Summary and Analysis on Owen's Poetry "Anthem for Doomed Youth"



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Summary and Analysis on Owen's Poetry

"Anthem for Doomed Youth"


Summary

The speaker says there are no bells for those who die "like cattle" –all they get is the "monstrous anger of the guns". It is only the ragged sounds of the rifle that sound as their prayers. They get no mockeries, no bells, no mourning voices except for the choir of the crazed "wailing shells" and the sad bugles calling from their home counties.

There are no candles held by the young men to help their passing, only the shimmering in their eyes to say goodbye. The pale faces of the girls will be what cover their coffins, patient minds will act as flowers, and the "slow dusk" will be the drawing of the shades.

Analysis


This searing poem is one of Owen's most memorable and most critically acclaimed. It was written in September-October of 1917 and published posthumously in 1920. It may be a response to the anonymous prefatory note from Poems of Today (1916) of which he possessed a copy; the preface proclaims that boys and girls should know about the poetry of their time, which has many different, intermingling themes that "mingle and interpenetrate throughout, to the music of Pan's flute, and of Love's viol, and the bugle-call of Endeavour, and the passing-bells of death."

The poem owes its more mature imagery and message to Owen's meeting another WWI poet, Siegfried Sassoon, while he was convalescing in Edinburgh's Craiglockhart Hospital in August 1917. Sassoon was older and more cynical, and the meeting was a significant turning point for Owen. The poem is structured as a Petrarchan sonnet with a Shakespearean rhyme scheme and is an elegy/lament for the dead. Owen's meter is mostly iambic pentameter with some small derivations that keep the reader on his or her toes as they read. The meter reinforces the juxtapositions in the poem and the sense of instability caused by war and death.

Owen begins with a bitter tone as he asks rhetorically what "passing-bells" of mourning will sound for those soldiers who die like cattle in a mass and undignified fashion. They do not get the rituals and rites of good Christian civilians back home. They do not get real prayers, only rifle fire. They do not get choirs in church but "choirs" of shells and bugles. This first set of imagery is violent, featuring weapons and harsh noises of war. It is set in contrast to images of the church; Owen is suggesting organized religion cannot offer much consolation to those dying on the Front. Kenneth Simcox writes, "These religious images...symbolize the sanctity of life –and death –while suggesting also the inadequacy, the futility, even meaninglessness, of organized religion measured against such a cataclysm as war. To 'patter out' is to intone mindlessly, an irrelevance. 'Hasty' orisons are an irreverence. Prayers, bells, mockeries only."

In the second stanza the poem slows down and becomes more dolorous, less enraged. The poet muses that the young men will not have candles –the only light they will get will be the reflections in their fellow soldiers' eyes. They will have to have substitutions for their coffin covers ("palls"), their flowers, and their "slow dusk". The poem has a note of finality, of lingering sadness and an inability to avoid the reality of death and grief.

The critic Jon Silkin notes that, while the poem seems relatively straightforward, there is some ambiguity: "Owen seems to be caught in the very act of consolatory mourning he condemns...a consolation that permits the war's continuation by civilian assent, and is found ambiguously in the last line of the octet." Owen might be trying to make the case that his poetry does a better job, and is a more realistic form, of the expression of grief and the rituals of saying goodbye to the dead.

"Disabled"


Summary

The man sits in his wheelchair waiting for nightfall. He is chilled in his gray suit which is legless and sewn at the elbows. Boys' voices ring out in the park; the voices are of "play and pleasure" that echo until sleep takes them away from him.

Around this time the town used to be lively, with lamps in the trees and girls dancing in the dim air. These were the old days before "he threw away his knees". He will no longer have the chance to put his arms around girls' slim waists or feel their warm hands. They look at him like he has a strange disease. Last year there was an artist that wanted to depict his youth, but now he is old. His back will not "brace" and he gave up his colour in a land very far from here. He let it drain into "shell-holes" until it was all gone. Half of his life is now passed from that "hot race", when a spurt of purple burst from his thigh.

One time before the war he saw a blood smear on his leg and thought it looked like the "matches carried shoulder-high". He had been drinking after football and he thought he might as well sign up for war. Besides, someone had told him he would look like a god in kilts. This is why he joined the war, and it was also for Meg.

It was easy for him to join. He lied about his age –said he was nineteen –and they cheerfully wrote it down. He was not yet thinking of Germans or "fears / of Fear". All he thought about were "jewelled hilts" and "daggers in plaid socks" and "smart salutes" and "leave" and "pay arrears". Soon he was drafted, and the air was filled with "drums and cheer". Only one serious man who brought him fruit asked him about his soul.

Now, after war, he will spend his time in the Institutes, doing what he should do and accepting whatever pity the rulers want to give him. This evening he saw the women's eyes pass over him to gaze on the strong men with whole bodies. He wonders why they do not come and put him to bed since it is so cold and late.

Analysis

"Disabled" is one of Owen's most disturbing and affecting poems. It was written while he was convalescing at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh after sustaining injuries on the battlefield (certainly not of the magnitude of the poem's protagonist, however), and was revised a year later. The poem is tied up with the poet Robert Graves, for Owen wrote to his mother on October 14th, 1917, saying, "On Sat. I met Robert Graves...showed him my longish war-piece 'Disabled'...it seems Graves was mightily impressed and considers me a kind of Find!! No thanks, Captain Graves! I'll find myself in due time." A few days later Graves expanded his critique, telling Owen it was a "damn fine poem" but said that his writing was a bit "careless". Graves's comment may derive from the fact that there are many irregularities of stanza, meter, and rhyme in "Disabled".

In the first stanza the young soldiers depicted in a dark, isolated state as he sits in his wheelchair. Almost immediately (if the title was not a clue) the reader learns that the soldier has lost his legs in a battle. Owen casts a pall over this young man with the depiction of sad voices of boys echoing throughout the park, perhaps as they echoed on the battlefield. The voices throw him back into his memories, which is what will constitute the rest of the poem until the last few lines. Words such as "waiting" and "sleep" reinforce the sense that this soldier's life is interminable to him now.

In the second stanza the soldier reminisces about the old days before the war. He conjures up sights and sounds of lamps and dancing girls before he bitterly remembers that he will not get to experience a relationship with a woman now; they look at him as if he has a "queer disease". It is not explicitly stated that the soldier, like Ernest Hemingway's Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, suffers from impotency deriving from his war accident, but it is possible that this is also the case. The soldier feels emasculated, ignored, almost betrayed by women.

In the third stanza the recollections continue, with the soldier musing on the happy days of yore. He used to be young and handsome and an artist wanted to draw his face. Last year he possessed youth, he says, but he no longer does. One of the most compelling lines of the poem uses the art reference and states that the soldier "lost his colour very far from here / Poured it down shell-holes until veins ran dry". Another famous WWI poet, C. Day Lewis, said this line possesses "deliberate, intense understatements –the brave man's only answer to a hell which no epic words could express" and is "more poignant and more rich with poetic promise than anything else that has been done during this century." In the fourth stanza the boy also recalls that he was a football hero, and that once a "blood-smear" on his leg sustained in a game was a badge of honour. This is in stark contrast to his war wounds, which are shameful. He explains the almost casual way he decided to go to war –after a game, when he was drunk, he thought he ought to enlist. Someone's compliment also helped encourage him to do so. He continues to explain, saying a girl named Meg may also have been a reason for him to join. His youthful ignorance and naïveté is in full effect.

In the fifth stanza he says that he lied about his age to get into the military, and gave nary a thought to Germans or fear. All he thought about was the glory and the uniforms and the salutes and the "esprit de corps". This young man could have been almost any young man from any country involved in the war, who, possessing such youth and lack of worldly wisdom, did not think too deeply about what war really meant and what could happen to their lives. Owen is obviously sympathetic to the soldier's lack of understanding, but he is also angry, as one critic writes, about "the military system that enabled the soldier to enlist through lying about his age". Owen is careful to balance "the immaturity of the soldier...with anger at the view of war as glamorous, a view held by both the soldier before the war and by much of the public throughout." In the sixth stanza a curious encounter occurs on the boy's way to war –one man who is cheering him on is "solemn" and takes the time to inquire about his soul. It does not seem like the boy took the time to wonder too deeply about this at the time, but the encounter is a foreshadowing of the difficulties to come.

In the seventh stanza the soldier comes back to the present, realizing the bleakness of his future. He knows that he will be in and out of institutes and hospitals, and will have to suffer through the pity of those rulers that put him in danger in the first place. What exacerbates his situation is the continued slights from women, who look past him like he is invisible to men that are "whole". The poem ends on a sad and mundane note as the young man wonders why "they" do not come and put him to bed. It is a reminder that he will have to have others do things for him from now on. His days of autonomy, and, of course, of glory, are clearly over. The poem is about one soldier, but what makes it so compelling and relevant is its universal quality.

"Dulce et Decorum est"


Summary and analysis for "Dulce et Decorum est"

Summary


The boys are bent over like old beggars carrying sacks, and they curse and cough through the mud until the "haunting flares" tell them it is time to head toward their rest. As they march some men are asleep, others limp with bloody feet as they'd lost their boots. All are lame and blind, extremely tired and deaf to the shells falling behind them.

Suddenly there is gas, and the speaker calls, "Quick, boys!" There is fumbling as they try to put on their helmets in time. One soldier is still yelling and stumbling about as if he is on fire. Through the dim "thick green light" the speaker sees him fall like he is drowning.

The drowning man is in the speaker's dreams, always falling, choking.

The speaker says that if you could follow behind that wagon where the soldier's body was thrown, watching his eyes roll about in his head, see his face "like a devil's sick of sin", hear his voice gargling frothy blood at every bounce of the wagon, sounding as "obscene as cancer" and bitter as lingering sores on the tongue, then you, "my friend", would not say with such passion and conviction to children desirous of glory, "the old lie" of "Dulce et decorum est".

Analysis

"Dulce et Decorum est" is, without a doubt, one of, if not the most, memorable and anthologized poems in Owen's oeuvre. Its vibrant imagery and it searing tone make it an unforgettable excoriation of WWI, and it has found its way into both literature and history course as a paragon of textual representation of the horrors of WWI. It was written in 1917 while Owen was at Craiglockhart, revised while he was at either Ripon or Scarborough in 1918, and was published posthumously in 1920. One version of it was sent to Susan Owen, the poet's mother, with the inscription, "Here is a gas poem done yesterday (which is not private, but not final)." The poem paints a battlefield scene of soldiers trudging along only to be interrupted by poison gas. One soldier does not get his helmet on in time and is thrown on the back of the wagon where he coughs and sputters as he dies. The speaker bitterly and ironically refutes the message espoused by many that war is glorious and it is an honour to die for one's country.

The poem is a combination of two sonnets, although the spacing between the two is irregular. It resembles the French ballad structure. The broken sonnet form and the irregularity reinforce the feeling of otherworldliness; in the first sonnet, Owen narrates the action in the present, while in the second he looks upon the scene, almost dazed, contemplative. The rhyme scheme is traditional, and each stanza features two quatrains of rhymed iambic pentameter with several spondaic substitutions.

"Dulce" is a message of sorts to a poet and civilian propagandist, Jessie Pope, who had written several jingoistic and enthusiastic poems exhorting young men to join the war effort. She is the "friend" Owen mentions near the end of his poem. The first draft was dedicated to her, with a later revision being altered to "a certain Poetess" and the final draft eliminating a specific reference to her, as Owen wanted his words to apply to a larger audience.

The title of the poem, which is also in the last two lines, is Latin for "It is sweet and right to die for one's country", or, more informally, "it is an honour to die for one's country". The line derives from the Roman poet Horace's Ode 3.2. The phrase was commonly used during the WWI era, and thus would have resonated with Owen's readers. It was also inscribed on the wall of the chapel of the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst in 1913.

In the first stanza Owen is speaking in first person, putting himself with his fellow soldiers as they labour through the sludge of the battlefield. He depicts them as old men, as "beggars". They have lost the semblance of humanity and are reduced to ciphers. They are wearied to the bone and desensitized to all but their march. In the second stanza the action occurs –poisonous gas forces the soldiers to put their helmet on. Owen heightens the tension through one soldier's inability to get his helmet on in time and his falling, "drowning". This is seen through "the misty panes and the thick green light", and, as the imagery suggests, the poet sees this in his dreams.

In the fourth stanza Owen takes a step back from the action and uses his poetic voice to bitterly and incisively criticize those who promulgate going to war as an acceptable and glorious endeavour. He paints a vivid picture of the dying young soldier, taking pains to limn just how unnatural it is, how "obscene as cancer". The dying man is an offense to innocence and purity –his face like a "devil's sick of sin". Owen then says that, if you knew what the reality of war was like, you would not go about telling children they should enlist. There is utterly no ambiguity in the poem, and thus it is emblematic of poetry critical of war.


"Futility"


Summary

The speaker says to move him into the sun. The touch of the sun had always woken him before, both at home and in France, but this snowy morning it did not. If there is anything that could wake him it would be the "kind old" sun. It wakes the seeds and once it woke the "clays of a cold star". The speaker wonders if the man's limbs and sides, which are still warm, are now too hard to stir a little. He wonders if this is why the clay "grew tall", and why the "fatuous sunbeams" bothered disturbing the earth's sleep in the first place.

Analysis

This short but impactful poem was only one of five published during Owen's lifetime. It appeared in the Nation on June 15th, 1918 and was either written at Ripon or Scarborough. Its format is a short elegiac lyric like a sonnet, but it is not structured as one. It features Owen's famed pararhyme –sun, sown; star, stir; tall, toil –which disturbs the natural rhythm and gives the poem a slightly tortured mood. It is included in composer Benjamin Britten's 1961 War Requiem, which intersperses several of Owen's poems among the Latin passages.

The poem concerns a soldier or several soldiers moving a recently deceased fellow soldier into the sun and hoping its warmth will revive him. Despite the sun's life-giving properties, it can do nothing for the young man; his life is cut short like the "fields half-sown". This was a reality known all too well to the poet –young men were being killed before their lives were barely even started.

The imagery regarding the sun contrasts its vitality and warmth with its ultimate inability to wake one who has died. In the first stanza the sun is personified and described as "kind" and "old", its warmth ancient and affirming. The speaker is quiet and gently hopeful when he asks that the body be moved into the sun. Many of Owen's poems focus on the bond between man and Nature, and here Nature seems like it could revive the speaker's friend.

In the second stanza, however, the speaker becomes more upset and questioning, the tone shifting to accommodate the change in his mindset. The speaker is confused how the sun could wake the seeds and spend time bringing to life a fully-formed man (the "clay" of the poem), and now can do nothing. This loss of one precious life makes the speaker bitterly wonder why "the fatuous sunbeams toil / To break earth's sleep at all". Death has made a mockery of creation; the critic Gertrude M. White writes that "in violating their own human nature, in reversing by violence the natural order, men alienate themselves from Nature herself."

The meaning of the title, then, is the futility of trying to understand how nature could create life but stand by as it is laid to waste. The critic Arthur E. Lane sees Owen creating a "poetic transformation of battlefield death, death particular and individual, into death as the absurd and ultimate denial of the value of life."



"Parable of the Old Man and the Young"


Summary

Abram rises, chops the wood, taking fire and a knife with him. Both of them journey together, and Isaac, the first-born, asks his father, as he has observed the preparations, where the lamb is for the burnt offering. Abram binds his son and builds up the earthen walls and trenches. He holds the knife out to slay his son. Suddenly an angel from heaven calls out and tells him not to touch his son, or do anything to him. There is a ram caught by its horns in a thicket and Abram should use this "Ram of Pride" instead. The old man decides not to use the ram and slays his son instead; he then slays half of Europe's young men, "one by one".

Analysis

This poem takes the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac and gives it new vitality and resonance in light of WWI. It was published posthumously by Siegfried Sassoon in 1920 in Owen's collected poems. Owen wrote this poem sometime in early 1918 and sent it to the poet Osbert Sitwell. Sitwell had written a poem entitled "The Modern Abraham" where Abraham is a wealthy arms manufacturer who prides himself on having sent off one of his sons to fight and die, and says he would gladly send his ten other sons to fight as well. Owen may have been influenced by this work. "Parable" is one of the poems in Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.

The poem is written in iambic pentameter but uses blank verse, not traditional rhyme. This gives the poem its solemn, preachy quality; it is intended to be a parable and surely succeeds as one. Owen's customary pararhyme pops up here as well, as with together, father. The poem does a good job of hewing to a narrative flow even though it possesses an irregular sound pattern. The language is closest to the text from the King James Version of the Bible.

"Parable" seems like it closely follows the biblical story, found in Genesis 1-19. In the biblical version Abram takes his son Isaac up into the mountains and prepares his sacrifice. It is to be Isaac, and Abram is anguished. He is just about to take his son's life in order to fulfil God's command when an angel appears and tells him to stay his hand. A ram caught in a nearby thicket is sacrificed instead. In Owen's poem, there are a few modern touches that ground it in the context of WWI. Abram builds "parapets and trenches" and holds Isaac down with "straps and belts". Where the poem most markedly deviates from the biblical story is when the angel instructs Abram to sacrifice the "Ram of Pride" instead of Isaac, but the old man slays his son anyway and then, in one of the most memorable and disconcerting lines in Owen's oeuvre, also slays "half the seed of Europe, one by one".

It is commonly assumed that Abram stands for the rulers of Europe and Isaac is a typical soldier, representative of all the young men slaughtered so such rulers could play out their games of conquest. They certainly did not want to sacrifice their pride –the ram –so instead they sacrificed the next generation. It would have been much better for those rulers to swallow their pride than to blithely take so many lives. Owen's poem may be traditional in its structure, but the seething commentary is certainly not ambiguous. Scholar Andrew Gates writes, "Owen’s poem is not one of idealized glory and divine mystery, but an account of true and bitter reality of his day."

The poem also points to perhaps a different conception of God than Owen had previously expressed in other poems. The angel, the mouthpiece of God, orders Abram to stop. It is clear that Abram defies God and continues his warmongering. God here is much different than the God of another Own poem, "Soldier's Dream", in which the Archangel Michael repairs weapons destroyed by Jesus in the quest for peace.




"Insensibility"


Summary

Those men who can rid their veins of warmth and who do not let compassion affect them before they die are happy. The front line breaks, and those men are fading troops, not flowers for poets to play with. They are barely men, merely "gaps for filling" and the numbers in the official losses. No one cares about them.

Some of them stop feeling any emotion, for themselves or for others. Dullness is the solution for the incessant shelling. It is easier to rely on chance rather than trying to figure out when the shells might fall. They do not even bother trying to assess the destruction of the armies in the war.

Those who no longer have an imagination are also happier; imagination is too heavy a weight when they have to carry their packs and ammunition around. Old wounds do not ache anymore. They are not even affected by the colour of blood, having seen "all things red" in battle. The pulsing of terror is over. Their senses have been ironed and cauterized, and they are able to laugh even among the dying, completely unfeeling.

The soldier at home is happy, as he does not know about the dawns full of attacks. The boy whose mind was never trained is happy as he sings along the march. The march is long and dreary and unceasing, "from larger day to huger night".

Those wise soldiers cannot think how else to view their task. They are not overly necessary while alive, and are not valuable when they are dying. They are not sad or prideful or even curious. The speaker wonders how their attitudes are different from "old men's placidity".

However, these "dullards" are cursed as they stand like stones before cannons. They are wretched and base. It was their choice to make themselves immune to feeling and pity and the part of man which causes him to moan before the stars. They do not care about what mourns when men die, or what "shares / The eternal reciprocity of tears".

Analysis


"Insensibility" is one of Owen's longest poems, and continues with one of the major themes in his oeuvre –the psychological mechanisms which soldiers utilize to make their horrific situation as palatable as possible. The poem may have been written in April 1918. It features a broken rhythm and irregular meter. The stanzas are of unequal length. It does, however, utilize Owen's famous pararhyme quite consistently throughout.

In the first stanza Owen begins by saying that soldiers are happier when they can desensitize themselves to the war. Compassion is useless, and they certainly should not be looked at as rife with poetry or sentiment. They are barely men, in fact –just "gaps for filling" and the numbers that make up the losses. No one really cares about them. This belief that the young soldiers are replaceable and less than human is present in the work of all of the great WWI poets, but Owen certainly is one of the finest voices articulating this sad reality. Of course, his poetry seeks to refute those truths and to give dignity and worth to the young men so brutally ignored; he does "bother" with them.

In the second stanza he continues, saying that the young men do not care about themselves or about others anymore. They have dulled their senses and do not try to make head or tail of their situation. It is easier to take things as they come, and they barely even pay attention to the course of the war. One of the common themes in the history and recollections of WWI is just how utterly irrational it all seemed, and "Insensibility" gives voice to that assertion. In the third stanza Owen claims that these soldiers are better off without an imagination; no doubt it is simply too painful to allow one's thoughts to wander about and think about possibilities for a normal life after the war. All of these emotions are simply extraneous and unnecessary; there is no point to colours like red, for they have "seen all things red", and they no longer feel anything like fear. In one of the most disturbing images, the soldiers "laugh among the dying, unconcerned". There is no point in wasting one's tears on the dead, as they are too many to count.

In the fourth stanza the soldier who returns home is happy because he does not have to know anymore about the battles, and the soldier who never learned the value of emotion or feeling in the first place is happy as well. Suddenly, in the middle of this stanza, Owen makes it more personal by switching to first person, using "we" to depict him and his fellow soldiers marching along solemnly and interminably. The days and nights meld into one long darkness and soldiers have little to alleviate their boredom and despair.

In the fifth stanza, the most complicated thus far, Owen seems to be contrasting people like himself, the "wise", the poets, who are not yet insensible to what is going on, with the soldiers who are not "sad, nor proud, / Nor curious at all". The question seems to be how a poet can be a poet and a soldier. If he becomes insensible to the war, how can he use his voice for a higher purpose? If he stays sensible, how can he psychologically deal with the sheer horror of it all?

In the last stanza Owen shifts his perspective a bit, saying that the insensible "dullards" are cursed and wretched. The happiness that the soldiers-turned-ciphers experience has been purchased at a high price, for they no longer have any understanding of humanity. Owen does not outright condemn these soldiers, understanding why they suppress their feelings as they do, but he feels a profound sadness at this lack of pity.



"Parable of the Old Man and the Young"


Summary

Abram rises, chops the wood, taking fire and a knife with him. Both of them journey together, and Isaac, the first-born, asks his father, as he has observed the preparations, where the lamb is for the burnt offering. Abram binds his son and builds up the earthen walls and trenches. He holds the knife out to slay his son. Suddenly an angel from heaven calls out and tells him not to touch his son, or do anything to him. There is a ram caught by its horns in a thicket and Abram should use this "Ram of Pride" instead. The old man decides not to use the ram and slays his son instead; he then slays half of Europe's young men, "one by one".

Analysis

This poem takes the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac and gives it new vitality and resonance in light of WWI. It was published posthumously by Siegfried Sassoon in 1920 in Owen's collected poems. Owen wrote this poem sometime in early 1918 and sent it to the poet Osbert Sitwell. Sitwell had written a poem entitled "The Modern Abraham" where Abraham is a wealthy arms manufacturer who prides himself on having sent off one of his sons to fight and die, and says he would gladly send his ten other sons to fight as well. Owen may have been influenced by this work. "Parable" is one of the poems in Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.

The poem is written in iambic pentameter but uses blank verse, not traditional rhyme. This gives the poem its solemn, preachy quality; it is intended to be a parable and surely succeeds as one. Owen's customary pararhyme pops up here as well, as with together, father. The poem does a good job of hewing to a narrative flow even though it possesses an irregular sound pattern. The language is closest to the text from the King James Version of the Bible.

"Parable" seems like it closely follows the biblical story, found in Genesis 1-19. In the biblical version Abram takes his son Isaac up into the mountains and prepares his sacrifice. It is to be Isaac, and Abram is anguished. He is just about to take his son's life in order to fulfil God's command when an angel appears and tells him to stay his hand. A ram caught in a nearby thicket is sacrificed instead. In Owen's poem, there are a few modern touches that ground it in the context of WWI. Abram builds "parapets and trenches" and holds Isaac down with "straps and belts". Where the poem most markedly deviates from the biblical story is when the angel instructs Abram to sacrifice the "Ram of Pride" instead of Isaac, but the old man slays his son anyway and then, in one of the most memorable and disconcerting lines in Owen's oeuvre, also slays "half the seed of Europe, one by one".

It is commonly assumed that Abram stands for the rulers of Europe and Isaac is a typical soldier, representative of all the young men slaughtered so such rulers could play out their games of conquest. They certainly did not want to sacrifice their pride –the ram –so instead they sacrificed the next generation. It would have been much better for those rulers to swallow their pride than to blithely take so many lives. Owen's poem may be traditional in its structure, but the seething commentary is certainly not ambiguous. Scholar Andrew Gates writes, "Owen’s poem is not one of idealized glory and divine mystery, but an account of true and bitter reality of his day."

The poem also points to perhaps a different conception of God than Owen had previously expressed in other poems. The angel, the mouthpiece of God, orders Abram to stop. It is clear that Abram defies God and continues his warmongering. God here is much different than the God of another Own poem, "Soldier's Dream", in which the Archangel Michael repairs weapons destroyed by Jesus in the quest for peace.



"Spring Offensive"


Summary

Some of the men halt in the shade of a hill, eating and resting on whatever they can in a careless sleep. Others, though, stand and stare at the blank sky and realize that they have arrived at the end of the world. They watch the May breeze swirling the grass dotted with wasps and flies. Summer has infiltrated their blood like a drug but all they can focus on is the line of grass and the strange sparkling of the sky.

They stand there and look at the field for a long time, and think of the valley beyond full of buttercups and clinging brambles which affixed themselves to their shoes and would not yield. The men stand and breathe until, as a chilling wind, they get the word at which point their bodies and spirits tense up for battle.

It is not a bugle cry or a flag being raised or "clamorous haste" –just a lifting of their heads and their eyes flaring up as if they were looking at a friend with whom the love has been lost. The men rise up and climb over the hill, racing together across the field. Suddenly the sky is on fire against them and little "cups / Opened in thousand for their blood". The green fields seem infinite.

Those who are running and leaping to avoid bullets or face the hot "fury of hell's upsurge" or fall beyond the verge may have been swooped up by God, some say. Those who rush into hell are "outfiending all its fiends and flames" with their own inhuman behaviour and their glories and shames. They crawl back out into the cool peaceful air. The speaker wonders why they do not speak of their comrades that "went under".

Analysis


This poem is one of Owen's most famous works. It features a ten-syllable line with a mixed iambic-trochaic meter as well as irregular rhymes interspersed with couplets. There are juxtapositions between silence and noise, inaction and action, life and death, and peace and war.

The poem begins in a quiet mood, with some soldiers reclining and sleeping while others stand still, restless on this "last hill" and looking out to the horizon. There is a sense of stillness, calm before the storm. Nature is gentle and beneficent here, with the grass swirling in the breeze and the sun warming their bones and oozing into their veins to bring respite from pain. The stillness lasts for hours, and the speaker muses on buttercups and brambles. Anecdotally, this scene is said to have originated from a memory of Owen's; the Owen family was returning from church one Sunday evening before the war and Wilfred saw the buttercup petals on his bother Harold's boots, commenting "Harold's boots are blessed with gold." The men are lulled into calmness in their pastoral scene –they "breathe like trees unstirred".

Even in the first two stanzas, however, there are hints that all is not well. Owen foreshadows the doom that is to come with the fact that this is "the last hill" and that some men cannot sleep. There is a sense of watchfulness and waiting. This waiting comes to an end when the "May breeze" becomes a "cold gust" and the men hear "the little word" that alerts them to the imminent battle. This is not a battle tinged with glory and heraldry, for no instruments, flags, songs, or outburst occur. The battle comes upon them quietly but swiftly; their repose is short-lived. Owen is a master at creating a mood of tension here. The stanza ends with an ominous and bitter comparison of the sun's inability to prevent the coming clash to a friend with whom the love has been lost. This is also a rejection of Nature herself, for men cannot embrace Nature as well as participate in something so directly contradictory to her.

In the fourth stanza the battle comes down on the men with fury as they race up the hill and across the field –the "whole sky burned / With fury against them". Nature's "green slopes" are now chasms and infinite space. The men are bleeding now, with "soft sudden cups / Opened in thousands for their blood". It is a strange image, and one that writer Kenneth Simcox for the Wilfred Owen Association likens possibly to the Eucharist.

In the fifth stanza Owen ventures into more poetic imagery as he depicts the men leaping over "swift unseen bullets" and perhaps being swooped up by God to heaven as they fall over the brink. The inclusion of the phrase "some say" is ambiguous; it could be wry, or it could be musing.

In the final stanza Owen depicts the hell that the soldiers are rushing into. This hell can be literal in that it refers to the enemy's trenches, or it may also be the figurative hell of the underworld. The soldiers there are even more terrible and glorious than the fiends already there, with their "superhuman inhumanities". Finally, the soldiers emerge back into the "peaceful air" but their mouths are silent. They do not speak of their comrades who "went under". Simcox wonders, "Why are they silent about their dead comrades? Can it be that the pity of war, the pity of war distilled, is too concentrated an emotion to bear discussion or even rational thought?"



"Strange Meeting"


Summary

The speaker escapes from battle and proceeds down a long tunnel through ancient granite formations. Along his way he hears the groan of sleepers, either dead or too full of thoughts to get up. As he looks at them one leaps up; the soldier has recognized him and moves his hands as if to bless him. Because of the soldier's "dead smile" the speaker knows that he is in Hell.

On the face of the "vision" the speaker sees a thousand fears, but the blood, guns, or moans of above did not reach into their subterranean retreat. The speaker tells the soldier that there is no reason to mourn, and he replies that there is –it is the "undone years" and the "hopelessness". The soldier says his hope is the same as the speaker's; he also tells him he once went hunting for beauty in the world, but that beauty made a mockery of time. He knows the truth of what he did, which is "the pity of war, the pity war distilled", but now he can never share it.

The soldier/vision continues, saying men will go on with what is left to them, or they will die as well. They will not break their ranks even though "nations trek from progress". He used to have courage and wisdom. He would wash the blood from the wheels of chariots. He wanted to pour his spirit out, but not in war.

Finally, he says to the speaker that "I am the enemy you killed, my friend," and that he knew him in the dark. It was yesterday that the speaker "jabbed and killed" him, and now it is time to sleep.

Analysis


"Strange Meeting" is one of Wilfred Owen's most famous, and most enigmatic, poems. It was published posthumously in 1919 in Edith Sitwell's anthology Wheels: an Anthology of Verse and a year later in Siegfried Sassoon's 1920 collection of Owen's poems. T.S. Eliot referred to "Strange Meeting" as a "technical achievement of great originality" and "one of the most moving pieces of verse inspired by the war." That war, of course, is WWI –the central element in all the poems in Owen's relatively small oeuvre. The poet Ted Hughes noted in his writings on this poem that "few poets can ever have written with such urgent, defined, practical purpose."

The poem is renowned for its technical innovation, particularly the pararhyme, so named by Edmund Bluson in regards to Owen's use of assonant endings. A pararhyme is a slant, or partial rhyme in which the words have similar consonants before and after unlike vowels –escaped and scooped, groined and grained, hair and hour. Almost all the end lines in this poem are pararhyme; the last line is a notable exception. Critics have noted how this rhyme scheme adds to the melancholy, subterranean, and bleak atmosphere of the poem.

In terms of the meaning of the poem, it describes a soldier's descent into Hell where he meets a dead enemy soldier who labels himself the man the speaker killed. The dead man talks about the horror of war and the inability for anyone but those involved in fighting to grasp the essential truth of the experience. There is more than meets the eye, however, and many critics believe that the man in hell is the soldier's "Other", or his double. A man's encounter with his double is a common trope in Romantic literature; it is seen in Shelley, Dickens, and Yeats for example. The critic Dominic Hibbard notes that the poem is not supposed to be about "presenting war as a merely internal, psychological conflict –but neither is it concerned with the immediate divisions suggested by 'German' and 'conscript [initially what Owen had the dead man calling himself] or 'British' and 'volunteer'." The dead man is the Other, but he is independent. Another critic reads the poem as a dream vision, with the soldier descending into his mind and encountering his poetic self. It is a mythological and psychological journey. Finally, Elliot B. Gose, Jr. writes that "the Other...represents the narrator's unconscious, his primal self from which he has been alienated by war."

There are a few influences on the writing of the poem. The critic Dominic Hibbard notes Dante's similar pitying recognition of the tortured faces in Hell, the underworld of Landor's Gebir, and, of course, Keats and Shelley. Owens was an ardent admirer of both Romantic poets, whose The Fall of Hyperion and The Revolt of Islam, respectively, were no doubt instructive to Owen as he composed his own work. The Fall of Hyperion features the goddess of memory revealing her dying but immortal face and her blank eyes, allowing the poet to grasp her monumental knowledge of wars and heroes past. The emphasis in Owen's work on truth and dreams also resonates of Keats.



The title of the poem, however, may be taken from Shelley's work: "And one whose spear had pierced me, leaned beside, / With quivering lips and humid eyes; -and all / Seemed like some brothers on a journey wide / Gone forth, whom now strange meeting did befall / In a strange land." In The Revolt of Islam, Laon tells his soldiers not to avenge themselves on the enemy who has massacred their camp but to ask them to throw down their arms and embrace their shared humanity. The two sides gather together in the "strange meeting".


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