Owen's war poetry is a passionate expression of outrage at the horrors of war and of pity for the young soldiers sacrificed in it. It is dramatic and memorable, whether describing physical horror, such as in‘ Dulce et Decorum Est’ or the unseen, mental torment such as in‘ Disabled’. His diverse use of instantly understandable imagery and technique is what makes him the most memorable of the war poets. His poetry evokes more from us than simple disgust and sympathy; issues previously unconsidered are brought to our attention. One of Owen’s talents is to convey his complex messages very proficiently. In‘ Dulce et Decorum Est’–‘ If in some smothering dreams you too could pace / Behind the wagon that we flung him in’ the horror of witnessing this event becomes eternal through dreams. Though this boy died an innocent, war allowed no time to give his death dignity, which makes the horror so more poignant and haunting. This is touched on in‘ Mental Cases’–‘ Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter / Always they must see these things and hear them’. Many of the sights which will haunt the surviving soldiers are not what the officials have ordered them to do, but what they have done to save their own lives. It is the tragedy of war that you are not able to stop to help a dying man. They then, not only physically scarred and mentally changed, carry remedyless guilt with them. They have survived, at the expense of others–‘ Why speak not they of comrades that went under?’ (‘Spring Offensive’). Another dimension is that even the enemy soldiers are just like them, it is the politicians and generals who have caused this war, not these ordinary men. This is explored in‘ Strange Meeting’ - the meeting of an enemy who is really a‘ friend’. Many of Owen’s poems share resentment towards the generals and those at home who have encouraged war.‘ Disabled’ has a very bitter tone–‘ Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts’.‘ His Meg’ didn’t stay around after he joined to‘ please’ her– presumably she is with a‘ strong man’ who is‘ whole’. In‘ The Send Off’ and‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’ the prayers and flowers for the soldiers are mocked– useless offerings to men who are being sent as sacrifices. In‘ Apologia pro Poemate Meo’ Owen again adopts a harsh tone to those at home -‘ You shall not come to think them well content/ By any jest of mine . . . They are worth your tears / You are not worth their merriment’. Much anger is directed towards those ignorant of the full implications of war, but, perhaps ironically, his poetry would serve to make them aware. The thought of killing, watching your comrades be killed and constantly trying to survive sounds horrific enough, but the precise detail of the emotions, thoughts and sights of the soldier, succeed to drive the full horror home. This is where much of Owen’s originality lies, not vague reporting, but deep cynicism and conveyance of the situations. Owen sympathises profusely with the vain young men who have no idea of the horrors of war, who are‘ seduced’ by others and the recruiting posters. He bitterly rejects the patriotic reasoning for war in‘ Dulce’. That they eagerly join up for vanities makes their situation all the more tragic– he‘ threw away his knees’.‘ Smiling they wrote his lie’ depicts officials who not only accept this under age boy, but smile knowingly while they do it. In‘ The Send Off’ a lack of support for these men is suggested. The young men are to give up their lives as a sacrifice for their country, but their leaving lacks passionate good byes as‘ they were not ours’. In‘ S.I.W’ the full impacts of social pressure are highlighted. Though the man’s family clearly love him, they would‘ sooner him dead than in disgrace’, leaving him only suicide to escape. This notion of escaping into hell from war is also in‘ Strange Meeting’.
A recurring theme in Owen’s poetry is the notion of unseen scars. Though the soldier may return alive or uninjured, their lives will never be...
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