The poetry of Wilfred Owen must be discussed in its historical context. Owen was one of a generation of British poets of World War I, an educated class of soldier-poets whose poetry can be divided into two distinct periods. The first period is roughly from 1914 to the Battle of the Somme in 1916. In this period, the poetic voice of the generation was generally patriotic and heroic. However, as the war dragged on, the carnage and suffering seemed ceaseless and pointless, since the front lines changed by only a few miles from year to year. The second period of British war poetry is the period to which Owen’s important work belongs.
While the officer-poets were becoming deeply disillusioned by the war, a gap was growing between the men fighting and the civilians at home in Britain: Soldiers home on leave found it impossible for their families to understand the realities of trench warfare. Owen wrote, in a preface to a volume of poems planned but not published in his lifetime, “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” Owen’s purpose in “Arms and the Boy” is to communicate some of his view of the “pity of War” to British civilians.
“Arms and the Boy” is a twelve-line meditation on the unnaturalness of weapons. In the first two stanzas, the poet presents a method of training a young boy to know, use, and appreciate a bayonet blade, bullets, and a cartridge. The instructions are heavy with irony. The...
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