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Owen vs Henderson

By ngoetz1 Jan 12, 2012 1656 Words
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 after the Titanomach. This puts Owen's war, one which claimed to end all wars, into perspective. Henderson's use of cesura in the first line (He was just a boy, as I could see) is used to emphasise just how young the soldier was. Owen on the other hand uses cesura in conjunction with anaphora or antithesis to stress the dichotomy, such as in the third stanza (The pity of war, the pity war distilled). In conclusion, when juxtaposed, the two poems complement each other as "An Incident" is an extension of Owen's fears expressed in the first half of the third stanza. Without the guidance of pity, the world has devolved to a nationalist mentality that gladly sacrifices mere boys in a religious delusion that this is a divine deed.

as one of those wh Possibly seduced by propaganda, the speaker in "Strange Meeting" 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 two poems contrast the role of men and women in the war as soldiers and nurses. While the two soldiers have condemned themselves through their actions, whereas the nurse in "An Incident" retains a moral high-ground through her motherly care for the fallen.

"Strange Meeting" achieves aesthetic distance and universality through a descent into the unconscious where a strange meeting of external and internal man takes place. In fact the poet actually renders that descent in the poem, forcing the un-suspecting reader to make the same journey. "An Incident" on the other hand offers a view of the contrasting role played by women in the war.

The "tunnel'' has been cut by the first of all wars, the war of the Titans and the gods, and the image of sleepers in a cave is recurrent in classical and Arthurian myth. Another indication of the poem's literariness is its intricate play on sounds, especially its pararhyme. The frustrating, melancholy effect of these rhymes is enhanced by the second word in each pair being lower in pitch: `"friend/frowned,'' "killed/cold.'' "Strange Meeting'' is intensely literary, a poet's testament, cast in the traditional form of a dream-poem. The diction of 'pity' implies a distant and abstract quality to which Owen's expression gives permanence, rather than an emotion which the reader or poet themselves experience. Possibly seduced by propaganda, the narrator 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.

Subject
Themes
Idea
Purpose
How it is conveyed
While the men fighting in the wars were considered as sons fighting for their country, the nurses were regarded as the mothers nurturing the sons of their country. This concept is described in Mary H. J. Henderson’s poem “An Incident,” another poem written during World War I (Reilly 52). In the poem, She explains, “for each son of man is a son divine, / not just to the mother who calls him ‘mine’” (lines 21-22). In wartime, the nurse took care of the soldier as a mother would take care of her sick child. At a time when a man may need his mother the most, the nurse was the closest he could get to having his mother by his side. In this poem, Henderson takes care of the soldier as the Virgin Mary takes cares of Jesus, the Son of God. The idea of nurses as mothers is a popular concept in many literary works written by women during the wars, not just in poems, but also in fiction, memoirs, plays, and art.

In the same poem, Henderson also compares women to the Virgin Mary, Christ’s mother. She describes how the soldier “could not hold the spoon or cup, / and [she] fed him….[like] Mary, Mother of God,” (14-15). Henderson compares herself to the ultimate Mother Mary who is the most nurturing and perfect mother in every way. Just like Mary was given the divine responsibility by God to raise Jesus, the nurses have been given the important responsibility of taking care of the wounded soldiers. In the final stanza, Henderson compares women’s sharing of the soldiers’ pain to Mary’s sharing of Jesus’s pain on His Cross when she writes, “and still on the battlefield of pain / Christ is stretched on His Cross again; / and the Son of God in agony hangs, / womanhood striving to ease His pangs” (16-19). By choosing to compare this scene of the battlefield with the crucifixion of Jesus, the poet is also acknowledging the death, along with the pain and suffering of the soldiers. And just like Jesus’s death had a purpose, so does the soldiers’ death: they sacrifice their lives so that those alive (women and children) will have a future with freedom and peace in “the Mother Land” (24).

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