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Can you give me a critical analysis of the poem "The Owl" by Edward Thomas ?

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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In my estimation, this is a poem about the power of contrast to instruct us.

The soldier is tired and hungry, but receives food and rest "under a roof." Relieved to be indoors, he is able to forget or ignore the hardships he has escaped until he hears the cry of an owl. 

All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry
The cry of the owl breaks through to the soldier's mind and suggests the idea that other soldiers have not found shelter indoors but are out in the cold night, subject to the elements (and perhaps subject to being hunted as the owl hunts its prey in the night).
Hearing the owl from the comforts of shelter, the soldier realizes that his relief is enhanced by the sound. The reminder given to him by the owl's cry "salted and sobered" his relief - giving it flavor.
The contrast between his indoor comfort and the harsh realities of the world outside gives the soldier an greater sense of "repose" than he would have had if he had successfully "barred" all thoughts of the night "under the stars" outside.

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The poem "The Owl" by British Poet Edward Thomas deals with the after effects of a soldier escaping the horrors of the front lines of war, with his life. However, many of his fellow soldiers have not escaped. They have paid the ultimate sacrifice – giving their lives for their fellow brothers-in-arms who could escape, and also giving their lives for their country and fellow citizens.

The solider who is the narrator of this poem talks of a ‘blessed tiredness’ so-to-speak. He is tired from battle, but the rest he can now partake of is to him “…the sweetest thing under a roof.”

This soldier is cold and hungry but he has persevered somehow. Nonetheless, there is a cost to his surviving in that mental anguish over the fate of his compatriots is something that will eat at him for the rest of his life. He now enjoys creature comforts at an inn and all seems well; he has survived; he can make plans for the future, hopefully a brighter one for him and for all.

What catches his attention is the lamenting cry of a lone owl. It is as if the owl is speaking directly to him. It is a direct cry to this soldier, “long and clear upon the hill.” The owl is letting him know that he is one of the fortunate ones in the theatre of war. He escaped when other could not. This soldier has loved ones and a previous lifestyle to return to. The soldiers who died have left this all behind and their blood soaks gruesome battlefields.

The owl’s cry has awaken him to the reality of his situation. He is a survivor and can rejoice somewhat that his life carries on, albeit significantly changed. The plaintive cry from the owl reminds him that many soldiers cannot express joy now, nor can their loved ones.

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kc4u | Student

Edward Thomas's poem The Owl tells the story of a soldier who escapes from the battlefield, leaving his fellow-soldiers struggling with veritable death. After the tiresome journey down the hill, he is hungry, exhausted and cold in the freezing winter night and decides to have food, fire and rest at an inn. He enters the snug private place of comfort, completely cut off from the outer world, barring one haunting link that remains--the sad hooting of an owl that rends the nocturnal silence and enters his escapist private space to make it bristle with guilt-complex, irony and the painful misery of the suffering humanity. It turns his food tasteless; too salty to take as he feels the pang for leaving his friends exposed to mortal danger, enjoying all the comforts all alone. The pathetic cry of the owl was like an epiphanic voice that purged him through an arousal of sensitivity and repentance. He was 'sobred' and humbled by the experience.

So, as the analysis implies, the poem is about escapism-battle binary, human suffering, the moral responsibility of man, the inhumanity of the warfare, the pathos of the class-divided society, the inescapability of reality and so on.