To convey his thought about the war and its horrors, Wilfred Owen uses lots of different language techniques.

Owen often uses similes and in two of the three poems I analyzed, he used a simile in the first line. In Dulce et Decorum Est, the first line is “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks” and it is referred to the soldiers who have to bend down in the trenches, as if they were carrying heavy sacks. Using a simile, Owen conveys me what the soldiers are suffering and I can easily imagine them, bending down under the weight of their equipment, exhausted, dirty and maybe even crying for the loss of their friends. But, what if this first line was a metaphor? This bending down could be imagined as the weight of people’s death over someone’s back: every time a soldier kills someone, he becomes less human and more beast like which fights for its life and it doesn’t stand, but it walks on its four paws; so every time someone kills someone, he bends more and more, as if he were transforming himself into a beast.

In Anthem for Doomed Youth, the first line is “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?“. His main message is to let know the horror of the war and of those who let people die without any ceremony and he convey this message from the first line by using this simile which makes really understand how these people were treated. People don’t care about their death, just as they don’t care when a goat dies and because of that, these men don’t get funerals or “passing bells.” This shows me the cruelty of the war and how people are treated.

In “Exposure” Owen doesn’t use a simile in the first line or even in the first stanza; the first simile we find is in the second line of the second stanza: “Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.” With this simile, Owen is trying to convey the agony of the men reflected in the wind. He talks about the men struggling with the brambles to give the idea of the conditions of the war.

When Owen uses a simile, he uses it to let immediately know the main message of the poem and then, throughout the poem, he explains this message which is always different, but has always the same background that is the cruelty of the war. This is a really powerful technique because the reader’s attention is immediately grabbed. I think the simile, with the metaphor and the personification, is one of the most vigorous language techniques, because anyone can identify it and it clarifies a lot what the poet is saying by making the reader imagine what has been written. Owen’s goal is to let know how cruel the war is and the simile helps him to convey this because he always compares war to something really sad, he says “like old beggars” and how are the beggars? They are dirty, sad, gloomy. He says “die as cattle” and everyone knows how the cattle dies.

 

The personification is used to emphasize a concept by giving some human features to something non human. In “Dulce et Decorum Est” there aren’t many personifications, the one I found is “clumsy helmets“. Owen is telling the reader that when the gas is released, there is panic, confusion, the soldiers are exhausted and even something quite easy such as wearing the helmets, can become hard because these helmets seem to not want to be worn. I think it is a really powerful personification because it shows me that in war ordinary actions are not ordinary anymore because you know that even this easy things can bring you to the death if not done correctly so when you have to do this, your thought is “ok, it’s easy”, but nothing is easy in war.

In “Anthem for Doomed Youth” a really clear personification is “the monstrous anger of the guns” which is used to convey the cruelty of the war. When I read this for the first time, I immediately imagined a gun which shoots a bullet and the noise it makes is so clear and scary, it seems to be a scream of anger; it seems that the anger of the soldier who is shooting to kill is reflected into the gun and the bullet that is, inexorably, reaching the enemy’s chest. Among all of the personifications I found in these three poems, this is the one I like the most; it really conveys the horror of the war, the anger soldiers feel, the death the war brings.

In “Exposure” I couldn’t find any significant personification, so I started reading the poem many times and I realized that the poem itself is a huge personification of the weather as the enemy; this language technique is called extended personification. The weather is presented as a human, who is fighting as well as everyone else, but unlike the human enemies, they can’t evade or attack it. The soldiers have to face with two pitfalls: the soldiers and the risk of dying because of the exposure to the cold Owen talks about. One line that really impressed me and made me think of this huge personification is “Less deadly (the bullets) than the air that shudders black with snow,” because reading that the soldiers were more likely to die because of the cold rather than get shot showed me that the weather is a real and really dangerous and fatal enemy; concept that I had never thought about before reading this poem.

When Owen uses a personification he’s always trying to make the reader understand better what he wants to say; the helmets show me the difficulty of war, where everything becomes hard, the anger of the guns convey to me the feelings soldiers have in war and the cruelty with which they kill people. Besides the weather is another factor which cannot be ignored and Owen let the reader know that by using an entire poem to personificate it as an enemy.

 

The poet uses many times the same words to highlight some lines, to grab our attention and it is usually used on lines that the poet wants us to notice. This language technique is the repetition. In “Dulce et Decorum Est” a repetition I found is “Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! In this half of a line, Owen is writing as if there was gas and everyone has to run away, trying to survive. Not only is this line a repetition of words, but also it’s a repetition of the surprise and the shock that soldiers are feeling in that moment. These words make me think of something slightly different from the WWI, the holocaust. The words “Gas! GAS!” convey to me incognizance and death; incognizance of what the people that were slowly walking to the gas chambers were going to face. They convey me pain, injustice, tears, death, the innocence of all the people who were killed without any reason and without any pity; Owen would say “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?”.

In “Anthem for Doomed Youth” a repetition is found in the two lines “No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; / Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs.” As I said, the repetition is used to highlight something important therefore Owen wants to show the reader these two lines because they explain how these people were treated when they died, they don’t receive any acknowledgment for no apparent reasons. This language technique conveys to the reader the lack of humanity from the soldiers who should recognize ones death.

In “Exposure” one very clear repetition is “But nothing happens” at the end of four of the eight stanzas of the poem. Owen writes that the wind is cold, the body hurts, people are more likely to die because of the wind rather than being killed by a soldier, but he still says that “nothing happens.” Why? I think it’s because even if lots of things are happening, the war is always the same, it doesn’t seem to be finishing, people are still killed for no reasons, people are still suffering, no one understands the pointlessness of the war. It could suggest that everytime a soldier dies, nothing happens, it’s the normality, no one cares; “nothing happens” could be related to  “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” as he said “what passing-bells for these who die as cattle?” he could mean that when these who die as cattle die “nothing happens”.

The repetition emphasizes a lot what the poet is trying to say because by reading something many times you understand it better. The repetition of “no” and “nor” in Anthem for Doomed youth shows me that those people didn’t receive anything once they died. The repetition conveys feelings because by reading something many times you feel it on your body, when he says “Gas, Gas!” I can feel and imagine the pain and the fear soldiers were feeling were the gas was released.

 

I’m sure that if Owen hadn’t used these language techniques, I wouldn’t have fully understood what he wanted to convey. Owen has experienced so much and in his poems he has always always tried to convey the reader what the war really is. The war is anger, is cruelty, is horror, is trying to survive to humans and nature, is death, is pain, is wishing to be home with your family, is crying, is killing people, but nowadays there are too many wars and too many deaths; if every soldier were like Owen, I’m sure there would be much less wars.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Hi Fred, as we discussed today, at the end of each point, you need to clarify what the purpose of the lines and techniques are. Also, formalise your writing style so that you remove phrases like “Now I will talk about” – this is not needed in a formal essay. Be direct, clear and authoritative in your discussion.
    * Lastly, please correct all sentence structure, punctuation and word requirements.
    All the very best.

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