In his poem “Spring Offensive,” Wilfred Owen uses contrasts to emphasize the horrors of war that the young soldiers endure. By first building up a picture of a bucolic landscape and then thrusting the men into a ferocious battle, the poet heightens the horror of combat. The idea that the soldiers appreciate the natural beauty around them connects with the theme of their innocence. Their apprehension about the upcoming combat also conveys that they are on the verge of losing that innocence. He uses foreshadowing to indicate the harrowing ordeal to come: “Knowing their feet had come to the end of the world,” the men stand waiting motionlessly.
The warm summer day is liked to a smiling “friend” in the benevolent sun, whereas the battle is inhabited by “fiends.” The all-out, violent conflict is further distanced from normal daily life by the references to the hellish aspects of the battle, as in “the hot blast and fury of hell’s upsurge” and
The few who rushed in the body to enter hell,
And there out-fiending all its fiends and flames ...
The rhythm and rhyme of the poem coordinate with the poet’s message. Frequent changes of rhythm, especially between iambic and trochee, as well as irregular rhymes and different length lines, convey the chaotic atmosphere, rapid movements, and disruption of gunfire. In the first part, Owen also uses repetition and alliteration to suggest the peaceful but uncertain atmosphere: the men “lying easy, were at ease,” and they found “comfortable chests.” Later, alliteration figures in the change of mood.
Sharp on their souls hung the imminent line of grass,
Fearfully flashed the sky’s mysterious glass. ...
[They] raced together
Over an open stretch of herb and heather
Owen also uses irony at the end to indicate that survival is a mixed blessing, as the living men reach “cool peaceful air.” After their comrades fall, those who are still alive might be thought to achieve “long-famous glories,” but the speaker immediately counters that idea with “immemorial shames.” The idea that the battle forever changed the survivors is conveyed by their silence. They wonder, but cannot speak, about “comrades that went under.”