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Wilfred Owen and the Darkest Sides of War

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Wilfred Owen and the Darkest Sides Of War

Authors generally write about what they know. They write about the time in which they live, they emulate the experiences that they have had and the things that they have witnessed through their characters and overall plot. Each character, each scene, each line in their works, are extensions of them. Keeping this in mind, it would be completely feasible to note that soldiers and writers of war perhaps compose and present the most iconic and picturesque stories. Although they may not necessarily write their works in a "based on a true story" sense, their works are essentially based on true stories of war and thus, everything that comes with it. With an author such as Wilfred Owen, it can clearly be demonstrated how his experiences as a soldier influenced his works such as "Greater Love," "Apologia Por Poemate Meo," "Mental Cases," and other poems. The titles, in and of themselves, illustrate how the war influenced his writing, yet Owen furthers this by utilizing diction, imagery, and other literary devices to offer up a catalyst by which all readers can view and understand the consequences and entanglements that come with war.

Wilfred Owen was born at Oswetry on March 18, 1893 and educated at Birkenhead Institute. He has been regarded as one of the best poets of the First World War. "In 1913, he obtained private tutorship near Bordeaux, where he remained until 1915. During this period he became acquainted with the eminent French poet, Laurent Tailhade, to whom he showed his early verses, and from whom he received considerable encouragement." (Sassoon 5). This demonstrates that even prior to his admittance and experiences in the army, Owen was destined to be an author. Furthermore, it can be inferred that Owen would have continued his writings had he not been in the army because of the encouragement of Tailhade, however it is doubtful that his writings would have reached the acclaim they had without his military background. "Owen's outlook on the war was forever changed after he experienced two traumatic events...[being] blown high into the air by a trench mortar, and [landing] in the remains of a fellow soldier; the second was when he was trapped in an old German dugout for several days...Due to these events Owen was diagnosed with shellshock, and he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital to recover. As a part of his treatment, Owen's doctor encouraged [him] to write about his experiences..." (Brookshire 1). This establishes that Owen's writings were directly a product of his experiences as a soldier in World War One.

In order for Owen to successfully show the tragedy of war, he readily uses realism and imagery in order to transport the reader on the scene. For example, in one of his poems entitled "Greater Love," he exclaims, "Red lips are not so red/ As the stained stone kissed by the English dead," (lines 1-2) which illustrates, through color imagery, the grotesque nature that is incumbent with war. In addition, the "Greater Love" that is achieved is done so by "the men [Owen] praised...because they have sacrificed themselves for each other" (Najarian 33-34). It is hard to fathom that Owen could have effectively written this line in such a way without first hand experience and knowledge of the trials and tribulations that a soldier would have to go through during World War One. In order to further illustrate the tragedies of war, Owen wrote "Anthem for Doomed Youth." Anthems, generally are happy, triumphant songs, however the connotation is changed when the words "Doomed Youth" is introduced because it conveys a feeling of hopelessness. The usage of the word "cattle" in the first line evokes an image of mass slaughter that is synonymous with war. The entire poem is a depiction of a non-traditional funeral. For example, "The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells" (line 7) contrasts a traditional funeral choir. On the battlefield, the choir is the "wailing shells," demonstrating how the fallen soldiers did not receive a proper funeral. In the paper, "Wilfred Owen and the Soldier Poets," Paul Norgate notes, "'Anthem for Doomed Youth'... is more usually cited as an example of Owen's debt to the Romantic tradition" (523). In a way, in writing "Anthem for Doomed Youth" Owen is invoking a type of Romanticism, honoring those fallen soldiers who were not properly honored in death. "Anthem for Doomed Youth" portrays the youth who die in war, essentially dying with honor, but being remember and treated in a dishonorable way. The imagery beseeches a component of realism that would otherwise not be present had the author not been there to witness such events.

While, "Greater Love" and "Anthem for Doomed Youth" show the outlandish, gruesomeness of war, Owen writes another poem that makes the reader sympathize with the soldiers, who are essentially victims of the war. Another instance where Owen's military background comes in to play is in his poem "Apologia pro Poemate Meo," which is essentially an apology for his poem or either an explanation for it. Here, Owen uses repetition in lines one and nine stating, "I, too saw God through mud--...I, too, have dropped off Fear--" (line 9). In furtherance, Hibberd suggests, "Owen seems to be deliberately associating himself with...companions" (38). This exemplifies and gives an element of realism to his writing. By utilizing the word "too" in a repetitious manner, Owen effectively conveys that not only was he present when these events where taking place, but also that he was not the only one witnessing and experiencing these things. Despite whichever side the soldiers were on, the poem demonstrates the commonality amongst all of them. There is a shift in stanza eight when for the first time he addresses the author/reader by saying "you," (line 33) that demonstrates that prior to this point Owen was in a reminiscent state, recalling experiences in the war. He goes on to say, "With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell" (line 30). In this instance, the word "hell" is used as a paradox. It is meant literally and figuratively. It is meant figuratively, because clearly these men are not in hell because they would have to be dead in order to make that possible. On the other hand, it is meant literally as well because hell is used as a synonym for battlefield. The battlefield, to any soldier, is to be construed as a type of living hell. Additionally, readdressing the prior issue of needing to be dead in order to be in hell, literally the soldiers can be perceived as dead, not on a physical realm but on a mental realm, in terms



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