How do we see themes of despair and war in Wilfred Owen's texts?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Wilfred Owen himself wrote, "My subject is War, and the pity of war." By pity Owen implies his sorrow and compassion for soldiers fighting in senseless battles that end in death and suffering. One can see the despair in his poetry as he describes the displacement of the old relationships that once held together grandeur and patriotic sacrifice.

In his poem "Anthem for Doomed Youth," for instance, Owen parodies the funeral rites as the "stuttering rifles" on the battlefield; the only choir is the

...demented choir of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

Another poem, "Futility," expresses the waste of lives in war:

Move him into the sun--
Gently its touch awoke him once.

But in despair the speaker acknowledges that nothing will now awaken the poor soldier. In the final lines, the poet exclaims against nature this waste of life:

--O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?

Another poem that expresses the despair of the wounded soldier who must live out his life maimed by war is "Disabled." In the final stanza, the legless veteran sits waiting in his wheel chair as he notices "how the women's eyes/Passed from him to the strong men that were whole." Embarrassed, despairing, he is anxious for the nurses to come.

...Why don't they come
And put him into bed? why don't they come?

With this line, there is a mocking echo of a slogan on a recruiting poster put out around 1914 that depicted soldiers in battle who needed reinforcements. The slogan read, "Will they never come?"

With harsh realism Owen describes the horror of the mustard gas of World War I and his profound awareness of human suffering in his poem "Mental Cases."

Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter....
Carnage incomparable, and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men's extrication....

Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.

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