Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918) was an English poet and soldier. Wilfred Owens poetry on war can be described as a passionate expression of Owens outrage over the horrors of war and the pity and loss for the young soldiers sacrificed in it. His poetry also has a religious factor as he was very religious. His poetry is dramatic and memorable, whether describing the dark irony as in ‘Strange Meeting’, or his description of the unseen psychological consequences of war detailed in ‘The Next War’ and ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’. His diverse use of instantly understandable techniques is what makes him the most memorable WW1 poet. His poetry evokes the reader through detailed description and many techniques.
In the Next War Wilfred Owen uses the poem to express the futility of war – its pointless waste, and the meaningless nature of the sacrifices being made by the soldiers. Through language techniques he has created one of the most memorable poems to date. For what? For flags! Pfft. Owen begins by personifying “Death” as a friendly figure: “…we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death”. The imagery of the “spilling mess tins in our hand” is a metaphor for the blood and guts spilled on the battlefield and the “green thick odour of his breath” represents the thick green gas used in the war. This use of personification really gives an image of death as well. The focus of the second stanza of the sonnet is revealed in its opening line, “Our eyes wept, but our courage didn’t writhe”. The choice of the word,’ writhe’ emphasises the bad nature of the friendship and the soldiers’ courage in the face of this distaste. The imagery becomes more known as Owen uses short words to create rhythm in “He’s spat at us with bullets”. The effect is to mimic the sounds of the rifle fire on the front lines and sustain the personification of the first stanza of the poem. The repetition of “We laughed” emphasises that there is no joy in the soldier’s humour. He is laughing bitterly at the futility of war. He dreams of “better men” – real heroes and “greater wars” fought for something good and meaningful. Owen uses his rhyming couplet in “when each proud fighter brags He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags” to state his main idea and stress the bitterness of his tone. Owen means here that “better men” would fight against death, that is a “greater war”, a more worthwhile pursuit. In contrast, in this war, the soldiers work with death to kill men for their countries’ glory, symbolised by the meaningless “flags”.
Dulce et Decorum Est pro patria mori, which is a line taken from the Latin Odes of Roman poet Horace, means It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country. In his poem, Wilfred Owen takes the opposite stance. He is in effect saying – It is anything but sweet and proper to die for one’s country – in a hideous war that took the lives of over 17 million people. The first metaphor which I will examine is: “Haunting Flares” on line 3 of the first stanza. This quote has so many connotations, my first opinion on this was that the flares which the enemy are firing to light up the battle field are said to be representing the souls of the soldiers fallen comrades. “Gas! Gas!”, this is a more powerful technique used her to create a sense of panic and horror. The use of exclamation marks here also portrays a scene of panicking and rushing. Owen uses direct speech here to draw us in and to speak to us, which is somewhat different from the first stanza where Owen uses the past tense. The imagery here is really engaging: gives a sense of rushing “to fit the clumsy helmets”. The word ‘clumsy’ is a use of personification. Its as if the helmets were fighting against the soldiers. Personification is useful in this because, you can relate to human experience. The Words “guttering, choking and drowning”, are forms of onomatopoeia, Owen makes us use our senses, to hear this mans suffering. Nearly as if we were there in the battlefield.
‘Strange Meeting’ is narrated by a soldier who dies in battle and finds himself in Hell. There he meets a man whom he identifies as a ‘strange friend’. This other man tells the narrator that they both nurtured similar hopes and dreams, but they have both now died, unable to tell the living how piteous and hopeless war really is. This other soldier then reveals to the narrator that he is the enemy soldier whom the narrator killed in battle yesterday. ‘much blood has clogged the chariot wheels’. This is figurative only in part. The ‘chariot wheels’ suggest an ancient war but also represent the machinery which drives forward any and every war. The desire to ‘wash them from sweet wells’ is a picture of how the soldier longs to cleanse and purify the bloodshed in so many battles. The image of living, healing water comes from the Bible where it is an image of healing, cleansing and the eternal life offered by Jesus. It is also found in The Send-off where the few returning from the battle field seek out ‘village wells’. The blood is not metaphorical.
In conclusion Owens poems have one of the most reputed protests against war as it not only shows the meaningless of it, and the wastage of life caused by it. But the horror and suffering faced within it. Owens uses a variety of different language techniques to accomplish some of the greatest and most recognisable poems. “The Next War”, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and “Strange Meeting”, were only some of the many captivating poems written by Owen in WW1.