- Look for information about Wilfred Owen
- Characteristics of war poetry
- Explain each stanza with your own words
- Which images predominate? Quote and explain
- What does the title mean?
- Wilfred Owen:
- Born in 1893 died in 1918
- War poet
- English soldier who fought in the WW1
- He was homosexual
- War poetry:
- Rhetoric of honour
- Early war poets focus on the causes of the war and the emphasize the abstract notion of honour
- Late war poets are visibly anti-war. Focus on the details of their war experience and the hard reality of war.
- 1st stanza:
- Soldiers are backing up, growing away from the battlefield. They are in very poor conditions. They are exhausted and upset because things aren’t going as planned (ex: “disappointed shells that dropped behind”).
- 2nd stanza:
- They throw gas at them. They ran away. People started dying. He saw a man die in front of him, drowning and in agony.
- 3rd stanza:
- the man keeps dying and his mind; the voice can’t save him and is clearly hurt because of it.
- 4th stanza:
- It starts describing all the bad things about the war, all the suffering and showing the true side of the war. There is an irony when the government explains to the new young soldiers entering the army what war is (pride, honour, defend the country), but in fact, they are hiding the truth.
- The images that predominate are auditory and visual:
- “like old beggars under sacks”: they have the same poor conditions as a homeless person.
- “coughing like hags” the author wants to portray their bad physical condition.
- “still was yelling out and stumbling”: Chaos and shouting plus the sound that the boots and the falls made together with the ground.
- The exact meaning of the title is “it is sweet and honourable”. But this really makes sense to the reader when it is followed by “pro Patria mori”, which means “to die for one’s country”. This is the real idea that the author wants to portray throughout the poem: how the people made it sound like in the attempt to encourage them to sign in, but it was really horrible, they died in awful conditions and humiliated.
Deep analysis per stanza:
- First Stanza:
- What is the main emotion expressed in the first stanza (verse)?
- Write an example of a simile used in the first stanza
- Why were the shells ‘disappointed’?
- Pity, fury towards the government, sadness and sorrow
- “like old beggars under sacks”: Simile undermines stereotypes image of soldiers as young and fit. Suggests they are filthy and weak
- The metaphorical meaning of the disappointed shells is that the enemies throw the soldiers bombs, but they were “disappointed” because they never got to their target.
- Second Stanza:
- How does the emotion change at the beginning of the second stanza?
- What were the soldiers ‘fumbling’ for and why?
- Owen uses a metaphor to describe what the gas looked like. Write it here:
- The main emotion changes from sadness and pity to shock and madness. We can see this because there is a new unknown element for the soldiers, and they are surprised when they see the effect in people (gas bombs): “GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!” the exclamation mark suggests that something important is happening, and as gas is new to them, they are surprised and scared, so they must act fast.
- Fumbling: move clumsily in various direction using the hands to find one’s way. Soldiers were fumbling to find their way through the mist and trying not to tumble over bodies on the ground.
- “through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea”.
- Third Stanza:
- Why do you think the third stanza is only two lines long? Think about the dramatic effect and the emotion:
- We think that the stanza is two lines long because the phrase is one of the most important and shocking from the poem. The writer vividly transmits how he was perturbed by the death of his friend, dying in front of him “choking, drowning”, maybe in his own blood.
- Fourth Stanza:
- What is the main emotion expressed in the fourth stanza?
- Name three parts of the body that are affected by this sort of gas:
- Explain the final lines.
- The main emotion expressed in the fourth stanza is anger towards the government and the way they tried to persuade people into signing in for the war. He describes it as “The old Lie”.
- The three parts are:
- The face (eyes): “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face”. The sight of the men was suffering, both from the gas and from the horrible view.
- The lungs/respiratory system: men were fighting to breathe, as they suffered. Also, the blood they were throwing up didn’t let them breathe, and they started choking.
- The stomach/digestive system: soldiers, because of the bitter smell of the gas, started throwing up the blood which “Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs”.
- The meaning of the final lines is: Owen tries to make us re-ask ourselves, after giving us another completely new point of view of the war, if it is worth to die for our country or not, by repeating the title and completing the phrase.
The poem transmits anger, sadness and fury from the voice, he is clearly upset that he was forced to see a friend die, and it makes him feel desperate for not being able to do anything. The voice is also angry because he was forced to fight in awful conditions: with few hours of sleep and with heavy and uncomfortable clothing.
Similes as: “Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud” show us how dark, filthy and bitter the situation was. We believe the author wants to make the reader understand how awful war was, the things that it does to you, the hard time of having to see a friend die and the despair of not being able to do anything about it. Another thing the author wants us to understand is the fact that gases were unknown at the time, so people were surprised by them and killed due to the damage these provoked.
The Kiss: Siegfried Sassoon
To these I turn, in these I trust—
Brother Lead and Sister Steel.
To his blind power I make appeal,
I guard her beauty clean from rust.
He spins and burns and loves the air,
And splits a skull to win my praise;
But up the nobly marching days
She glitters naked, cold and fair.
Sweet Sister, grant your soldier this:
That in good fury he may feel
The body where he sets his heel
Quail from your downward darting kiss.
Themes: war, death, loyalty
Tone: maniac, adulating
- Alliteration: “Sister Steel”
- Oxymoron: “To his blind power I make appeal”
- Imagery: “darting kiss”
Personal opinion: Siegfried Sassoon, through this poem, wants to transmit that war is crazy and that can turn a man into a crazy person, that only wants and loves killing. In this poem, the voice is a soldier who is speaking about his gun: “Brother Lead and Sister Steel”. Brother Lead is the bullet, and Sister Steel is the barrel. In his first sentence he says “in these I trust”. We can see that the has a complete sense of trust over the gun. He gained this from using it a lot of times, so we can assume he killed a lot of people. Then he shows his admiration for the bullet, but also he has a bigger admiration for the barrel, which he keeps “clean from rust”. The second stanza he admires how the bullet goes through a skull. And in the third stanza, the voice talks of killing a man with the barrel, putting his feet on him, and then giving him a darting kiss from the barrel. In conclusion, this poem shows how people can go mad during war, as the voice in this poem, who is adulating the weapon, and he also feels he is in “heaven” when he kills with it.
Everyone sang: Siegfried Sassoon
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
Themes: freedom, hope, liberty, happiness, life.
Tones: hopeful, encouraging, happy, positive.
- simile: “As prisoned birds must find in freedom”
- Alliteration: “setting sun”
- Imagery: “dark-green fields”
Personal opinion: We understood this poem as a disappointing one, we interpreted it as the end of the first world war in 1914, but at the end, we perceive a severe disappointment from the voice, claiming that the war hadn’t ended quite yet. We understand this in the last stanza when it says:
“My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless;
the singing will never be done.”
We believe that the voice refers to the treaty of Versailles when the allies were very harsh on Germany, there were many people that disagreed with the big three end were very afraid of the second world war.