Wilfred Edward Owen, 1893-1918
Wilfred Owen was a soldier and was extremely passionate about the poems that he wrote, as they were based on his personal experiences at the warfront. He wrote about the unmatched power of the various traumas that the First World War brought to people. Owen realized his dream of becoming a poet at the age of nineteen and he was greatly influenced by Keats and Shelly. Owen was the second lieutenant and he was once greatly injured in the combat of 1917 and evacuated to Craig Lockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh where he met poet Siegfried Sassoon, who then became his mentor. Around this time Owen wrote his most important poems which included “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “Dulce et Decorum Est”. His poems graphically illustrate the fears and sorrows of the warfare, the horror, the physical landscape surrounding him and the bodies of the soldiers in relation to those languages. His writings are in extreme contrast to the patriotic writings of the poets such as Rupert Brooke.
The poem talks about a soldier found dead on the warfront on a bright winter morning. We don’t know how he died and when it happened. Owen seems to have known him and his background. He mulls over the power of nature to create life. The poet asks to move “him” into the sun as the warm rays of sun had always woken him before but this time it did not. The poem describes the body of a young soldier which has effortlessly been broken down by the war, but that doesn’t mean that his life was worthless. Indeed, the poem implies just the contrary. We are made to feel the poem as the poet immediately involves us in the poem right from the starting. But not until we see the French reference in the fourth line we can be entirely convinced that this is a poem about war. It’s a short poem, an elegy, close to a sonnet, although its structure is not like a sonnet. The pararhyme that Owen has been famous for – sun, sown, star, stir, toil, tall, gives the poem a distressed mood by disturbing the natural rhythm. There is imagery, of the sun, and its warmth and vitality which is in contrast to its impotence to wake the dead soldier. As Owen is famous for his reference to the nature in his poems, and its relation to the humankind, and here also nature seems as if it could revive the poet’s dead friend but it does not. There is nostalgia for home in the third line. Here we also get to know the former occupation of the dead soldier – he was a farmer. Irony is very much present as when he was a farmer, he was linked to growth and vitality and now as a soldier he becomes analogous with death and his life gets prematurely cut short like the “fields half sown”. Owen tries to avoid any smoothness in the poem yet there is clear simplicity of the diction. The poem’s title represents the futility of wanting to interpret how nature creates life and does nothing as the life goes lifeless.
- Anthem for Doomed Youth
The title makes it very clear that the poem talks about the waste of the lives of countless young men in the First World War. The youth in the poem is ill fated because of his decision to join the battle. The poem is written in the sonnet form and Owen demystifies the conventional honouring of war by exposing the sad fact that people are dying in the battle. The first eight line stanza, called an octave, is full of war imagery whereas the second six line stanza or sestet is more catastrophic in its irony. The death of these soldiers is not a natural death, and obviously not a meaningful one. The poem can also be seen as an insulting and abusing disdain by someone totally irritated by the senseless killing of the young. There are symbols of cacophony in the octave and there are images of utter silence in the sestet. There is alliteration and assonance throughout the poem although the pattern is quite complex. There is irony ofcourse, a terrible one, that men are dying like cattle in the battle. Moreover the sympathy has dried up and people are calm about the waste of thousands of lives in the war. There is a remarkable sound symbolism in the poem – the sounds of the guns and rifles are replicated by words such as monstrous, anger, shuttering, rattle, rapid, demented and the like. All these contain sounds like r or t. There are religious allusions in the lines nine to fourteen, and religious images of passing bells, choirs, holy glimmers etc. represent the sacredness of life and death. It also expresses the futility of religion measured against war. The “dusk falling” in the last line is speaking of the end. The dusk is un-rushed and slow, just how the time is passing for the mourners.
Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, 1886-1967
Siegfried Sassoon wrote poems on the First World War and his poems reflected both anger and compassion. Satire was his main weapon which brought him critical acclaim. He didn’t write about the glorification of the war but of the horror and brutality of the battlefield. He satirized generals, churchmen and bureaucrats for their visionless support of the war. Counter Attack is one of Sassoon’s best poems. His poems are very harsh and realistic and very much mock the people who thought that to die at the warfront was an honour.
- Does It Matter
Sassoon begins the poem with a rhetorical question which imparts a satirical tone to the poem with an argumentative proposal – If it really does matter, then people must do something about the ludicrousness of the war. The poem describes a cynical way of war and illustrates the emotional challenges and the thoughts the soldiers have to go through once their service is over. Both stanzas begin in the same fashion – a question is asked; but this questioned is never really answered. The soldier has no future to dream of with the loss of his body part. He keeps thinking and thinking about the ignorance of his feelings and the angry yet satirical tone is felt in the poem. The last lines depict irony, bitter and harsh irony as people think that fighting and dying in a war is glorious but Sassoon puts forward the rational statement that war is indeed inglorious and is not worth the sacrifice of the life of the soldier. The words “blind and light” are juxtaposed adding to the whole outcome of the poem. The poem highlights the value of soldiers’ hard work and sacrifice and also their dedication towards the war, yet they are not given proper respect. The poem is written in a very simple rhyme structure – with obvious pattern of rhyme and a very clear cut rhythm. The poem is a very brief one for such a thorny and complex issue.
- Base Details
The poem is a satirical attack on the war generals who do not risk their own lives by sending young soldiers to fight in the war and die. As the Majors were “detailed” to work at the base, the title of the poem can be a pun in itself as “base” can also be seen in terms of being low and disgraceful. It a very short poem of ten lines. Each line is alternately rhyming to the other. The Majors are impatient and greedy because they hurry these soldiers to the warfront and are not at all compassionate of their deaths. They don’t really care what happens to these young soldiers at the battlefield while they are enjoying their meals and drinks. The alliteration – “guzzling and gulping” emphasizes their greed. Sassoon uses ”we”, a first person pronoun which imparts a feeling of irony as it is very clear that the Majors and the soldiers are leading very distinct lives. Anger and bitterness is expressed in the poem and there is a direct remark on the ones who send their subordinates to fight the war which in reality they had initiated. The initial two quartiles are very sarcastic in their tone and the couplet in the end talks about the seriousness of the war. There are paradoxical phrases, such as “glum heroes”.
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