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Summarise and explain the key elements of Futility by Wilfred Owen

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Summarise and explain the key elements of Futility by Wilfred Owen The front line on a bright winter morning. A soldier has recently died though we don't know precisely how or when. Owen appears to have known him and something of his background and he ponders nature's power to create life, setting it against the futility of extinction. Only five of his poems were published in Wilfred Owen's lifetime. FUTILITY was one of them. It appeared, together with HOSPITAL BARGE, in "The Nation" on 15th June 1918, shortly after being written - at Ripon probably - although Scarborough is a possibility. At about this time Owen categorised his poems, FUTILITY coming under the heading "Grief". It takes the form of a short elegiac lyric the length of a sonnet though not structured as one, being divided into seven-line stanzas. ...read more.


has its literal sense of work on the farm that this man will never now complete, and a metaphorical one as well, suggesting the wider tragedy of life left unfulfilled. "Even in France" (line 4). No fields here to speak of, no seeds to grow on ground devastated by war. Does the mention of snow startle? Sun, sowing, may have put a different picture in our minds. Line 7 "kind old sun" again suggests the softer emotions, "old" being literally true of the sun but again, as used here, a term of affection. Stanza 1, then, seems tender, almost unchallenging. Stanza 2 is very different. "Awoke", "woke", "rouse". This poem is about their opposite. In stanza 2 Owen invites us to share his thoughts, and soon a note of bewilderment is struck that becomes near despair. ...read more.


Owen is careful, however, to avoid smoothness. The first and last lines of each stanza are shorter than the rest. Some lines begin with the stress on the first syllable (trochee), some on the second (iamb). He makes much use of his favourite pararhyme (half rhyme): sun-sown, once-France, seeds-sides, star-stir, tall-toil, snow-now; which also helps to disturb the natural rhythm. The problem Owen faces in FUTILITY is how to reconcile the miracle of creation with the evil of that creation laid waste, which intimates futility in two senses, first the futility behind the paradox of life made death, and second the futility of trying to find an answer. Where Owen stood at that time in relation to his practice as a Christian is impossible for us to know. At least the bitterness of ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH and DULCE ET DECORUM EST, in FUTILITY gives place to the pity that characterises his finest work, and manages, I think, to transcend the pessimism and the bleakness. ...read more.

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The writings here are more noted-based than appearing as a proper essay, but nonetheless they make some very valuable points about the language, structure and context of Wilfred Owen's 'Futility' that all GCSE candidates should look to be aware of. ...

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Response to the question

The writings here are more noted-based than appearing as a proper essay, but nonetheless they make some very valuable points about the language, structure and context of Wilfred Owen's 'Futility' that all GCSE candidates should look to be aware of. The candidate express in bullet point form a number of ideas regarding how the structure informs the poem, and how the language choice creates a submissive serenity and tranquility. They also conduct some contextual research - the poem was indeed labelled by Owen as a poem of grief, as it mourns the loss of a soldier's life. Digging further, the candidate could talk that 'Futility' was really as intimate and as sentimental as Owen ever got, because to convey so much sadness about the immeasurable loss of life during WWI wouldn't have given him the scope for the irony and bitterness that colours in his other poems.

The candidate makes many intelligent references to 'Anthem for Doomed youth' and 'Dulce et Decorum est', so there are comparative points included, showing knowledge of a variety of Owen's poetry. It is also good that the candidate outwardly recognises the most important aspect of Owen's poetry - The Pity of War.

Level of analysis

The Level of Analysis is very good, and some parts are show highly advanced levels of analysis for a GCSE student. Comments on the effect of ambiguity in the syllabic rhythm of the poem are something A Level students are expected to know. And so are ideas about pararhyme and assonance. Close attention to detail is shown with regard to how these features effect the reader, with intelligent comments about the disrupted flow of rhythm. To go further, the candidate could mention how this represents the sudden end of a life; that the natural flow of life has been disrupted by an ugly, man-made intervention, hence to uncomfortable dissonance of the pararhyme and the apparent rejection of conventional sonnet structure. Also notice how he breaks the traditional structure into two stanzas of equal line length - how does the tone change? What is the significance of breaking the traditional sonnet structure in two? How does it effect the typical intensity of fourteen-line sonnets? This is all extra analysis that could be added, but where I would really like the candidate to concentrate further is more contextual appreciation. For instance, notice how Owen implores, as if praying, for the sun to wake the dead. As a born Christian, it's peculiar to see him place his faith in nature rather than God? Some contextual research will tel you why Owen rejected God in favour of nature - by painting sun as the most powerful object in the poem he is suggesting that is will be nature that will take care of the dead's bodies and souls, not God. If this were included, the answer would be a resounding top mark answer. That isn't to say what is written is not strong enough, but because a bit more contextual appreciation is required, as well as a standard essay format, the candidate cannot achieve top marks just yet.

Quality of writing

The Quality of Written Communication is fair, but it is hard to gauge a proper mark considering the above comments are not in essay form. As a result of the brief note-styled discourse, the grammar is simplified and sometimes erroneous to the rules of Standard English. I can only recommend that when writing full essays candidates employ all the traditional writing tools for constructing coherent writing and avoid writing in shorthand.

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Reviewed by sydneyhopcroft 14/08/2012

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