Making close references to language, imagery and form, consider the ways Owen presents and uses mockery and detachment in 'Insensibility' and how this poem relates to his methods and concerns in other poems

Authors Avatar

Harriet Blair 12EM

Making close references to language, imagery and form, consider the ways Owen presents and uses mockery and detachment in ‘Insensibility’ and how this poem relates to his methods and concerns in other poems

Throughout Owen’s collection of poetry, on of the running themes that we can pick up on is that of detachment and mockery of the situation, as opposed to being emotionally engaged with the subject and causing the reader to feel any empathy. The poem in the collection which is key to this idea is ‘Insensibility’, which both uses and explains the detachment which soldiers feel, and therefore makes a strong connection between itself and many more of his poems.

The very name of the poem, ‘Insensibility’, seems to me to be quite detached from feeling in itself. It is quite a formal word, and not one which is used that often, and gives a sense of being quite removed from reality. This immediately gives the reader an idea of what to expect as it seems that the soldiers are even detached from the idea that they are lacking feeling and use such a cold and emotionless word to describe the state which they are in. I also think that the connotations the word carries by being synonymous with the word for lacking sense or intelligence are important, as they also give the idea that these soldiers who have become numb to feeling have also lost the power of intelligent thought and this even further distances the reader from them, who may feel above those who are intellectually lower down than them. This would be especially relevant to the types of people who would have read Owen’s poetry nearer the time as it would have been quite likely to have been on the more upper class end of the scale and be well educated themselves and therefore more likely to fall into the idea of the soldiers being beneath them and not worth empathy, therefore being more shocked by some of the content of the poem, specifically at the end. Several other poems also have quite detached or inappropriate seeming titles, for example ‘The Show’. This is quite an informal word from the time for the act of going ‘over the top’, and therefore removes some of the emotion as we don’t really link it to the fact that the soldiers actually just go over to die. In fact, I think that this title goes even further as a ‘show’ is something you would expect to be enjoyable whereas war is far from it, so there seems to be some sort of grim irony in using it as the title of a poem where the content is so hideous.

As well as using detachment in many of his poems, Owen uses ‘Insensibility’ in particular to explore the reasoning behind why soldiers become so isolated from their feelings during the war. To do this he uses very vivid imagery of the process which is involved in becoming insensible, especially in verse three where he brings in the idea of battle being a sort of ‘cautery’ which seals off any feelings as if they are an infection. I think that this image of ironing away feelings and the use of the word “scorching” really emphasize how much the act of being in the war just burns away any feelings, and gives the idea that it really is a painful and violent act which means that the soldiers literally cannot afford to let their emotions through. I think that because of this, even though in general the poem is quite distant, the reader does form some sort of empathy for the soldiers at this point which I think is important as they then do understand that there is no choice in the matter and they do have to be ‘happy’ with what they have as it is the only way to stay sane. This is further backed up by his use of phrases such as “terror’s first constriction” which uses the relatively strong word “terror” to briefly connect the reader with the soldiers and the idea of constriction which is a long and drawn out word which brings about imagery of suffocation and claustrophobia, which are quite horrific ideas, and really strengthen this idea of the pain and suffering which the soldiers have gone through and how it is this which allows them not to be able to feel anything. I think that Owen’s purpose in allowing the reader to feel sympathy at this point is to enforce one of his overall messages within ‘Insensibility’, namely that the people at home cannot have the same excuse for being emotionally withdrawn from what is going on as they have not gone through any of the same sorts of emotions. I think that this has the effect of causing the reader to feel quite guilty as they remember the sympathy they have had for the soldiers in the poem and the pain they went through, and perhaps question why they aren’t more upset and emotionally involved with the horrific tragedies happening at war. In this way, ‘Insensibility’ can be though of as quite like ‘Apologia pro Poemate Meo’ as this too uses a similar tactic to present its subject matter, although this is quite a different subject in this case as it is actually presenting the more positive sides of war. Like ‘Insensibility’ there is a very sudden change in the tone near the end of the poem, going from using religious and beautiful imagery to suddenly becoming very unforgiving and again making the reader feel quite guilty for their views on the war. These harsh sentences which are very blunt and to the point, for example “You are not worth their merriment” are quite similar to those used in ‘Insensibility’ such as “But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns, That they should be as stones.” From this I think that it is clear that one of Owen’s aims of presenting this insensibility in the first place definitely has the aim of making the reader feel guilty about their own lack of emotion towards the war, as well as serving the purpose of explaining the detached tone in many of the other poems in his collection.

Join now!

The actual use of detachment is important in ‘Insensibility’ as well as the presenting of it, as this is one of the main techniques that Owen uses throughout his poetry to shock the audience and get across his point. In ‘Insensibility’ quite casual and blunt language is used most of the time, which makes it seem as if Owen does not really sympathise with what is going on and that he too is ‘insensible’ to emotion. This comes across quite clearly with words such as ‘fooling’ which are very trivial and do not carry any emotional connotations and can ...

This is a preview of the whole essay