Discuss four poems by Wilfred Owen and discuss the views of war given in each poem
The four poems that I am going to study are:
> ‘The dead beat’
> ‘Mental cases.’
> ‘Dulce et decorum est,’
Wilfred Owen was born in Owestry, Shropshire; he was the son of a railway worker. He came under the influence of contemporary French poetry. He enlisted in 1915 becoming a second lieutenant of the Manchester regiment. He was wounded three times while he was in France and then after that was diagnosed with shell shock. In may 1917 and in June he was sent to the Craiglockhart war hospital in Edinburgh. This is where he wrote the poem ‘The Dead Beat’.
The first poem, ‘The Dead Beat’ was written at Craiglockhart war hospital in august 1917. His time here was to be of great importance in his development as a poet. This is where he met Sieyfried Sassoon. Sassoon was an influence on Owen’ writing. ‘The Dead Beat’ is about a private soldier who was completely collapsed in a state of shock, “lay stupid like a cod, heavy like meat,” he was unable to respond to orders and the Commanding officer’s threat of shooting him for deserting his port, “Just blinked at my revolver blearily, – didn’t appear to know a war was on.” He cries with false heroism that he will murder his enemies, “I’ll do ’em in.” one of his fellow soldiers feels that he may be more worried about what is going on at home than disturbed by the carnage of war. He is thinking of the ‘valiant armchair’ soldiers, the relatives who have forced him to join up, and also of his wife who he feels, “Getting her fun,” by having affairs whilst he is away.
“Its not these stiffs have crazed him, nor the Hun,” in this line I feel that he is thinking of his wife’s lovers that he wishes to kill, not the corpses or the Germans. The soldier was obviously wounded at war as the addition of the, “stretcher-bearer,” and “the Doe”. The stretcher-bearer assumes that he in delaying things, “malingering? Stretcher-bearers winked, “not half”,” and the doctor comes across as very unsympathetic; so much so that he rejoices soon after a soldier dies, “next day I heard the doc’s well whisked laugh: – that scum you sent lat night soon died. Hooray!”
The events and contrasting attitudes in the poem, suffering nervous collapse and self-indulgence, are calculated to shock the reader into recognition of the plight of the ordinary soldier and the need to discard all notions of cowardice.
The second poem that I am going to discuss is ‘Mental Cases’. This poem was written to illustrate the effect of the war on the participating soldiers. The subjects of the poem are again inmates and the military hospital. Macabre word choice is apparent throughout, “wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander”. By this approach the poet is hoping to make a distinct impression on the reader and it also reflects his intense passion about his opposition to the war. The subjects of the poem are almost blaming the rest of us for allowing what has happened to occur. They are now doomed to relive the terrible acts that they have witnessed on the battlefield. The mood of the poem is one of anger; this is shown overtly and covertly throughout.
The first verse attempts to give a description of how these “mental cases,” look, introducing us to the men the war has created.
The second verse illustrates the cause of the men’s madness, linking it with combat in the war. The poetry here is filled with emotion and shocking detail. “Shatter of flying muscles”. The poet tries to suggest the humanness of the victims, as opposed to the thought of them purely as statistics. “Treading blood from lungs that loved laughter”. The line, “memories finger in their hair of murders,” is a metaphor that compares their memories to a women, a female fatale, whose deadly embrace smothers them from within, where they cannot escape, “always they must see these things and hear them”.
In the final verse he brings the last two verses together, now that we know both cause and consequence and the last line sums up the theme of the poem, “pawing up who dealt them war and madness.” The poet again brings up the subject of collective guilt, making clear that by not stopping the war we become responsible for the results, “snatching after us who smote them, brother.”
This poem is a shocking reminder of the mental toll of the war. If ever there was a war poem that reflected the war in its writing style then this is it. The horrific language tries to breed horrific thoughts in our own minds and succeeds again and again.
Poem three that I am going to study is ‘Dulce ET Decorum EST Pro Patria mori’. This in English means, it is sweet and honourable to die for ones country and that is what this poem is all about.
In this poem the poet describes the struggle of a group of men who have had to struggle through the most extraordinary events day in and day out. Owen uses a simile comparing soldiers to beggars, to show the physical effects of war on the men, they are young men but they have been reduced to this, “bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags we cursed through sludge.” “Gas! Gas! Quick boys!” this is a state of emergency, it is read quickly, but is also written in direct speech, which helps the reader to become more involved and ‘placed into the scene’.
“As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering chocking, drowning,” describes the gas attack causes a thick green misty haze around the men. This enables us to visualise the state the man was in. the fact that Owen dreams about this all the time and the man is plunging at him in particular means that he feels guilty for this mans death.
The purpose of the final verse, “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro Patria mori,” is to describe the tragedy of war and how it is not a sweet and fitting thing to die for your country, but a desperate and agonising way to die.
The fourth and final poem I am going to study is, ‘Inspection’, this poem like the first couple is set in the military war hospital. In the contents of Owens’s poems this was under the heading ‘inhumanity of war’, under the influence of Sassoon’s war poetry. In its matter of fact ness, it illustrates Owens’s declaration that he was not concerned with poetry more about his life and what had gone on in it. This poem is in the form of a dramatic dialogue between Owen as an officer and a soldier who had stain on his uniform, “you! What d’you mean by this?” I rapped. “You dare come on parade like this?” the soldier is punished and when later he tells the officer that the stain was blood, he is told that, “blood’s dirt”.
The poem opens with the arresting accusation of the officer, which contrasts, with the hesitant reply of the soldier. The soldiers are sent to fight and die, but their blood, or the reality of war, is unsightly and must not be visible, even their youthful red cheeks must be bled white, “but when we’re duly white-washed, being dead, the race will bear field-marshal God’s inspection.” And the sacrifice of the soldiers on behalf of warring nations is as hypocritical as trying to wash away the outward signs of sin like white washing an army barrack before a field marshals inspection.
In conclusion, I think that all the poems attack different aspects of the Great War. They describe after effects of the war and what can happen, being in the frontline in the wet horrendous trenches, preparation for a war with the inspections and how much work a soldier has to do, which then leads the soldier into exhaustion and an ill state of mind.