In his poem “Spring Offensive,” Wilfred Owen depicts several different aspects of war. First, Owen shows the waiting involved in military operations. As the poem opens, the soldiers are waiting for the battle to start. Some are sleeping. Others are standing still, enjoying the beauty of a spring day, allowing the breezes to enter into them and comfort them. The wait lasts for hours, and the soldiers “ponder the warm field” and the valley and the buttercups.
Then, however, it is time to get ready, to “tighten” for battle. The soldiers clench both body and soul. War is not something to enter into lightly. It takes preparation. The soldiers much become tense, ready for what they are about to do, focused that they may obey their orders when they come.
And then the orders come. The soldiers run up the hill and race over the meadow, and the assault hits them with a great fury. Men fall and die, spilling their blood on “the green slopes.” Some go up “on the hot blast and fury of hell's upsurge,” directly into the thick of the fight. Others “plunged and fell away past this world's verge.” They die, and perhaps God catches their souls before their bodies hit the ground. These soldiers have entered into the hell of war. They find the “fiends and flames,” yet the battle turns them into fiends as well as they commit the “superhuman inhumanities” that war inspires.
Then those who are left alive come crawling back. They seek the “cool peaceful air,” and they wonder that they are still living. Yet they do not speak of those who have died. The speaker asks why they do not, but he never answers the question. Perhaps the soldiers themselves do not know. Perhaps they feel somewhat guilty for being the ones who survive the furor of the battle and come out on the other side.