Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen was born the 18th of March 1893 in Oswestry. He was the eldest of four children and was brought up in the Anglican religion. He studied at the Birkenhead Institute, at Shrewsbury Technical School and at the University of London. He enlisted for war in 1915 and later that year was sent to France. In 1917 he was diagnosed as being shell-shocked after being wounded three times and was sent to the Craig Lockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. Here he met with the war poet Siegfried Sassoon.

This meeting seems to have been exceedingly valuable to Owens career as a poet. Sassoon’s pacifism reaffirmed Owen’s views about the war and influenced his poetic style, encouraging him to write in a more colloquial and ironic style much like that of Sassoon’s. Later, Owen was sent to Scarborough and had more time to write and work on his writing technique. His style developed using both assonance and half-rhyme which was greatly admired by his peers. In late 1918 Owen was sent back out to his former battalion and a month later was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.

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The war ended on the 11th November 1918 at 11 O’clock, just a week after Owen had been killed in one of the last and most futile battles of the First World War. In mid 1918 Owen began to think about publishing his work, however due to his untimely death he only got as far as selecting the poems he wanted to include. In addition he wrote a draft version of a preface for his collection of poems and this incomplete draft has become one of the most famous pieces in English literature. In this short statement Owen explains what he is writing for.

He is not writing for something superficial or amusing, nor is he trying to entertain for a brief moment. This is clearly outlined in the preface where he says, “Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War and the pity of war”. He noticeably is writing about war, against war and for the men he fought with. Throughout this essay I will analyse and compare 3 of Wilfred Owen’s poems; one discussing Owens feelings for the soldiers before they are sent to war, another relating to during the war and finally one post-war poem showing the effects of war.

Each of these poems relate to different aspects of his experience as a soldier. ‘The Send-Off’ mainly discusses how Owen felt about the fear and false sense of patriotism surrounding the soldiers who are being sent off to war. During the poem Owen attacks the idea that tens of thousands of men could be sent to war by their nation without a great deal of concern for them. He continually attacks this hypocrisy right through the poem. ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ is possibly Owen’s most prominent poem and is written about war itself and is a prime example of his anger towards war and sympathy for its fighters.

The poem was influenced by Owens ambition to show people what war was really like, unlike previous patriotic poems written by people who knew nothing of the soldiers. ‘Disabled’ is the story of a young soldier who just a year later we see the effects of war as he is portrayed as an old man who has lost both his legs and part of one arm. Whilst the poem is very negative and persuades us to have great pity for the man, sympathy is not the only emotion that we feel whilst reading the poem.

One of Owens greatest assets is his ability to change emotions instantly and this skill is illustrated throughout this poem when we get flashbacks of triumph and celebration from when the soldiers were cheered off to war. All 3 poems reflect Wilfred Owen’s feelings towards war in general and most of his writing is focused on the disgust and hatred he felt towards the fighting and his sympathy for those who fought. The poems each have the same objective, to show us what war was really like; the horror, the fear, the hypocrisy, the false sense of patriotism and the effects.

However each poem portrays a different image of war and how Wilfred Owen saw it. The opening paragraph of ‘The Send Off’ reads, “Down the close darkening lanes they sang their way” instantly giving us a menacing image of the narrow lanes closing in on the soldiers. The nai?? ve fighters continue to march down the lanes singing as though nothing is happening to them. The next line continues by saying, “To the siding-shed” almost like cattle being led off to slaughter, further portraying the soldiers in being ingenuous to what is going on.

Once the men have been loaded onto the train though, there is a sense of uncertainty, which is suggested by “grimly gay”. Owen does not validate this though until two lines later, “Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray” which Owen views as being the white flowers over a dead mans body as opposed to being a symbol of peace. The word “spray” also relates to the foam from a gassed mans mouth in battle. Next he writes, “As men’s are, dead. ” This introduces the element of death for the first time and Owen has intentionally put it at the end of the verse to make the reader pause and consider its true meaning.

However once again we are snapped right back into reality by the beginning of the third stanza, “Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp stood staring hard”. The words “dull” and “casual” show the total lack of concern that is felt for the men. At this point we can tell from Owens writing that he has already written these men off as dead. “Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp winked to the guard. ” From here on there are only nods and winks directing these men to their fate conveying furthermore that these men have already been written off as dead.

Whilst ‘The Send Off’ opens with the soldiers heading off for war with a slight sense of uncertainty, ‘Dulce Et’ is entirely different. The beginnings of both poems involve soldiers supposedly marching to their fate. The difference between the two however, is that in ‘The Send-Off’ they don’t know what is happening as such, whereas in ‘Dulce Et’ they are fully aware. ‘Dulce Et’ is set right in the centre of the war and the opening images we have are of soldiers “coughing like hags”, cursing “through sludge” and there is definitely not the same celebratory an uplifting scene that was set at the beginning of the send off.

The image we get from the first few lines is obviously nothing like that of the lie that the British Expeditionary Force portrayed it would be like. The men are walking “like old beggars under sacks” giving us a clear image of exhausted soldiers and even when walking for rest they are unable to move quickly. Suddenly the mood of the poem changes at the phrase, “Gas! Gas! Quick, boys – An ecstasy of fumbling”. This is our first example in ‘Dulce Et’ of Wilfred changing emotions abruptly and the layout of the line alerts us and just like war itself, the poem is unexpectedly changing throughout.

The repetition of the short word, “Gas! ” in two short stabs followed by, “Quick, boys – An ecstasy of fumbling” clearly shows us an image of the men fumbling around in an “ecstasy” and “Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time”. We can imagine the exhausted men fumbling around, almost unable to move to put gas masks on and save their own lives. “But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . . ” At this point the poems rhythm begins to slow down again as Owen has purposely intended the reader to stop at this point.

Slowly Wilfred continues to describe how he saw the man “drowning”. The word “drowning” is not only relevant because the man’s tired, dying actions would be like swimming, but also describing the man literally drowning in his own blood. The poem then slows down even more as Owen continues to describe the sickening effects of gas, “guttering, choking, drowning. ” Yet again Owen has forced the reader to stop and think over what is happening to the soldier.

Owen mentions that he is haunted by nightmares of this event and says, “In all my dreams” explaining how he constantly relives the experience in which he is “helpless”. We can assume that he dreams of this event because of the guilt he felt from being unable to help the man survive. ‘Dulce Et’ is a very graphical poem and it continues to shock the reader the whole way through. However this is not the only poem in which Owen puts horrifying images into our head. As well as ‘Dulce Et’, ‘Disabled’ has the ability to abruptly change atmosphere from horrifying and negative images to celebratory and happy memories.

The poem opens with, “He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark, And Shivered in his ghastly suit of grey” giving us a strong image not like that of a young hero, but of an old man thanks to the effects of war. The use of alliteration in “Ghastly suit of grey” helps with the sound of harshness in describing the man’s worn and unhealthy skin. But perhaps the most horrifying image is in the third stanza when Owen writes, “And leap of purple spurted from his thigh” in which the onomatopoeia of the word spurted gives us the disgusting image of blood spurting from the man’s thigh in a projectile way.

Unlike ‘The Send-Off’ and ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’, ‘Disabled’ does not have a continuous rhyming scheme. Perhaps the cleverest aspect of this poem is its ability to switch tenses between past and present. The poem begins describing negatively the man, “sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark” and then skillfully changes to happy memories of when, “Town used to swing so gay, When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees” portraying a kind of happy and almost romantic atmosphere.

The poem then abruptly changes back to how he is at the present, “Now, he is old; his back will never brace”. This leads the reader to happy thoughts and then snaps us back into reality emphasizing the harsh and brutal effects of the war. The effective technique is one that Owen has clearly mastered and is used throughout ‘Disabled’ and even in ‘The Send Off’ to some extent when we are led off down the dark, close lane and snapped back into reality by the cheers and drums cheering the men off.

Much like that of ‘Dulce Et’, there are rhythm changes right through the poem ‘Disabled’. The poem opens with a slow verse describing him in his wheel chair and then the poem rises in tempo, representing the days when he was loved by all and cheered off to war, before slowing down again and ending in the same tone it began in. Whilst ‘Dulce Et’ and ‘Disabled’ are about two completely different things, they both are written using the same techniques. The rhythm of the poems changes to emphasize certain aspects of war and there is a vast amount of emotive language throughout.

Both poems are written to shock, disgust and to put the reader in the shoes of the soldiers at war – something no other poet had had the ability to do so effectively before. All three poems finish in a negative tone which evidently Owen has purposely set out to achieve. ‘The Send-Off’ finishes discussing the difference between the atmospheres of when the men were sent off to war, with that of when they returned. “A few, a few, too few for drums and yells”, one of the final lines of the poem clearly shows how many men returned from war. The repetition of “few” stresses the huge difference in numbers of those who return with those who go away.

Dulce Et Decorum Est’ ends in a similar way to ‘The Send-Off’ and noticeably has a slow negative tone to it. “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest, To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori. ” The use of “My Friend” involves the reader yet again, an aspect of Owens writing which has shown throughout much of his work and “You would not tell with such high zest” includes us further, influencing us to share his feelings of guilt and anger towards the war.

“The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori. means it is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country and is a rather ironic line as it opposes the message he has been portraying throughout the whole play. Much alike ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ and ‘The Send-Off’, ‘Disabled’ also finishes in a negative way. Throughout the whole play we have had the split image of this man, disabled as an outcome of war. The picture of a brave soldier being cheered off to war, and that of a crippled old man returning home receiving more a cheer of pity rather than respect.

This is further explained in the phrase, ‘Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal. The final line is a rhetorical question, ‘And put him into bed? Why don’t they come? ‘ summing up the apathy that people felt towards the man and showing that he had been forgotten. All 3 poems are different, however extremely similar in particular ways. There is clearly a relationship between much of Owens work as he uses various effective similar techniques to influence our sympathy towards those who lived and died and our hate for the war that caused it. Whilst Owen wrote the majority of his poems on a personal basis, he has been arguably the most prominent war poet and has intrigued both poets and readers for years.