Asleep by Wilfred Owen
Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After so many days of work and waking,
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.
There, in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
Death took him by the heart. There heaved a quaking
Of the aborted life within him leaping,
Then chest and sleepy arms once more fell slack.
And soon the slow, stray blood came creeping
From the intruding lead, like ants on track.
Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts that hung the stars,
High-pillowed on calm pillows of God's making,
Above these clouds, these rains, these sleets of lead,
And these winds' scimitars,
-Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the grey grass
Of finished fields, and wire-scrags rusty-old,
Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas!
* written in November 1917 while he was in Craiglockhart as Killed Asleep * Edited in May 1918
* In a letter to his cousin he described the downs that seemed filled with dead bodies, this is what inspired this poem Stylistic devices, tone and mood:
1. Imagery: “under his helmet” makes helmet sound larger than it is, usually helmet is on his head 2.1. exaggeration underlines pity of the soldier, his only protection and support are his helmet and his pack => hard and uncomfortable 2.2. the use of pronoun “him” mystifies identity => device used by Owen to show that the soldier could be anyone but will remain unknown and forgotten by society 2. Alliteration: “work and waking”
3.3. repetition of sounds creates a rhythm
3.4. makes up an 11 syllable line making it much longer and strenuous to say then next line consisting of only 10 and mostly monosyllables => relaxation and ease when saying it mirrors idea of sleep 3. Personification: “sleep took him… laid him”, sleep transforms into a person that takes control, gentle and so is under its control => peacefulness 4. “happy, no-time of his sleep” first mention of feeling underlines the joy the mean get from sleeping => way to escape from reality and atrocity of war => “no-time” where time means troubles emphasizes peace but also may imply how brevity of this immense pleasure 5. Anaphora: repeats the phrase “took him by” seen in the 3rd line and replaces Sleep with Death 6.5. this metaphor immediately associates them => the poet then from that moment suggests that for the soldier death = sleep => more peaceful (see last line “less tremulous, less cold”) 6.6. sleep takes the soldier by his “brow” which due to its position on the body could symbolize the mind contrary to death which takes him by the “heart” which may symbolize that his body and his emotions may now rest not just his mind 6.7. the punctuation with a full-stop in the middle of the line emphasizes how abrupt but final it was, the lack of pause or indent before the next line and the monotonous continuation in the writer’s tone indicates the lack of response from anyone else 6.8. “there was a quaking” only reaction or disruption to the static description 6. Owen uses enjambment => sentence into the next line without a pause emphasizes the lack of response or pause 7.9. Aborted life => escaping and the use of term “leaping” has connotation of joy and denotes movement upwards => to the “calm pillows of God’s making” 7.10. Ellipsis (…) creates a pause to not have to describe what else happens 7. Metaphor: “sleepy arms” => as though was still alive the leaping was just a nightmare that disturbed his sleep => “once more” soldier was going back to “sleep” => fell slack contrasts with gentle imagery of “laid back” => slack indicates no life 8. Alliteration: “s” creates sound of blood...
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