The front line on a bright winter morning. A soldier has recently died though we don't know precisely how or when. Owen appears to have known him and something of his background and he ponders nature's power to create life, setting it against the futility of extinction.
Only five of his poems were published in Wilfred Owen's lifetime. FUTILITY was one of them. It appeared, together with HOSPITAL BARGE, in "The Nation" on 15th June 1918, shortly after being written - at Ripon probably - although Scarborough is a possibility. At about this time Owen categorised his poems, FUTILITY coming under the heading "Grief".
It takes the form of a short elegiac lyric the length of a sonnet though not structured as one, being divided into seven-line stanzas. Owen uses the sun as a metaphorical framework on which to hang his thoughts.
The sun wakes us (lines 2 & 4), stimulates us to activity (3), holds the key of knowledge (7), gives life to the soil (8), gave life from the beginning, yet (13) in the end the "fatuous" sunbeams are powerless.
"Move him into the sun". "Move" is an inexact word yet we feel the movement has to be gentle, just as the command has been quietly spoken. (What a contrast with the body "flung" into the wagon in DULCE ET DECORUM EST.) Of course, we may have been influenced by "gently" in line 2 which reinforces the previous impression, while "touch" again not quite an exact word, is surely light, reverent even.
A similar tone characterises line 3 with "whispering", so soft a sound. "Fields half-sown" ("unknown" in an earlier version) has its literal sense of work on the farm that this man will never now…