WILFRED OWEN

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Module B: Close Study of Text

As this is the only unit where we do not need to cover related text material, this page consists of Owen’s poems and a few interesting links to help contextualise his poetry.

Owen was born in 1893 in Great Britain and fought in World War One. Although initially positive about his opportunities in the Army as part of the war effort, the actual experience of war he found to be traumatic. He suffered significant injuries and saw much suffering and loss as a soldier.

These experiences shaped his poetry which reflected ideas that revolved around “…the pity of war, the pity war distilled…” (“Strange Meeting”). He was disgusted and horrified by the number of young men from both sides who were being encouraged to go so valiantly to their deaths.

This was at considerable odds with the way war was portrayed through other poets and the media at the time where advertisements like the two below were used to encourage young men to go to war. War was seen as a glorious role for a young man through these sorts of propaganda.

Owen opposed these notions of war after his experiences. Below are the six HSC prescribed poems that we will be discussing in class. Take note of the various themes that can be observed in Owen’s poetry; the references to the pity, waste, loss and the horror and suffering of war.

poster 1            poster 2

Essential procedures in this Module:

  1. Identify the text’s purpose and ideas
  2. Identify the formal/technical characteristics of the text
  3. Describe how the themes and ideas interact with the stylistic techniques
  4. Describe how the ideas and techniques affect the reader’s /audience’s understanding of the themes conveyed by the composer

Suggestions:

Identifying the text’s themes and ideas:

In poetry, the title is vital as an introduction to the theme and tone of the poem.  Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is ironic in the use of ‘anthem’ and very critical tone in the use of the word ‘doomed’, which sounds as disturbing as its meaning.

  • A close study of a text should look at words in detail, beginning with the title to describe how the use of language determines the readers response.  In ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, the title has prepared us for the text that follows and begun to determine our response to that text.

 

Look at the texts structure.  In poetry, various kinds of structures are used to develop ideas:

  • Eg:  Stanzas: one stanza can present one aspect or idea, then the following may focus on its opposite.
  • It is vital to consider and describe the way in which the author uses structure to explain how this affects the communication of ideas and themes in the text

 

Describing the language techniques of a text – the devices used by the author:

  • Figurative language techniques
  • You must identify the technique and explain why it is being used
  • How is it effective in communicating the ideas of the writer?

 

Analyse the interaction of ideas with literary forms and language:

  • Why has the author chosen particular words and forms to express themes of the text?
  • In Owen’s poetry, different kinds of language and structural forms are used to convey his ideas about the suffering of soldiers in WWI.  The vivid realism and harsh diction, for example, help us understand the reasons for his bitter criticism and engage us with the issues.
  • The style expresses the meaning, as language interacts with ideas to make them more forceful.

 Anthem for Doomed Youth

Listen to poem – click here     blue_click_here_leftarrow blue_click_here_leftarrow

Watch and listen to an annotation of this poem on youtube

Analysis:

Summary –  Our speaker asks us what sort of notice or holy ritual marks the deaths of soldiers who are slaughtered in battle. He then answers his own question, pointing out that there are no special occasions or pleasant ceremonies on the front—only the sounds of weapons and battle, which he compares to a demented sort of song and ceremony.

Then he asks what ritual can be done to make those deaths a little easier to swallow. He concludes that only tears and the pale, drained faces of their loved ones will send these deceased boys off; the tenderness of patient minds will be like flowers on their graves. In the last image, our speaker shows us an image of civilians pulling down their blinds at dusk.

Another analysis:  An anthem is a song that acts as a symbol for a distinct group of people. In this case the anthem has been written for the ominously identified “doomed youth.” This is almost an oxymoron, in that someone’s doom is more commonly associated with older people. This lends a sense of pity to the title of the poem, an emotion consistent with all of Owen’s war poetry.

Much of the poem reflects on the tragic deaths of these young men and the fact that they will die without even a funeral by which to remember them. There is repetitive funereal imagery throughout the poem, in which the poet uses the sights and sounds of war to reflect a poor substitute for a funeral. Not only does Owen see the deaths of these young men as needless and wasteful, he finds the fact they will be unnamed and unidentified deplorable.

The poem is structured as a sonnet, which is a form of love poetry. It is fourteen lines long and broken into two stanzas of eight and six lines respectively. The fact it is structured as a love poem is ironic, as Owen presents a distressing ode to those men and their lost futures rather than any romantic ideas about war.

The rhetorical question at the beginning is the question that Owen uses the first stanza to answer. The “passing bells” refer to church bells at the passing of these young men, the first allusion to a funeral presented in the poem. He then uses a simile to compare these men “…who die as cattle…” to suggest that they were brought to the prime of their life with the express purpose of being slaughtered. This again shows the pity and wastefulness of war.

Owen then proceeds to answer his own question. He continues to create a sense of pity through the repetition of the word “Only” at the beginning of the next two lines. This repetition indicates how little these men are left with as they confront death. He personifies the guns through “monstrous anger,” indicating a terrible and irrefutable anger that will lead to these men’s deaths. This emphasises the brutality of war, in which inanimate objects hold a terrible violence. The “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” uses alliteration and onomatopoeia to imitate the rattle and roar of different types of gunfire. These sounds are the only “passing bells” these men hear as they die. The “hasty orisons,” or prayers, of the men are clearly interspersed with the onomatopoeic “patter” of the guns. The hastiness of these prayers indicates the swiftness of death in war.

Owen then suggests that funeral rites for these men would be “mockeries”. He acknowledges there are none of the rituals we usually associate with death such as prayers or bells. The repetition of “no” and “nor” here again emphasises how little these men have as they die. He then offers a moment of hope, indicating there is no “…voice of mourning save the choirs…” The dash at the end of this line gives a moment to pause and perhaps glean something positive from the poem.

This hope is in vain as Owen describes the “…shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells.” This powerful imagery again recognises that the sound of bullets are the only choir that will sing of the deaths of the doomed youth. The wailing of the shells mocks the sound of wailing one might associate with women upon discovering the death of a loved one. The use of the word “demented” further emphasises this mockery. The war imagery of the inanimate “bugles calling” the men is clearly in vain, this again being the only choir that will sing for the dead. In concluding the first stanza, the soft alliteration of “sad shires” presents a contrast to the noise of the first stanza, perhaps imitating the aftermath of a day’s battle.

Like in the first stanza, Owen opens the second stanza with a rhetorical question which he proceeds to answer. He again uses the funereal symbol of “candles” held by mourners and uses images of war to again make a mockery of this poor excuse for a funeral. When Owen refers to “their eyes” he is referring to the soldiers’ eyes and uses the last gleam of their eyes as a link to the candles. The “holy glimmers of goodbyes,” presumably to those loved ones whom they never adequately farewelled, are the only candles that will be held for these men. There is a tragic suggestion in the fact these men have to supply their own candles at their funerals.

His final lines aim to stretch this extended metaphor further. Their pall, or coffin covering, will be through “…The pallor of girls’ brows…” as they hear of the deaths of their loved ones. This is again piteable in that this coffin covering will not arrive until well after the deaths of these men. The only flowers of the men’s passing will be “…the tenderness of patient minds…” This is again a poor substitute as it is the only tenderness they will receive and bears very little resemblance to funeral flowers. These “patient minds” reflect those waiting for a loved one who will never return.

The final line is packed with imagery. There is the literal interpretation of the “…drawing-down of blinds” each evening as the folk at home wait for the return of their loved ones. However, even more powerful than this is the metaphorical interpretation of these lines. “Dusk” is at the end of the day and this reflects the end of the lives of these men. The “…drawing-down of blinds” refers to the end of their lives as well, recalling the idea of closing a man’s eyes once he has died or a curtain drawing their lives to a close. The melancholic tone of this ending reinforces the tragic and pitiful waste of these lives of these doomed youth. Indeed, this anthem could be construed as the only funeral these men will get.

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 DULCE ET DECORUM EST

This is what your workbooks or reflection logs should like
This is what your workbooks or reflection logs should like

Listen to Dulce et decorum est      blue_click_here_leftarrow

The following site has interactive annotations of the poems  it is simple and useful:

interactive annotation Dulce et decorum est     blue_click_here_leftarrow

REFLECTIVE JOURNAL : Listen to the following YouTube link and jot down the interesting parts of speech and poetic devices explained so brilliantly by Polly. We have discussed many of the things she raises but there are a few to add to your workbooks and especially to your reflective log. Listen to the annotation below that we looked at in class. 

click below

Polly Dunning -Part 1 –  good analysis

Part 2 of analysis here

> > CLICK on the slides below to see them in full screen – add the things you ‘discover’ about the poems in your ‘reflective journals’.

slide 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Is Owen being condescending in the line where his tone changes with the words, ‘My Friend …’?

FUTILITY

Listen to the poem ‘FUTILITY’ here:       blue_click_here_leftarrow

Futility dead soldier Owen Wilfredsonnets-futility-7-638

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STRANGE MEETING

Listen to the poem ‘Strange Meeting’ here:     blue_click_here_leftarrow

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Access the interactive annotations for this poem – Genius.com here:

You have extensive notes on this poem now see what you can write about in your reflective journal about the connections YOU have made with it.

INSENSIBILITY

Click here to listen to the poem Insensibility     blue_click_here_leftarrow

Listen carefully to the poem a few times – read your notes and annotations then reflect in your journal the things that YOU think Owen is trying to say to his audience. Remember it’s about how YOU respond and connect to the text – no one else!!

  Genius.com is a brilliant site for Owen poetry     blue_click_here_leftarrow

 >>> Access an interactive version of INSENSIBILITY here:

In this poem Owen talks about how war desensitises the individual, enforcing that the brutal occurrences that happen during war can mentally scar an individual permanently.

Along with this, the soldiers repress their emotions and thus become “stone”, emotionless and with no regard for their own lives.

This can be seen when he repetitively says “happy are” then states very contrasting qualities that would/should not lead to happiness.

Wilfred Owen: “Insensibility”       Poem Summary

Those men who can rid their veins of warmth and who do not let compassion affect them before they die are happy. The front line breaks, and those men are fading troops, not flowers for poets to play with. They are barely men, merely “gaps for filling” and the numbers in the official losses. No one cares about them.

Some of them stop feeling any emotion, for themselves or for others. Dullness is the solution for the incessant shelling. It is easier to rely on chance rather than trying to figure out when the shells might fall. They do not even bother trying to assess the destruction of the armies in the war.

Those who no longer have an imagination are also happier; imagination is too heavy a weight when they have to carry their packs and ammunition around. Old wounds do not ache anymore. They are not even affected by the color of blood, having seen “all things red” in battle. The pulsing of terror is over. Their senses have been ironed and cauterized, and they are able to laugh even among the dying, completely unfeeling.

The soldier at home is happy, as he does not know about the dawn full of attacks. The boy whose mind was never trained is happy as he sings along the march. The march is long and dreary and unceasing, “from larger day to huger night”.

Those wise soldiers cannot think how else to view their task. They are not overly necessary while alive, and are not valuable when they are dying. They are not sad or prideful or even curious. The speaker wonders how their attitudes are different from “old men’s placidity”.

However, these “dullards” are cursed as they stand like stones before cannons. They are wretched and base. It was their choice to make themselves immune to feeling and pity and the part of man that causes him to moan before the stars. They do not care about what mourns when men die, or what “shares / The eternal reciprocity of tears”.

Analysis

Written around April 1918, “Insensibility” is one of Owen’s longest poems, and continues one of the major themes in his oeuvre – the psychological mechanisms that soldiers utilize to stomach their horrific situation. It features a broken rhythm and irregular meter. The stanzas are of unequal length, but Owen employs his famous pararhyme consistently throughout the poem.

In the first stanza Owen begins by saying that soldiers are happier when they can desensitize themselves to the war. Compassion is useless, and they certainly should not be looked at as rife with poetry or sentiment. The soldiers are barely men, in fact – just “gaps for filling” and the numbers that make up the losses. No one really cares about them. This belief, beautifully articulated by Owen, that the young soldiers are replaceable and less than human is present in the work of all of the great WWI poets. Of course, Owen’s poetry seeks to refute those truths and to give dignity and worth to the young men so brutally ignored; he does “bother” with them.

In the second stanza he continues, saying that the young men do not care about themselves or about others anymore. They have dulled their senses and do not try to make heads or tails of their situation. It is easier to take things as they come, and they barely even pay attention to the course of the war. One of the common themes voiced in the recollections of WWI is just how utterly irrational it all seemed, and “Insensibility” gives voice to that assertion. In the third stanza Owen claims that these soldiers are better off without an imagination; no doubt it is simply too painful to consider life at home, or the possibilities for a normal life after the war. All of these emotions are simply extraneous and unnecessary; there is no point to colors like red, for they have “seen all things red”, and they no longer feel anything like fear. Used in “Greater Love” to symbolize romance, here red can only mean blood. In one of the most disturbing images, the soldiers “laugh among the dying, unconcerned”. There is no point in wasting one’s tears on the dead, as they are too many to count.

In the fourth stanza the soldier who returns home is happy because he does not have to know more about the battles, and the soldier who never learned the value of emotion or feeling in the first place is happy as well. Suddenly, in the middle of this stanza, Owen switches to first person, using “we” to depict him and his fellow soldiers marching along solemnly and interminably. He speaks not of universal truth, but his own specifically as well. The days and nights meld into one long darkness and soldiers have little to alleviate their boredom and despair.

In the fifth stanza, the most complicated thus far, Owen seems to be contrasting people like himself, the “wise”, the poets, who are not yet insensible to what is going on, with the soldiers who are not “sad, nor proud, / Nor curious at all”. The question seems to be how a poet can be a poet and a soldier. If he becomes insensible to the war, how can he use his voice for a higher purpose? If he stays sensible, how can he psychologically deal with the sheer horror of it all?

In the last stanza Owen shifts his perspective a bit, saying that the insensible “dullards” are cursed and wretched. The happiness that the soldiers-turned-ciphers experience has been purchased at a high price, for they no longer have any understanding of humanity. Owen does not outright condemn these soldiers, understanding why they suppress their feelings as they do, but he feels a profound sadness at this lack of pity.

You have extensive notes on this poem now see what you can write about in your reflective journal about the connections YOU have made with it.

The Next War

Listen to ‘The Next War’ here (YouTube)        blue_click_here_leftarrow

next war    Its form may be conventional (sonnet); its content is not.

Out there we walked quite friendly up to Death (1)

Quite friendly! Isn’t Death (personified by Owen to heighten the reality) the enemy? It seems not.

Oh Death was never enemy of ours (9)

Death can be nonchalantly walked up to, sat down beside, eaten with. A meal with Death! That symbolic act of sociality and fellowship! Death’s table manners may not be of the best (‘spilling mess tins in our hand’) but still ‘we laughed at him’ (10), more than that, we ‘leagued with him’ (10) as if after all we might be on the same side.

Can coolness, blandness such as this really be a part of war? Yes, Owen says, for it links with courage, comradeship, pride, an unconquerable spirit. To read Sassoon’s remarkable MEMOIRS OF AN INFANTRY OFFICER is to have it confirmed that something in the soul of man makes such an attitude more than a mere defence mechanism.

Here then is one aspect of the poem. Against this buoyant strain runs a harsher counter-melody, as if Owen is saying don’t let’s forget what has to be overcome for optimism to prevail, and echoes of other Owen poems help to put things in perspective. When in line 4

We’ve sniffed the green thick odour of his breath

We’re reminded of DULCE ET DECORUM EST and the ‘thick green light’ through which Owen watches his comrade die of poison gas. Though ‘our eyes wept…..our courage didn’t writhe’ (5) we read and with Owen we see ‘those white eyes writhing in his face’, and we are made to understand that high endeavour and incomparable spirit in no way preclude the torment.

He’s spat at us with bullets, and he’s coughed

Shrapnel. (6-7)

Onomatopoeic, like ‘the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle’ of ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH. We may have ‘chorused if he sang aloft’ (7) or ‘whistled while he shaved us with his scythe’ (8), but the ‘shrill demented choirs of wailing shells’ will not always be capable of being out-sung.

Wilfred Owen sent the first draft of NEXT WAR to his mother on 25th September 1917, telling her a week later, ‘I included my “Next War” in order to strike a note. I want Colin (his youngest brother) to read, mark, learn etc it.’ What exactly did Wilfred want Colin to learn? The answer must lie in those last three lines in which, as in STRANGE MEETING and THE SEND-OFF, for example, he dons his prophet’s hat.

….knowing that better men would come

And greater wars: when every fighter brags

He fights on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.

If by greater wars he means wars ultimately of wider significance, then prophet he truly is, with World War Two away on the horizon, the cause of which was to have a sharper edge to it. Good that Colin should learn about man’s indomitable spirit and its ascendancy over evil. That ‘flags’ (a metaphor for national aggrandisement) are never worth the sacrifice of one life let alone millions, would not have been a bad thing for Colin to learn either

Below is a power point on the poem The Next War – access it and another analysis link below:

 click_here.button

The Next War Power Point

Another useful analysis link – Slide Share page

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So now we have covered all of the poems that we have to for MODULE B: Close Study of Text – the next link is for revising your work.

Remember that each day you need to look at one poem or an analysis and write something in your reflective journal about what YOU see in the poem/s.

Link to Powerpoint here: tips for HSC study blog

Cheers          Ms Rush         giving-thumbs-up-winking-smiley-emoticon

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “WILFRED OWEN

  1. Josh

    Thanks for going out of your way and doing this. It has helped me form a better understanding about the poems as it is difficult for me because it is hard to understand the English in the poems. Now I have formed a connection with Wilfred’s poems and this will show in my analysis. Cheers

    Like

    1. Hi Josh
      This has been a big learning curve for me – that means that I have learnt a lot by creating this blog. A lot about using technology in the classroom and for extension work 🙂 Looking forward to reading your analysis and letter home – Cheers

      Like

    1. The time stamp indicates you were up quite late Miss Gordon, make sure you get plenty of sleep :D. I hope the links helped you to better understand the poems. I know it seems like a lot of work but it will pay off and we won’t really revisit Wilfred Owen much for the next couple of Terms …so your reflective journal is an important study tool – keep writing in it! BTW I emailed you a response to your analysis this morning 🙂

      Like

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