Owen vs Henderson

Topics: Jesus, Mary, Blessed Virgin Mary Pages: 5 (1656 words) Published: January 12, 2012
Wilfred Owen's protest poem Strange Meeting contrasts harshly with Mary Henderson's An Incident. While Owen argues the futility of war, "a nation's trek from progress", Henderson likens the soldier's death on the battlefield to the crucifixion of Christ, advocating it as a honourable, almost divine sacrifice for the motherland. Henderson recounts an incident where she tends to a wounded soldier, displaying a motherly characteristic consistent with other female war poets. The soldier is identified as a divine being and the nurse caring for him as the Virgin Mary. In the final stanza, Henderson compares women’s sharing of the soldiers' pain to Mary’s sharing of Jesus' pain on the Cross. Although she thereby acknowledges the suffering of the soldiers, the metaphor claims their sacrifice was a honourable and purposeful deed like Jesus'. "An Incident" clearly embodies Horace's adage, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori", which Owen has angrily criticised as the "Old Lie". Similarly, the nurse is among those whom Owen failed to enlighten through his "mastery" in "Strange Meeting". "Strange Meeting'' is intensely literary, cast in the traditional form of a dream-poem. The meeting occurs in the unconscious between Owen and an "other". The speaker, possibly seduced by propaganda, has discarded the one quality war might distil, and with it his humanity. He has failed to retain the hope of consolidating his emotions. This failure causes the spiritual death the other, whether as enemy or alter ego, as well as the presumed physical death of the narrator, though he was not killed. The couplet asserts that future generations will placidly accept what we have spoiled; or failing that, will once again go to war, achieving their own devastation. Owen implies, that while there is reconciliation in death, this is not the only place it can be achieved. Although we may emphasise with the need for reconciliation, we may only fully comprehend it after death. We die in this knowledge, and so it dies with us. The threat substantiated through the poem carries more significance for the survivors, as those who perished had no hope for our future, despite posthumous reconciliation. What hope is there for those who remain without the guidance of their knowledge of this pity, such as the nurse in "An Incident"? The direct emotion in "An Incident" as the nurse feels "the hot tears blur my sight" contrasts with the aesthetic distance achieved by Owen, for example through the diction of 'pity', which implies a distant and abstract quality to which Owen's expression gives permanence, rather than an emotion which the reader or poet themselves experience. Furthermore, Owen's intricate play on sounds, especially his pararhyme, evoke a melancholy effect which is enhanced by the second word in each rhyming-pair being lower in pitch: "friend/frowned," "killed/cold." Henderson's basic rhyme scheme on the other lends the poem a simplicity, further emphasised by the naive belief in the sanctity of war. In Owen's simile describing the discontent soldiers as being "swift with swiftness of the tigress", the gender of the tiger carries a significance exemplified in Henderson's poem: Children often acquire their values from their mother. In Henderson's case, the soldier who was "a child at her breast", whom she could have easily influenced with her nationalist ideas. While Henderson claims that war is redeemed in Christ, a similar concept can be gleaned in "Strange Meeting", when Owen mentions washing the blood-clogged chariot wheels in "sweet wells" and " truths that lie too deep for taint". He wishes to cleanse the soiled spirits of the victims with the truths he has learned. Owen's poem is also rich in literary allusion, echoing classical mythology. For example, in the first stanza, the adjective "titanic" and the image of sleepers who seem to be held against their will is reminiscent of the Titans being imprisoned by the triumphant Zeus and the other Olympians...
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