The First World War poetry of Wilfred Owen provides an exhaustive and poignant account of the atrocities he witnessed between the Allies and the Germans from 1914 to 1918. Although the style and structure of his poems vary considerably throughout his body of work, there are two main elements of his poetry in his descriptions of physical and psychological torment suffered by the soldiers in the war. He is quoted here describing his work: “Above all, I am not concerned with Poetry .My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity.”
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Wilfred Owen was concerned to emphasise the hardships and trials of the soldiers who fought in the First World War. Wilfred Owen, who died subsequently after receiving mortal wounds while in combat in the war, had some strong viewpoints and messages about war which he tried to convey through his poetry. He had three main viewpoints which included most or all of his feelings. These were firstly, that war is futile and pointless; secondly that men lose their humanity and dignity through war; finally, he wants combat the Government propaganda that painted a sweet picture of war. He wanted to convey a message expressing the reality, horror and futility of war. He also felt strongly towards the idea that the generals and offices treated the ordinary soldiers with contempt and didn’t care for them. He also felt that the soldiers were treated like insignificant pawns in a game which they didn’t know the rules to. Further he tried to attack the blind patriotism or jingoism, which is basically people who believe in the idea that their country and leaders are always right that they are happily willing to die for them.
The first line of “Apologia Pro Poemate Meo” speaks of how he “saw God through mud; the mud that cracks on cheeks”, meaning he saw God in the face of the dying. We consider this use of “God” to mean death because very often in Owen’s work he claims o see death in the eyes of man. Finally, in “Greater Love” one line gives us a good example of how Owen felt about God. “Where God seems not to care.”
Owen was a devout Christian, and the theme of religion appears frequently in his poems. In the first line of ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo’ he compares soldiers to God saying that ‘he too saw God through mud… that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled’. Being such a spiritual person, this is statement illustrates the depth of emotion that Owen felt as a reaction to the war. In the majority of his poems in which religion is mentioned, he questions the teachings of Christ, which the soldiers were so blatantly ignoring. In a letter to his mother written in May 1917, he describes himself as a ‘conscientious objector with a seared conscience’ although in ‘Exposure’, written in February of the same year, he directly questions the very existence of God, ‘for love of God seems dying’. In ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ the practice of the Church is mocked, for the soldiers ‘no mockeries for them now; no prayers, no bells; nor any voice of warning save the choirs’.
His most famous poems are probably: ‘Dulce et Decorum Est” (an antipatriotic poem which highlighted that it was not, despite what Homer said, an honor to die for ones country, but rather a pitiful waste of young lives), “Strange Meeting” (depicting a scenario where two soldiers from opposite sides meet in Hell), “Anthem for Doomed Youth”(poignantly depicting the futility of War) and “Apologia pro Poemate Meo”.
The particular techniques adopted by Owen in his poetry underline his
messages. His use of speech and present tense give his poems urgency and
directness. All the senses are utilised by Owen, a constant input of
sound, smell, touch as well as sight increase the dimensions of his
images and overwhelm us as he must have been. Owen’s appliance of
half-rhyme gives his poetry a dissonant, disturbing quality that
amplifies his themes. His stanzas jar, as war does.
Basically meaning ‘Reason for my Poetry’, here Wilfred Owen justifies his writing by declaring its purpose – namely to give a voice to the worthy men with whom he served. We give a full analysis of the content, form and language of this piece and suggest comparisons with Two Fusiliers by Robert Graves
His choice of the sonnet form is significant of his striving after a necessary …. What this “outcry” was to be, he made clear in Apologia pro Poemate meo
The last two stanzas address civilian readers
Wilfred Owen was a remarkable young man. When he died he was just 25 years old, but his poetry has proved enduring and influential and is among the best known in the English language. He left behind a unique testament to the horrific impact of the First World War on an entire generation of young people.
“Apologia Pro Poemate Meo” (in your anthology). Here, the speaker makes it clear that the civilians’ conventional Christianity is less sufficient than is the truly sacrificial suffering of the soldiers. Once again, the emphasis is on those who have had the direct experience of being in the trenches.
Wilfred Owen’s poetry vividly captures the images, the experiences, and the pathos of the First World War and by using such familiar material to the everyday human being, adds a tremendous power to reach out to its audience. Although today Owen is regarded as one of the greatest British poets of all time, it took many years until after his death for his stature as a poet to be recognised. William Yeats opinion was that Owen was ‘all blood, dirt and sucked sugar stick’, claiming that ‘passive suffering is not a theme for poetry’. Owen’s poetry however has stood its ground over time with its clarity, and poignant realism sharing the experience of suffering with an audience who may never have had any contact with the war whatsoever.
We know that late in 1917, about the time APOLOGIA is dated, Robert Graves had recommended Owen to cheer up and write more optimistically. This advice had been accompanied by such praise as Owen decided entitled him to write to Susan Owen about it. It is more than tempting, therefore, to imagine him considering a more upbeat approach to his task. Be that as it may, we shall find nothing like the tone he adopts in APOLOGIA elsewhere in the poems.
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glory – The word ‘glory’ in the poem loses its effect when Owen begins his imagery of war. He seems to be describing the glory and pride soldiers held for their country. However, Owen soon describes how soldiers were not supposed to feel remorse for killing. Thus, based on Owen’s description of the graphic and harsh treatments on the battlefront, the reader can conclude that there is no glory in war.
death becomes absurd and life absurder – This line is an important description of the reality of the warfront. Owen is openly criticizing the killing he has witnessed. Owen may be referring to the soldiers’ lack of remorse for killing.
fellowships – Despite his negative portrayal of war, Owen does seem to shed an optimistic light on the friendships he formed during the war. His friendships allowed him to find “peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.” The stark contrast of good and evil displayed through the peace Owen finds in battle clearly represents the reality of war.
stakes are strong – Owen attempts to display to the reader that war is not all about pride and should not be looked on as a form of entertainment. Owen has already discussed the lack of morality and loss of emotion which war requires.
Consequently, even if one accepts that what he communicated was the ‘truth’, it was decidedly his truth, and cannot be relied upon to make generalisations about warfare in general. This is not to denigrate his achievements; a little bias notwithstanding, he probably communicated the nature of war as effectively as he was able. In fact, he was arguably more successful than most of his profession at doing so. However, the nature of war is simply too big and too varied a subject for it to work from the point of view of the poet, on the ground. It is a difficult enough topic for the historian, who can collate all the texts ever written on the experience of war. Of course, teaching about the nature of war was never Owen’s aim, so it is perhaps a little unfair to damn him for not achieving it. As his preface memorably states:”My subject is War, and the Pity of War.The poetry is in the Pity.”(29) In this he does succeed.
He later described himself as “a conscientious objector with a very seared conscience
For Owen, there was neither glory nor honour in the war. As he explained in the short preface he wrote for a collection of his poems, “This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.”
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