Please could someone help me with the form, rhyme scheme, and structure of "Mental Cases" with examples? Thank you!

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In one of his war poems, "Mental Cases" Wilfred Owen suggests with his title the toll that war takes upon men. Contrary to the image of a grand crusade that Britain originally created, the horrors of war have damaged even the minds of the soldiers. It is his profound awareness of the suffering and human fellowship in this suffering that Owen expresses in his verses. In order to connote the mental confusion--what was called "shell-shock" at the time--of the war-weary soldiers, Owens uses irregular diction: questions, sentences broken by hypens, inversions, disjointed ideas. The verse is non-metrical; the colloquial language is harshly direct, but the lines strongly cadenced. 

In the first stanza, Owen asks questions. "Who are these?...Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows?" The metaphor of the men's being shadows in a purgatory expresses there suffering and suspension from the normalcy of their former lives. In the final line of this stanza, Owen moves to deeper suffering with the metaphor of the men's walking in hell.

In the second stanza, Owen answers the question "who these hellish?" beginning the answer with a hyphen which throws the line off-balance: "These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished." Certainly, the last two lines of this stanza exemplify the harsh colloquial language of the poet:

Carnage incomparable, and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men's extrication.

Images of the mental torture of the men who have witnessed too much death fill the third stanza as Owen writes of eyeballs shrinking "tormented/Back into their brains" where day is a "blood-smear" and night appears "blood-black" with dawn opening"like a wound that bleeds afresh."

The third stanza expresses the "brutal realism" that characterizes the language Owen's war poetry; yet it is inoffensive and, at times, eloquent. The use of feminine rhyme in all the verses at the beginning of lines contributes to the eloquence of the verses: "Baring, Sleeping, Wading, Treading, Picking, Snatching, Pawing." Ending rhyme occurs in only two stanzas and, then, in only two lines: "wander" and "squander" in the second stanza, and "other" and "brother" in the third. The inversion of sentences lends the strong cadence to many lines. For example, lines 7 and 8: "Ever from their hair and through their hands' palms/Misery swelters; the second stanza is replete with these inversions, followed by the final, powerful last line that creates the image of "death-bound comradeship," as one critic describes it: "Pawing us who dealt them war and madness."

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