Exposure transports the reader into the pitiless trench warfare of the First World. It allows the reader to share the experience of having all vestiges of shelter removed, stripped back to the nakedness and feebleness of the human body against the wintry savagery of a snow storm in the dark, at the point of death. It starts by setting the scene of tired soldiers being ‘knived’ by the wind, too worried to sleep because of the unnatural silence. “Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
But nothing happens.”
The sibilance of the repeated ‘s’ sound creates the effect of whispering, an attempt to not draw the attention of the enemy, who are futilely using flares to see what is going on. The trenches were protected by rolls of barbed wire, the barbs snagging the clothing and skin of any person trying to manoeuvre through it, delaying their passage and increasing the chances of being shot. Then allowing their comrades to witness their dying agony held up twitching on the wire. Owen uses a simile with naturally occurring brambles. The war continues in the distance but the silence and inactivity in the bitter cold makes it all sound unreal, as dawn brings more snow laden clouds into view. “Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.” Has the battle started again? It is compared as less ‘deathly’ than the snow. Are the men staring so hard that they can no longer actually see and their mind accept what is happening. Is this the approach of death, where exposure to the winter cold is so close that a bullet seems less probable? The next lines are a reflection on the comforts of home, but only seen through the chinks in the shutters. The hopelessness of not being allowed into the warmth by the repeated use of closed; “Shutters and doors, all closed: on us the doors are closed,” The minds of the dying men are driven back to the battlefield because of the fear that if the enemy isn’t conquered that there will never be fires burning in the hearths...
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