Exposure - Wilfred Owen (1898-1918)

  • Created by: v.a..
  • Created on: 28-04-19 23:26

Title

  • The title could refer to the weather that the soldiers are ‘expos[ed]’.
  • However, Owen is also “expos[ing]” the harsh, undignified aspects of conflict that are never portrayed in propaganda or poems glorifying war.
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Poet

  • Wilfred Owen is one of the most well-known WW1 poets who was famously anti-war.
  • He fought in the war and this poem is a realistic, unheroic portrayal of fighting.
  • Owen went to war on two occasions and was killed on the second.
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Summary and Context

The poem is written from the point of view of a WW1 soldier describing living through the misery, boredom and icy weather conditions during a night in the trenches. The weather is presented as the real enemy of the soldiers.

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Key Ideas in Exposure

Owen portrays a soldier freezing in the trenches as he waits for an attack. Through this, he reveals the brutality of war that is less well-publicised. The poem explores the agony of waiting and the pain and suffering inflicted on soldiers by the elements.

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Key Ideas - Misery in war

  • As with other poems by Owen, the poem focuses on aspects of war that are not glamorous.
  • Unlike the propaganda materials that focused on the glory, that war would bring to the soldiers and the heroes they would become, this poem reveals the horrific day-to-day misery experienced by those who went to war.
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Key Ideas - Loss of humanity

  • There is a sense that the men lose their humanity and dignity. This is suggested through phrases such as “Slowly, our ghosts drag home” and “we cringe in holes”.
  • This depiction is the antithesis (opposite) to images of heroism soldiers would have seen before the war.
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Key Ideas - Pointlessness of war

  • The pointlessness of war is emphasised throughout. The speaker in the poem seems to have lost sight of what he is fighting for.
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Key Ideas - Weather and boredom

  • The weather and boredom are presented as the real enemy of the soldiers.
  • The soldiers are anxious and afraid and each new day brings no hope but more misery and despair.
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Key Ideas - Lasting effects of war

  • The speaker hints at the fact that war changes the soldiers irreversibly as they no longer fit in when they return home.
  • The negative consequences of war are lasting.
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Personification of the Weather

The weather is personified throughout to make it sound menacing and deadly. This also characterises the weather as the real enemy of the soldiers. Here are some examples of personification of the weather.

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“Our brains ache in the merciless ice..."

  • Our brains ache in the merciless ice east winds that knife us
  • The sibilance also highlights the intensity of the pain and the brutality of the weather.
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“Less deadly than the air..."

  • Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow
  • Nature is presented as more damaging and deadly than the bullets.
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“Pale flakes with ********* stealth..."

  • Pale flakes with ********* stealth come feeling for our faces
  • The consonance (repetition of consonant sounds) here reflects the ferocity of the weather.
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Dawn and Soldiers

Dawn is personified in these lines: “Dawn amassing in the East her melancholy army / Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey.” These lines are important.

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Contradiction

  • Dawn, usually associated with ideas of light and hope, is here hostile and brings even more suffering.
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Colour imagery

  • The colour imagery “grey” conveys ideas of despair and boredom.
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Military vocabulary

  • Ranks” is a military term and is repeated, reminding the reader that the weather is the soldiers’ enemy.
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Personification of Dawn

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Personification of the Weather

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Bleak Imagery

  • Owen uses bleak imagery to highlight the misery of the soldiers in war. 
    • War lasts, rain soaks and clouds sag stormy
    • The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow
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Pointlessness of War

The pointlessness of war is emphasised throughout the poem. The speaker seems to have lost sight of what he is fighting for. Owen uses these techniques to emphasise the boredom.

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Rhetorical questions

  • Rhetorical questions suggest the pointlessness of war.
  • They make the reader question why we allow soldiers to be exposed to such suffering:
    • What are we doing here?
    • Is it that we are dying?
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Repetition

  • Repetition of “but nothing happens” throughout the poem gives the readers a sense of the boredom caused by waiting.
  • It hints at the pointlessness of war.
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Loss of Humanity: Metaphors

Owen uses different metaphors to suggest that the men lose their humanity and dignity in war. This depiction is the antithesis (opposite) to images of heroism soldiers would have seen before the war. 

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“Slowly, our ghosts drag home”

  • This metaphor suggests that war has sucked all the life out of the soldiers.
  • It also reminds readers that they are on the brink of death.
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“All their eyes are ice”

  • This metaphor describes the extreme effects of the weather.
  • It implies the soldiers have lost their humanity and are close to breaking point.
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Metaphors in Exposure

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Rhythm

  • The poem is made up of five-line stanzas.
    • The form mirrors the repetitive and never-ending nature of war.
    • It also mirrors the ongoing boredom and misery of the soldiers.
  • The ABBAC rhyme scheme is repeated, which reflects the monotony (sameness) of war.
    • But the last line of each stanza creates an unsettling feel. This is possibly to mirror how destabilised and on edge, the soldiers feel waiting for the enemy to attack.
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First person narrative

  • The poem is written in the first person. It has many collective, possessive pronouns, such as “we”, “us”, “our”.
  • This hints at the collective (group) suffering of the soldiers in WW1. It also encourages the reader to share in their pain.
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Key Quotes - “…But nothing happens”

  • Repetition of “but nothing happens” throughout the poem gives the readers a sense of the boredom caused by waiting.
  • It also hints at the pointlessness of war.
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Key Quotes - “Our brains ache..."

  • Personification and sibilance.
  • The weather is personified to make it sound menacing and deadly. This also characterises the weather as the real enemy of the soldiers.
  • The sibilance here highlights the intensity of the pain and the brutality of the weather.
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Key Quotes - “Dawn massing in the east..."

  • Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army / Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey.”
  • Personification.
    • Dawn, usually associated with ideas of light and hope is here hostile and brings even more suffering.
  • Colour imagery.
  • The colour imagery “grey” conveys ideas of despair and boredom.
  • Military vocabulary.
  • Ranks” is a military term and is repeated, reminding the reader that the weather is the soldiers’ enemy.
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Key Quotes - “Less deadly than the air..."

  • Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow
  • Nature is presented as more damaging and deadly than the bullets.
  • The contrasting images of “black” and “snow” are unsettling. They highlight the horror of being exposed to the elements.
  • They also highlight how close to death the soldiers are.
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Key Quotes - “Slowly, our ghosts drag home”

  • Metaphor.
  • This metaphor suggests that war has sucked all the life out of the soldiers and further reminds readers that they are on the brink of death.
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Key Quotes - "All their eyes are ice"

  • Metaphor.
  • This metaphor describes the extreme effects of the weather that have overcome the soldiers.
  • It also implies that the soldiers have lost their humanity and could suggest they are close to breaking point.
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Power of nature vs power of man

  • You may want to compare the theme of the power of nature vs power of man in Exposure to the following texts:
    • Storm on the Island.
    • The Prelude.
    • Tissue.
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Effects/reality of conflict

  • You may want to compare the theme of the effects and/or reality of conflict in Exposure to the following texts:
    • War Photographer.
    • Poppies.
    • Kamikaze.
    • Bayonet Charge.
    • Remains.
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