
Owen then says that the flakes ‘flock, pause and renew’, suggesting that it does indeed feed off the soldier’s deep sadness. They are also described as ‘wandering up and down the wind’s nonchalance’, which again displays the image of the snow and the wind working as the opposition, uniting with one another to deepen the blanket of sadness masked over the soldier’s eyes. The mad gusts of wind are also described as men ‘among its brambles. ‘ This demonstrates the delusion and hallucinations by each of the soldiers’ intensified by natures’ input in the battle.
However, this phrase could also be seen as portraying another of the weathers’ characteristics; the fact that it mocks them. It does this by teasing the soldiers and reminding them of the terrible events that occurred here before in Owens opinion. He also describes the wind as nonchalant, meaning that this again has a selfish and evil characteristic. Another technique that Owen uses is changing a stereotypically good thing into something that would be seen as the complete opposite.
One of the examples of this is the context in which he uses dawn as a ‘poignant misery’ that begins to ‘grow’. Dawn is traditionally seen as a particularly holy time of the day, along with being seen as good and happy. However, in ‘Exposure’, it is seen as an awful time of day, this is because it reminded the soldiers of the cycle of vicious attacks they lived through and experienced day in and day out. It was a constant reminder of the way of life and a reminder that they could never go home it seemed, and they are again captured by the blanket of sadness.
Owen uses this effect once more in the poem in relation to the snow. As stated earlier in the essay, snow is supposed to be a happy type of weather that brings joy to most people. However, Owen says in this poem that the air ‘shudders’ black with snow’. Although on the surface, it is established that the wind is viciously cold and this is emphasised by the fact Owen uses the word ‘shudders’, it is also noticed that the air is ‘black’.
The blatant meaning of this phrase is that the war has turned the snow black because of the riots there, however, looking at the phrase from a metaphorical point a view, another perception that could be perceived is that war even drains a completely pure concept; this is highlighted by the fact that the snow is white. It is noticeable that within the poem, Wilfred Owen also allows the weather to change along with the soldiers’ thoughts, feeling and deepest hope and dreams.
They tend to slip in and out of reality and the weather ultimately changes to represent these thoughts in their own wandering minds. There is a particularly noticeable and interesting phrase at the point where the soldiers are slipping in and out of reality between one line and the next. It says that Owen and his men ‘stare, snow-dazed’, which represents that their minds are at their time in with the battle surrounding them. However, on the next line, it says that the men ‘drowse, sun-dozed’.
These are two key lines in the poem because not only does the sibilance draw the reader’s attention to it, the consonance allows these words to be looked further into, which then creates a much harsher effect than the traditional standard rhyme pattern. This is a very remarkable way of exploring the soldier’s thoughts because firstly, they are in contrast to one another and they instantly change, which shows the men finally crumbling. Secondly, the fact that Owen uses the weather to contradict itself is because he wants to establish the fine line between what is real to them and what is scenery is waiting in their mind.
It also highlights the differences between their time and another entirely, one that doesn’t exist to their conscious mind. Another example of Wilfred Owen’s contrast in weather that exists in their thoughts is when he says that they are deep into ‘grassier ditches’, with ‘blossoms trickling’. This is a beautiful image and a deliberate contrast to how the weather was related to beforehand, but now the group are imagining themselves in warmer times, and nature is a good way of explaining this. The reader will notice that nature has a very strong impact on the soldiers’ thoughts and feelings.
The men’s way of how they think and feel is a reflection of the weather and the after-effects of nature are displayed clearly throughout the whole poem. The first time the soldiers crumble because of nature is when Owen states that they only know ‘war lasts, rain soaks and clouds sag stormy. ‘ This shows that the war and nature have shrunken their reality down to what is their life at the moment and it seems that they have forgotten what their life was like before nature turned against them and before war affected their lifestyle.
Another way in which they are affected is the fact that they obviously think that nature is much more of a threat to them than the actual war. Owen thinks this because he believes that a bullet can quickly end the pain, however nature threatens to torture you to death, which is to the extreme of unbearable for him. This is evident by the way he states that bullets are being fired, but are ‘less deathly than the air’. This also allows the reader to feel involved in the poem and creates a certain atmosphere so that they feel extremely overcome with the blanket that Owen feels saddens him.
He then goes on to state how nature has affected his feelings toward religion and that they should never see a clear field with trees of fruit again; this intensifies the extremes of the weather and how it could almost drive them insane. It also shows that because since the early times God has been traditionally in unity with the weather, he is certain that God somehow does not love him and if He does, how is it possible if He has no mercy either?
The last significant image that Owen displays in the poem is toward the end when he states that, referring to the men that have died, ‘all their eyes are ice’. This means that not only has death occurred, it partially means metaphorically that nature was part of the death and has taken over the body in the death process and that overall; nature is but a sign of death for the soldiers and all that is the circle of life now involves nature hunting them down, and when it finally does it will still be with their body and captivate them even when they die.
It also provides a strong image of the circumstances in which they die in, and the reader learns that this is truly awful, furthermore, it is known that in religious mythology, one of the circles of Hell punishes sinners by trapping them under ice and they are open and staring, which also has an effect on the men and makes them fear death more than the situation they are in at the moment. Throughout the poem, there is a repetition of ‘… ‘s.
This could be the length of time that the soldiers are waiting for the next event to occur, but it could also be when they are waiting for nature to attack once more. As already partly mentioned, some words and phrases are highlighted through the consonance, for example, ‘army’ and ‘stormy’, this is meant to grasp the attention of the reader and portray the key concepts and words. Alliteration and some sibilance techniques also add to discovering the key phrases, e. g. streak the silence’, ‘field, or fruit’. In conclusion to this exploration of Wilfred Owens’s poem ‘Exposure’, I have looked at various aspects of the poem relating to the theme of nature, and also how and why this link is connected. In my opinion, Owen clearly states his point of view and the other soldiers’ throughout the natures input and use this as another aspect of the war to think about that wouldn’t at first come to mind when readers hear about the war initially.
He also tries to show other sides of the war that wouldn’t have been revealed before, and discusses how everyone had similar thoughts and feelings to him as he relates to them almost as a unity. He always describes the events as ‘we’. I believe that altogether this poem reflects, in more than one way, how the war was harsh and the effects that this had on the groups of soldiers’ there. I think that the poem does this effectively, as described beforehand and would overall say that the war was an awful place to be, which obviously deludes the soldiers so much so that there is a fine line between the sane and the insane.