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The themes, techniques and reader response to the First World War poetry of Wilfred Owen

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Introduction

The themes, techniques and reader response to the First World War poetry of Wilfred Owen The First World War poetry of Wilfred Owen provides an exhaustive and poignant account of the atrocities he witnessed between the Allies and the Germans from 1914 to 1918. Although the style and structure of his poems vary considerably throughout his body of work, the two elements of physical and psychological torment suffered by the soldiers in the war. He is quoted here describing his work: 'Above all, I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity.' The physical destruction the Great War had on the soldiers is often described in minute, intricate detail. Owen's most famous poem 'Dulce Et Decorum Est' paints a stomach-churning image of a victim of a gas attack, describing his 'white eyes writhing in his face, his hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin'. In poems such as 'Mental Cases', Owen shows the profound mental effect of the war on a great deal of soldiers, grotesquely describing their faces as 'wearing this hilarious, hideous, awful falseness of set-smiling corpses'. Owen's ability to write such memorable and poignant poetry with an intellectual depth that goes beyond the simple emotion of sympathy is what makes his work exceptional. His poems can be read at a number of levels, which means his work appeals to a wider audience. For example in 'Inspection' there is a reference to Macbeth when he speaks of the 'damn�d spot' of blood on the soldiers uniform. ...read more.

Middle

In this poem Owen highlights the psychological tragedy of the crippled soldier who 'threw away his knees' by joining up while underage. It highlights the fact that war is non-selective and can destroy even the most able of people. The tragedy in this case comes from the things that have been taken away from the once successful but naive youth, and his demise from being at the height of popularity to becoming a social misfit, as sitting in the park 'he noticed how the woman's eyes passed from him to the strongmen'. Not only is there physical damage sustained by the returning soldier, but underlying mental damage that takes precedence over the pain of losing his legs. This sentiment draws great sympathy from the reader by again creating a scene that is so easily imaginable in their mind. Owen states that his subject is the pity of war, and in 'Disabled', in few places is this so directly the case. In 'Strange Meeting' Owen highlights the fact that it is not the soldiers' fault on either side that they are participating in the war as they are simply following the orders of authority. Here the two enemies find it possible to overlook the hatred and contempt one would expect them each to hold against each other and realise 'the truth untold' of the horror of war. Owen aims to proclaim the truth in the face of a world set to 'trek from progress'. ...read more.

Conclusion

In the majority of his poems in which religion is mentioned, he questions the teachings of Christ, which the soldiers were so blatantly ignoring. In a letter to his mother written in May 1917, he describes himself as a 'conscientious objector with a seared conscience' although in 'Exposure', written in February of the same year, he directly questions the very existence of God, 'for love of God seems dying'. In 'Anthem For Doomed Youth' the practice of the Church is mocked, for the soldiers 'no mockeries for them now; no prayers, no bells; nor any voice of warning save the choirs'. After suffering from shell shock and spending much of mid 1917 in the Craiglockhart War Hospital, Owen's desertion of Christian values had peaked. Shortly after his return to action in September, he describes how he 'lost all his earthly faculties, and fought like an angel' in battle with the Germans. Wilfred Owen's poetry vividly captures the images, the experiences, and the pathos of the First World War and by using such familiar material to the everyday human being, adds a tremendous power to reach out to its audience. Although today Owen is regarded as one of the greatest British poets of all time, it took many years until after his death for his stature as a poet to be recognised. William Yeats opinion was that Owen was 'all blood, dirt and sucked sugar stick', claiming that 'passive suffering is not a theme for poetry'. Owen's poetry however has stood its ground over time with its clarity, and poignant realism sharing the experience of suffering with an audience who may never have had any contact with the war whatsoever. ...read more.

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