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The final stanza of Wilfred Owens "Asleep"- what does it mean?I understand the first...

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rana-dom | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted September 1, 2010 at 5:08 PM via web

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The final stanza of Wilfred Owens "Asleep"- what does it mean?

I understand the first few stanzas (language techniques, meaning etc.) but I am struggling with the in-depth meaning of the final stanza.

HELP PLEASE

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kmcappello | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted September 2, 2010 at 8:05 AM (Answer #1)

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I believe I am reading the same poem as you, though in my textbook, the poem has only two stanzas.  The first stanza of the poem "Asleep" by Wilfred Owen describes a soldier who is shot while sleeping.  The second stanza moves away from the concrete imagery of the first to imagine the soldier's fate and thus offer commentary on the speaker's views of death and the afterlife.

After watching the soldier die, the speaker wonders if he will ascend to heaven:

Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts that hung the stars,
High pillowed on calm pillows of God's making

In the lines above, heaven is evoked by the "great wings" of supposed angels, and the "calm pillows of God's making," that classic image we all have of our loved ones lounging on fluffy clouds.

The speaker then goes on to wonder if the soldier will merely decay and become one with the ground:

Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the grey grass
And finished fields of autumns that are old

Within these lines is an implied question: Is there an afterlife, or do we just cease to exist when we die?

The speaker's answer for himself is nihilistic, though not surprising: "Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!"  The speaker, revealed in the end as a fellow soldier, says in essence, "Who cares?"  According to the speaker the dead soldier is luckier than others:

He sleeps tremulous, less cold
Than we who must awake, and waking, say Alas!

The speaker must keep fighting and continue to face pain, hardship, and danger, while the soldier, whether he is in heaven or simply dead, is at peace.

 

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