Wilfred Owen Links and themes

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Summary session:
Themes, ideas and impressions of Owen's poetry
Disturbing / grotesque/ blunt/ graphic/ death
These are different yet related words that you all came up with last week.
I provocatively asked you if you thought Owen was too graphic in his poetry, and
contrastingly if he was perhaps not graphic enough. I was hugely impressed with the
way in which you responded to these questions. Answers were varied and included:
· Owen has no choice: he is exposed to the horrors of war, why not write about
exactly what he sees and feels?
· Owen was holding back on graphic detail ­ e.g. in `The Last Laugh'
· For Owen, his message[s] is more important than using graphic detail to shock
his audience
· It is better to be poetic; had he gone to extremes with graphic detail he may not
have been remembered as such a prolific poet
· It is subjective
Daninder: Owen is frank and blunt in his poetry, and this is what makes it so
`Dulce et Decorum Est':
`His white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin....
..froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer'
Anthony: highlighted how `death' preoccupies much of Owen's poetry. Although
this may seem like an obvious point to make, it is an extremely important point
which must not be overlooked. Remember Joanna Bourke's statement that `the
characteristic act of men at war is not dying, it is killing'. Why does Owen focus so
heavily on the suffering and death inflicted upon the soldiers and less so on the act
of killing itself?
(Note: `Mental Cases' and `Strange Meeting' are two of Owen's poems that do deal
with `killing')
Owen's parody of the Romantics and their celebration of nature
`A Terre', line 44-47: ` `I shall be at one with nature, herb and stone,'
Shelley would tell me. Shelley would be stunned:
The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now.
`Pushing up daisies' is their creed, you know'
He reverses common perceptions of nature, as for example through his portrayal
of dawn. Dawn is commonly associated with hope and renewal, however...
`Exposure', line 11 : `the poignant misery of dawn begins to grow'
`Mental Cases' line 22: `Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh'
Nature as dangerous, perhaps an even bigger threat that the German army.
`Exposure' line 1: `the merciless iced east winds that knive us'

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In fact, a sense of empathy is evoked for the German `melancholy army' who in
`shivering ranks of grey' share in the suffering imposed by nature (lines13-14).
Nature as innocent: `Miners'
Bitterness/ Anger/ Disillusionment/ Passionate/ Desolation / Cynicism
Rob summed Owen's poetry up by using the word impiety. Though I am slightly
dubious about this specific word (as according to the dictionary it means `sinful' and a
`rejection of God'), his ideas stemming from this word were very insightful.…read more

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While songs are crooned;
But they will not dream of us poor lads,
Left in the ground'
It is also mourning a loss of religious faith:
`Anthem for Doomed Youth'
`The Last Laugh'
`A Terre'
`The Sentry'
`Strange Meeting'
Matt also pointed out how Owen explores the universal theme of warfare and
suffering across time and how humanity continually fails to learn from its mistakes.…read more

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Rob's idea: that Owen's poetry takes more of a general/journalistic/ commentary
approach, one that is often impersonal and more of an observation of others
rather than experience.
Lawrence: Owen does not present a sense of camaraderie in his poetry. Owen
rarely uses `we' and this could suggest that as a ranking officer, he perhaps feels like
an outsider in some respects and that he cannot speak on another's behalf???
Poetry of `protest'?
Owen's poetry is a protest against the preconceptions of war...e.g.…read more

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Sense that war deprives you of your human qualities:
`Bent double, like old beggars under sacks...
...coughing like hags...…read more


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