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Discuss ways in which Owen presents the experience of the soldier in A Terre. In your answer explore the effects of language, imagery and verse form, and consider how his relates to other poems that you have studied

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Rebecca Davies        16th October 2010        Mrs. Briggs

Discuss ways in which Owen presents the experience of the soldier in A Terre. In your answer explore the effects of language, imagery and verse form, and consider how his relates to other poems that you have studied.

In Owen’s original prologue for his collection of poems he wrote ‘My subject is war, and the pity of war’. In ‘A Terre’ Owen focuses in on the extent of suffering each man went through, as he captures this soldiers thoughts and feelings through this moving monologue. Dominic Hibberd argues that Owen is ‘unique’ in the way he deals with the survivors of the First World War; perhaps due to the time he spent recovering from neurasthenia at Craiglockhart in late 1917.

This poem begins with a three-worded sentence, and continues to come off jerky on the ear throughout. This creates an immediate sense of breathlessness in the soldier’s voice, which is later reinforced as he fantasizes that one day ‘wind would work it’s own way to my lungs’. From this we can assume that he is a gas case. This clipped, breathless speech has a jarring effect on the ear, giving a sense of awkwardness to the soldier’s voice.

Within the first stanza we are told the man is ‘three parts shell’ from shrapnel wounds, ‘blind’, and that his fingers ‘fidget like idle brats’, suggesting psychological damage. By identifying the soldier’s physical and mental states as suffering from shell shock Owen immediately presents the soldier’s experience as a difficult and menial one.

Owen begins the next stanza by casually, and almost jokingly telling us of the soldier’s suicide attempt ‘I tried to peg out soldierly’. This euphemism avoids the actual brutality of war; a recurring technique of Owen’s to bitterly show how underestimated the sufferings of war are. This is seen also in ‘The Show’, a prime example of the bitter irony that people thought so little of the hardship the men encountered.

He continues to tell us that this attempt was ‘no use!’, which, in his disappointment’, shows how little his quality of life is, now like the man in ‘Disabled’ he is doomed to spend ‘a few sick years in institutes’. The overall dismissal of such an incredibly taboo subject as suicide, especially for when this poem was drafted at Scarborough in 1917 with issues of cowardice, almost contains a dark humor within it, reflecting this man’s bitterness. Owen also contradicts earlier poets here, who suggested war would be tough but death would be easy, like Alan Seeger who’s poem ‘I Have A Rendezvous With Death’ suggests this escape was definite.

We are aware of an unheard, unseen listener as the man imitates our invisible interlocutor ‘I have my medals?’ and on this prompting dismisses them as ‘discs to make eyes close’. This shows us Owen’s underlying disapproval of the lack of appropriate appreciation shown to the men who fought. The analogy of these tokens of gratitude to the pennies that were once customary to place on a corpse’s eyes to keep them shut makes a bitter link between those who were in charge of the army and death. This reflection on the high command is repeated in Owen’s works, in ‘Insensibility’ it appears they saw men as simply ‘gaps for filling’.

The soldiers continues to give a further ironic comparison of his ribbons to the strips of flesh torn from his back; perhaps from the shell which saw to his hospitalization. The vivid image of these ‘scarlet shreds’ show how pointless the soldiers saw the fighting, equateing them with any honour he gained out of it.

As perhaps a further dismissal of earlier poetry he tells his listener ‘that’s for your poetry book’, employing a bitter a contemptuous tone. His reaction to the idea of gaing honour being a compensation reflects how Owen rejects this as a subject of war poetry, as he highlights in his initial preface ‘This book is not about heroes. … Nor is it about … glory, honour’. The presence of this unseen poet creates a dramatic situation, and the tension that arises entices the listener, to result in great pathos for the soldier.

As the poem continues the soldier admits to his fear of death, looking back ironically to a time when ‘we used to say we’d hate to live dead-old’, this earlier desire for death an echo of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est[‘s]’ ‘children ardent for some desperate glory’. In contrast he would rather be ‘puffy, bald, and patriotic’, as one of the men who missed the generation that went to war. This has a direct link to Sassoon’s ‘Base Details’, with its depiction of the men who stayed behind the lines, and highlights the man’s desperation with the wreck of his life.

Owen continues to insist upon the overriding image of disillusionment and bitterness, as the man despairs that he has nothing to show for his life; no son as like the survivor in ‘Disabled’ ‘the women’s eyes’ probably pass ‘from him to the strong men that were whole’. We see the soldier’s experience is never to be satisfied in love. He takes this reflection further to say ‘little I’d ever teach a son’, as due to the war he has achieved nothing and never learnt a trade or any useful skills, only ‘the arts of hunting’. The half rhyme of ‘hunting’ and hurting’ draws attention to the violence.

The soldier’s experience is so painful he longs for renewal, and a reference to spring demonstrates this. He longs for a new start and recovery, like those whom ‘gathering sleep had mothered’ in ‘Disabled’. Owen insists the man’s case is hopeless, evoking pity and pathos in the reader.

The solider talks of when he’ll be ‘lugged out’, and the striking lack of compassion here hits us, as he is treated like rubbish and Owen coveys the degradation that comes with death. This contrasts the honour we would expect due to earlier poets like Asquith, who tells us in ‘The Volunteer’ the dead shall ‘join the men of Agincourt’.

Owen then continues to insist upon the Soldier’s desperation, desiring anything but this suffering, as he has a bitter envy of those with menial tasks ‘I’ve thought how well I night have swept his floor forever’. He asks himself why he should resent a dirty had, when his is as good as dust. This has a dark humor about it, which further adds to his bitterness.

The speaker tells us he would like even to be a rat, which is deeply ironic when we consider the horror associated with rats in the trenches, insisting once more upon his degradation, and his longing for a paraclete in safety, ‘they find a shell-proof home before they rot’. The sense of bitterness is evoked further by the reflection at the end of the lines which occurs due to the jarring effect of the pararhyme of ‘rut’, ‘rot’ and ‘rat’.

The soldier’s black humor returns as the soldier painfully let us know he is aware of his own uselessness, between lines 48 and 51. The bitterness of this section is summed up as he assumes he will be turned to soap, which it’s self would be useless in such a dirty war. Here Owen annihilates earlier poets idea of death in war, which was, as Rupert Brooke put forward in his poem ‘Peace’ that the men were ‘swimmers into cleanness leaping’.

Ellipsis at the end of this stanza shows the soldier to be reconsidering, and we see a change in his tone on his reflection of his life. He begins to long for death, as it becomes such a comfort to be where the war can not touch him. He turns to say ‘I shall be better off with plants that share more peaceably the meadow and the shower’, and it seems he is even reassuring himself that death will bring him peace.

He fears becoming a joke in his wrecked state, and asks ‘don’t take my soul’s poor comfort for your jest’. This desperation some how makes him seem more human and we can imagine to the sadness it evokes, and the thought of this being how he sees himself is deeply moving.

In the penultimate stanza I feel Owen is trying to raise compassion in the reader for the dead, suggesting they shall not be remembered for long. Once more he dismisses his own significance evoking pathos in the reader, and the mood turns completely melancholy with no dry humor left.

The image of his crying spirit in the last two lines and his anguish, even after death further insists upon the hopelessness of the man’s situation, and his endless suffering. Even after death we hear he must have to go through purgatory, and this is almost a plead from Owen to the reader for prayers to help these men, as the Catholic church believes it is theses that get souls through purgatory.

To conclude he asks only that he is remembered, at least until his soul has been separated from what’s left of his body. This idea parallels that in ‘Disabled’, where he will ‘take whatever pity they may dole’. Owen ends insisting upon the pride and honor the soldiers lack, and their desperation. Finally, the soldier is reminding us that he is not dead yet, evoking pathos is suggesting the survivors are considered no better than corpses in our compassionless world.

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