Imagery is created when an author uses vivid language to describe sensory details. Therefore, imagery can be visual, for something we might see; auditory, for something we might hear; olfactory, for something we might smell; tactile, for something we might touch; and gustatory, for something we might taste. Owen uses imagery of many different kinds to immerse the reader fully in the sights, the sounds, even the taste of war so that we can fully understand his poem’s main claim: that it is neither sweet nor becoming to die for one’s country.
Some of the poem’s visual images include descriptions of the young soldiers who are “bent double, like old beggars under sacks” despite their youth; their bodies have been wasted by war. Further, “many had lost their boots, / But limped on, blood-shod.” Here, we can imagine the sight of the soldiers’ bloody feet, so bloody in fact that it looks as though they could be wearing red shoes. Some of the poem’s auditory images include descriptions of the weapons, like “the hoots / Of gas-shells,” or more descriptions of the soldiers themselves who are “coughing like hags.” There is also the gustatory image of the blood, “bitter as … cud,” that rushes into the mouth of the dying man, and the tactile image of “vile, incurable sores” on the young man’s tongue. Many of these images overlap with other kinds of figurative language—especially similes and metaphors—helping readers to experience, in some small way, the real horrors of war.