First thoughts on the work of Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen was an English WWI soldier and poet. He is considered one of the leading poets of WWI, as his use of distinctive techniques allowed him to show the reader of his work the horrors of the war. Owen used his poetry to put across his message that he was completely against war and he was disgusted with the treatment of soldiers that served in the war. Dehumanisation is an outstanding theme in Owen’s work. The dehumanisation of the soldiers involved in war is shown through many poetic devices that Owen uses. He uses these devices to show that the soldiers were not treated like humans, but as objects. These poems that Owen was writing were read by people back in the UK and they would be shocked and horrified with what they had read. This is what Owen wanted so the war could come to an end.

‘Arms and the Boy’ was the first poem written by Owen during the war. Straight away we can see a theme of dehumanisation in the poem as ‘Arms’ comes before ‘Boys’ in the title. This was Owens way of starting the poem with the idea that the soldier was dehumanised and less important than the weapons in the war. The young soldier in the poem is not made for war, as Owen uses a religious theme at the end of the poem. He says that God will not ‘grow no talons at his heels’ or grow ‘antlers through the thickness of his curls.’ This is suggesting that humans aren’t built for war, and God has not give humans attributes to fight in battles. As humans don’t have natural weapons like ‘antlers’, unnatural weapons like guns are created. Owen likes to personify in many of his poems and he personifies the bayonet to give it human attributes. He says the bayonet has a ‘hunger or blood’ as though the weapon can think for itself. The soldier could be turning into a weapon or a killing machine also. Owen uses words such as ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ while also using alliteration of the letters b and f which gives the sense of the soldier only thinking about blood and flesh, no longer thinking about anything but killing.

‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is a very similar poem to ‘Arms and the Boy’ as Owen uses the same techniques to portray his thoughts of war. He again uses the title of the poem to show how the soldiers were dehumanised and not thought of. ‘Anthem’ gives the impression of a national anthem or a religious song. They often express joy. No joy is expressed in this poem though. Owen shows dehumanisation again with his line ‘what passing-bells for these who die as cattle?’ This suggests that the soldiers were like cattle getting slaughtered for food in the war. The soldier’s fate was decided in the battlefield like a cattle’s would be when they are ready to get slaughtered. Owen questions why there was no proper funeral for each soldier that had died. The soldiers had suffered in the trenches and not even received a proper funeral, which angers Owen.

‘The Last Laugh’ is about Owen seeing three separate deaths while fighting in the war. Owen uses personification to make the weapons much more stronger and powerful than each of the soldiers. The weapons laugh and tease each of the soldiers as they are showing that they are stronger. In my opinion, the weapons are thought of as more important in the war than the soldiers, as the weapons were thought of as the difference between winning and losing the war. This is why the soldiers were dehumanised and didn’t receive full recognition for their bravery. Onomatopoeia is used also in this poem so we can hear the noises that the weapons use when they are killing the soldiers. ‘hooted’, ‘groaned’ and ‘hissed’ give the sense of these weapons laughing at the soldiers weak attempts to stay alive. 

‘Disabled’ is a poem about a soldier who returns from the war with horrific injuries. This is a prime example of Owens theme of dehumanisation as this young soldier was once a handsome man who used to go to town and dance with girls, but now isn’t even looked upon by girls unless its pity. This poem shows how this young soldier is now dehumanised and isn’t considered a part of society anymore. He enjoyed playing football and didn’t mind getting ‘bloodsmear’ down ‘his leg’ from playing it, he was proud of this ‘bloodsmear’ as he had thought he gained it from this battleground that was the football pitch. He was also ‘carried shoulder-high’ after games thanks to his heroics on a football field. This can possibly contrast to the multiple amputations he suffered. He does care about this and he isn’t proud of it because he cannot enjoy the things he used to enjoy. He also doesn’t get carried around and get celebrated as a hero coming off a battle field, possibly because he can’t physically get carried around, or the fact he now looks like a ‘queer disease’ to other people. When he came back from the war, few people came to greet him compared to the amount of people that were present for the send off. This is what Owen is upset with, as this person doesn’t get any recognition, like most soldiers. This soldier has come back from war with limbs missing and he is now seen as a second class citizen, like some ‘queer disease’. 

In conclusion, my feelings towards the poem are that the theme of dehumanisation is of great importance throughout Owen’s poetry and it is a centre point of his work. This is his reason as to why he is against war and he doesn’t like the treatment of soldiers. Dehumanisation is a common theme throughout his poetry and he uses poetic devices such as personification to address this. Using poetic devices helps the reader understand what Owen is trying to say about war. 

The Last Laugh by Wilfred Owen

‘Oh! Jesus Christ! I’m hit,’ he said; and died.
Whether he vainly cursed or prayed indeed,
The Bullets chirped-In vain, vain, vain!
Machine-guns chuckled,-Tut-tut! Tut-tut!
And the Big Gun guffawed.

Another sighed,-‘O Mother, -Mother, – Dad!’
Then smiled at nothing, childlike, being dead.
And the lofty Shrapnel-cloud
Leisurely gestured,-Fool!
And the splinters spat, and tittered.

‘My Love!’ one moaned. Love-languid seemed his mood,
Till slowly lowered, his whole faced kissed the mud.
And the Bayonets’ long teeth grinned;
Rabbles of Shells hooted and groaned;
And the Gas hissed. 

‘The Last Laugh’ is a poem written by Wilfred Owen which describes the different reactions of soldiers who are being attacked and hit by weapons while in a battle. Each stanza describes a different attack on the soldiers. The soldiers are emotional in each stanza as they now realise they are going to die. The machinery is made out to be more stronger and powerful than the soldiers, as they are ferocious and deadly when attacking, where the soldiers are no match for them and are emotional when they face the weapons. 

The first stanza begins with one attack taking place. The soldier is shouting out ‘Oh! Jesus Christ!’ which is religious but yet ambiguous. It can be either the soldier swearing as he is about to be hit, or it could be that this soldier is actually crying out to Jesus and God to help him. Owen uses repetition for the word ‘vain’. This is to emphasise that the soldiers would try to defend themselves but couldn’t. Owen uses personification and onomatopoeia here as he implies that the weapons were derisive. Owen says that the weapons ‘chuckled’ and ‘guffawed’. It gives the impression that the weapons are teasing the soldiers and are showing that they are the master of the soldiers. Owen also makes the weapons sound happy with his use of ‘chirped’. Owen’s use of personification and onomatopoeia here make the weapons a force to be reckoned with by the soldiers and they are as much of a opponent as the enemy soldiers. Onomatopoeia is used again with ‘Tut-tut! Tut-tut!’ and this could possibly be the weapons mocking the soldier for trying to stay alive. The weapons are too much of a match for the soldier, so they mock the effort of trying to stay alive. 

The second stanza is about a soldier shouting out for his mum and dad as he is about to be killed. This is ambiguous also as the soldier could be doing it as a natural reaction or it could be because he actually wants his mum and dad. The use of personification has made the weapon more stronger and more powerful, which cancels out the soldiers cries. The soldier could still be a young boy who has lied about his age to get into the army. This can link to the poem ‘Disabled’ as the soldier in that poem had lied about his age to get into the army, not knowing what the war was like and doing it to show off and look smart in a uniform. This soldier came back with limbs missing and no one wanting the care for him.  In ‘The Last Laugh’ it shows the appearance of his childishness when he is dead. Owen uses personification and onomatopoeia in this stanza also as the weapon taunts the young soldier. The use of ‘leisurely gestured’ gives the impression that this gas bomb knows it’s stronger than the soldier so it can do what it wants at its own pace. Owen uses a metaphor to describe the barrage of ‘Shrapnel’ from a bomb being like a cloud. Owen gives the weapon a voice which laughs at the soldier. The reader can experience the weapon that ‘tittered’ at the soldiers attempts to stay alive. 

The third and last stanza is about a soldier calling out for his girlfriend. He ends up kissing ‘the mud’ as he is killed and falls face first onto the ground. Owen uses stark language here as this soldier did not manage to kiss his girlfriend, he ended up kissing the mud. This makes the reader feel the bullet go through him as he doesn’t lower to kiss his girlfriend, but lowers to die. Owen uses the same structure he had used in the previous two stanzas as the soldier crying out for help was killed by the stronger opposition. Personification is used again here as the bayonets now have ‘long teeth’ which are grinning at this death. Onomatopoeia is used also which gives the reader the sense of the sounds heard at the scene. ‘hooted’, ‘groaned’ and ‘hissed’ give the sense of these weapons laughing at the soldiers weak attempts to stay alive. 

Disabled by Wilfred Owen

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
— In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join. He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts.

That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

‘Disabled’ is a poem by Wilfred Owen which explores the effects that war can have upon people who experience it. He uses a young, now disabled soldier in this poem to show how the effects of the war can change the lives of soldiers and people who live in the time of a war. Owen contrasts this disabled soldiers current state to the previously young and unknowing boy who had joined the army not knowing what was to come. 

The first stanza of the poem describes this young soldier, now disabled, after suffering from the effects that war can cause. Owen creates a picture to the reader here, using words to describe how he now sees him. The lines ‘He sat in a wheeled chair’ and ‘shivered in his ghastly suit of grey’ create a picture to the reader of this soldiers now sitting in a wheel chair, unable to be the same person as he was before the war. Owen can be using this soldier as an example of what war can do to people that are involved with it. This soldier can hear young boys around him playing, and this saddens him ‘like a hymn’ as he now knows that he can no longer take part in this and he has no left behind the days he used to be like a young boy. A ‘hymn’ is normally associated to praise, and is normally meant to be a happy thing. Owen seems to use this to show an opposite to what it is normally associated with. Maybe this is used as another opposite alongside the soldier who should be enjoying his life but is now forced to spend his life missing out as he now sits on a wheelchair all the time. 

The second stanza gives the reader a flashback to before the soldier has signed for the army, and had lived his life as a normal young lad. He used to go to ‘Town’ and ‘swing so gay’, which describes him as happy. He used to go to ‘Town’ when ‘glow-lamps’ lit the place up and girls would ‘glanced’ and looked ‘lovelier as the air grew dim.’ The soldier used to enjoy this before he ‘threw away his knees’, which means before he signed up for the army. The girls that the soldier now sees look and ‘touch’ him like a ‘queer disease.’ In the early 1900’s, homosexuality was frowned upon by society, and considered second class. This soldier will now be classed as a second class citizen to these girls who see him. The soldier will be thinking about how he will never be able to dance while holding girls ‘slim’ waists and how girls will only touch him in pity. This saddens him. 

The third stanza also talks about the young soldier before his disability. He is described as handsome in this stanza, as an artist wanted to paint a picture of him and he was said to have looked ‘a god in kilts.’ This is now no longer, as this disabled soldier is now old and can’t support himself physically as his ‘back will never brace.’ He also enjoyed playing football and didn’t mind getting ‘bloodsmear’ down ‘his leg’ from playing it, he was proud of this ‘bloodsmear’ as he had thought he gained it from this battleground that was the football pitch. He was also ‘carried shoulder-high’ after games thanks to his heroics on a football field. This can possibly contrast to the multiple amputations he suffered. He does care about this and he isn’t proud of it because he cannot enjoy the things he used to enjoy. He also doesn’t get carried around and get celebrated as a hero coming off a battle field, possibly because he can’t physically get carried around, or the fact he now looks like a ‘queer disease’ to other people. 

The fourth stanza continues to talk about this young soldier, and how he signed up, because he wanted to show off to his girlfriend and he didn’t know that the war was going to be a place of massacre. He didn’t know what was about to come, like all the other young soldiers that signed up. This young boy, who lied about his age to enlist, was only interested in travelling to different places and collecting medals and wearing a smart uniform to show off. This boy had not grown up to even feel fear. 

The fifth stanza now brings us to when the soldier returns home. He had returned home to few cheering him. His heroics in the war were not recognized, only his loss of his legs were pitied. He is now back to reality, where he remembers how many people came for his send off, compared to his return. He spends his first few years back home in ‘Institutes.’ As he now sits in a park alone, ‘women’s eyes’ pass him and look upon him in pity, compared to what it used to be like before he joined the army when he would be dancing with women. These women would be with men who were ‘whole’. He now sits here in the cold with no one coming to help him. The poem ends with Owen using a question ‘Why won’t they come?’ This is also repeated to show the anger that Owen has when asking this question. 

This poem is a very strong poem, which describes the effects of war and what it can do to peoples lives. Owen uses many different techniques to make this poem effective to the reader. He uses alliteration in this poem. Lines like ‘ghastly suit of grey’, ‘play and pleasure’ and ‘lifetime lapsed’ are all examples of alliteration in this poem, and it is used to link the words together. Also, there is a rhyming scheme in the poem, with Owen using ABACBC. The use of this makes us remember the previous lines. This can be a reference to the fact that no one remembers the soldier, so Owen is making us remember each line to make sure we as the reader do. ‘ghastly suit of grey’ gives the impression that this soldier is now dull and motionless, as grey is linked to boring and lifeless. Owen uses personification here when saying sleep has ‘mothered’ him. This is to show that sleep ‘mothers’ him from the laughter and noises of young boys, suggesting that he no longer finds the pleasures of life worth living for and prefers the temporary respite sleep provides.

Romanticism in the opening of ‘Birdsong’

Romanticism is used in the beginning of ‘Birdsong’, with elements such as nature, pastoral life, imagination, and symbolism being shown through the opening.

Faulks describes the nature of the surroundings area in the beginning of the novel. The description of Ameins is important to the novel, as it shows a beautiful French city. The surroundings are described with wildlife such as “On the damp gardens were chestnut trees, lilac and willows, cultivated to give shade and quietness to their owners.” This description of Amiens foreshadows the ugly scenes that the town is to witness at the end of the novel.

As the city is described as fertile, the description of the rivers running through the city “on the other side of the boulevard these had been made into a series of water gardens, little islands of damp fertility divided by the channels of the split river.” gives the impression that the city is in the form of a woman’s womb. This links to the idea of the city being fertile.

As Stephen is noticably the main protagonist in this novel, the use of individualism is displayed here.

Pastoral life is also shown here as there is the description of the city in the opening of the novel. “The wagons that rolled in from Lille and Arras to the north made directly into the tanneries and mills of the Saint-Leu quarter.” gives the idea of a calm and quiet city, which is experiencing the Industrial Revolution.

After looking at the features of Romanticism, I can now give evidnece to show that ‘Birdsong’ is to do with Romanticism and I can point out features that are in the novel.

Romanticism

Romanticism appeared in poetry at the end of the 18th century, and it peaked in the period between 1800 – 1850. It was seen as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution that was taking place, however it was also seen as a revolt against the scientific rationalization of nature and the Charles Darwin theory. It was William Wordsworth who made the breaktrough of the movement through his works of poetry and is still today considered a key figure in the Romantic movement. Some of the important romantic poetry characteristics are a passionate display of emotion, interest in the supernatural, idealism and affinity towards nature.

 

‘Birdsong’ – Chapter 1 and 2

In chapter one, we are introduced to Azaire. Azaire is similar to the character Mr Birling in ‘An Inspector Calls’ as both have the same views of middle class society. In the chapter, the sexual tension between Stephen and Madame Azaire is present. Stephen shows an interest in Madame Azaire as he describes her “strawberry chestnut hair, caught and held off her face.” Also, the language used to show what Stephen is looking at when looking at Madame Azaire suggests his desire for her. 

The bravery of Stephen is shown as he could hear a womans voice in the middle of the night. The imagery of tunneling in the house foreshadows the reality of the war and how there were many tunnels used for battles between the Germans and British troops. It is revealed that Azaire beats his wife due to his frustrations in their relationship.

Chapter two begins with the description of an over-crowded, poverty-stricken area, the opposite to the description of Azaires maze-like house with its endless passageways and number of empty rooms.

The workers in the factory Stephen visits are described in a impersonal way, they are merely cogs in a machine. This foreshadows the war and how the soldiers are also cogs. As Stephen returns to the Azaire household, there is a description of “plump children” contrasting with the “small children in ragged clothes”, which is showing the wealth and comfortable living conditions Azaire and his family are used to. Madame Azaire is described as simply Azaire’s ‘trophy wife’. The chapter ends with a description of Madame Azaire; her “light sent of rose soap or perfume” suggests Stephen’s love of Madame Azaire who is ‘prim and proper’.  

 

 

 

Wilfred Owen Poetry – An Introduction

During today’s lesson, we began to study the works of Wilfred Owen, a poet and soldier who fought in World War I. We are studying Owen’s work to compare the theme of war with the novels ‘Catch 22’ and ‘Birdsong’.

We began analysing some of Owen’s poems, such as ‘Futility’, and ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’. We looked at the way they were written and what devices Owen uses in these poems to help us have a greater understanding of what Owen’s poems are written like.

Owen uses seven poetic devices in his poems which help us recognise that it is his work. These devices are used in several poems of Wilfred Owen:

  1. An opening that creates a scene
  2. Use of nature and religious language
  3. Questions – rhetorical
  4. Punctuation that evokes emotion
  5. Contrasts – extended oxymorons
  6. Para-rhyme that add melancholic sound
  7. Assonance

These seven devices that Owen uses help up isolate his work to other WWI poets.