Discuss what features make Owen's poetry so strikingly distinctive and timelessly relevant? (Close textual references are required to support answer)

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Wilfred Owen was a British poet who, in sharp contrast to such patriotic poets as Rupert Brooke, debunked the glorification of war and wrote instead of the horrors of World War I as well as the impersonal quality of death. Stylistically, Owen often uses the half-rhyme in his poems as well as ironic reversals. There is a timelessness to his poetry because it addresses the human condition and its realities with a sympathy for the men who become victims of what he felt was the false notion of nationalism. Owen's poetry is timeless because it tells "truths that lie too deep for taint."

One of the truths that Owen tells is that man is not designed for battle. For instance, in his poem "Arms and the Boy" Owen creates an ironic reversal of Virgil's "Arms and the Man I Sing" from the Aeneid as, rather than praising the warrior-youth, Owen points to the fact that the soldier must hold the bayonet on the rifle to defend himself because he is ill-equipped as a human. The last stanza of the poem concludes,

For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.

In "Anthem for Doomed Youth," Owen uses the sonnet form with an elegiac tone to contrast with the diction of his poem.

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
    Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
    Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons...

Certainly, the musical language contrasts with the deaths of those "who die as cattle." The iambic pentameter and the rhyming lines are more appropriate for something beautiful, not the combativeness of war and the waste of youth.

In yet another poem, "Strange Meeting," Owen employs half-rhyme (slant-rhyme), a more subtle sound, and breaks the iambic pentameter in the beginning of the lines in order to give the poem a more conversational tone. Ironically, heroic couplets contrast with the unheroic topic, along with dramatic understatement as one soldier meets the man he has killed in Hell. The man tells the other that he wishes he could tell the "truths that lie too deep for taint,"

I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
 
Another well-known poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est", parodies that poem by the Roman Horace entitled "Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori," [Latin for "it is sweet and proper to die for one's country"] that extols the honor that a youth earns for fighting for Rome. But, in his poem, Owen again mocks the nationalism of his country and the myth that youth should glory in fighting for their country. A convincing argument for the inglorious death of a soldier comes in the lines describing the death of one who has ingested mustard gas:
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime,--
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
 
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