Y10 war poetry notes


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Annotations of Wilfred Owen's war poems. GCSE English Literature.

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Y10 war poetry notes

  1. 1. Anthem for Doomed Youth (1917) SSM
  2. 2. What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. No mockeries now for them, no prayers nor bells; Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, – The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires. Passing bells would usually be the sound of churchbells ringing for a funeral. Owen points out that on the battlefield there are no bells. These – a very subtle word choice but these brings us a lot closer to the soldiers than “those”. Owen has a habit of writing from within the scene of the poem. Cattle – a dehumanising simile. Also, cattle is a herd indicating the number of deaths. Rhetorical Q answered in next line Metaphor – angry guns suggests aggression and lack of patience. What are the guns angry about? Alliteration – sounds like gunfire Owen creates a picture of a world without mourning or sympathy for the soldiers – there are no prayers or bells. The only choir singing for them is the metaphor of the bombs dropping singing their explosions. The reality was the soldiers didn’t have time to mourn. Families will mourn them at home. Battle isn’t the place. The prayers are said quickly Anaphora Owen refers to religious ceremonies (prayers and bells) as mockeries. Why might this be? Is he disillusioned with religion and the idea of god (like Exposure) or does think that a religious ceremony wouldn’t be fitting for such a horrible death? Glorifying death ignores what is really happening. SSM
  3. 3. What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. A possible suggestion is that the poem takes the reader on a journey to the soldier’s forgotten families at home. It is a harder stanza to understand – not for the faint hearted – and full of metaphors. Again Owen asks a question – where will the candles be to mark their deaths, and in the second line we learn that there won’t be any – “not in the hands of boys”. Boys – young and innocent children who will never see their fathers again. Alternatively boys could be the soldiers themselves – echoing Dulce (Children ardent for some desperate glory). Shine and glimmer are words which symbolise the candle that was asked for in line 1. They sound holy. They make the deaths sounds less horrific. Shine and glimmer sound more ceremonious (like he funeral they should be having). They represent the tears of the soldiers and of their children. Goodbyes therefore represent death. It is not based in reality – Owen hasn’t forgotten though the emotional aspects of grief and death. This final metaphor gives the sense of closure…of death. The curtains are closing. The eagle-eyed amongst you might also recognise this metaphor for death used in Conscious. This might inform your reading of that poem! SSM
  4. 4. STRUCTURE AND FORM • Anthem is a sonnet. Sonnets are usually love poems showing strong emotions. This sonnet conveys strong emotions but they are those of fear and grief. • It generally follows an ABAB rhyme scheme, and generally has 10 syllables per line. There are moments it breaks this…you could explore why. • The tone is significantly different in both stanzas – in the first it is angry using onomatopoeia etc. to convey the horror of the situation. In the second stanza it is gentle, conveying the tone of grief. SSM
  5. 5. Exposure (1917) SSM
  6. 6. Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us... Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent... Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient... Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous, But nothing happens. Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire. Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles. Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles, Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war. What are we doing here? Owen tells the poem from his perspective and that of his fellow soldiers. Shows the extreme exhaustion from the soldiers. The verb ‘wearied’ emphasises this. Links to ‘drunk with fatigue’ in Dulce. The weather is personified here. ‘Merciless’ suggests it is never-ending, and the violent imagery of the knife shows us that the weather is as much of a threat to life as the battling. The use of silence creates tension. Shouldn’t we expect fighting – in actual fact, a lot of war time was inactive. Confusion – linked to Conscious. Salient = defences Alliteration But nothing happens is a very harrowing line. The mental anguish of waiting for battle was intense. Brambles grow on thorny vines – creates an image of barbed wire. This links to the idea that the weather is hostile. Never ending They feel detached, like they are not fully conscious. Link to conscious. The rhetorical question emphasises the pointlessness of war. It also, again, suggests that they aren’t fully aware.SSM
  7. 7. The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow... We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy. Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey, But nothing happens. Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence. Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow, With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew, We watch them wandering up and down the wind's nonchalance, But nothing happens. Distressing We usually associate dawn with hope but in this situation the dawn is bringing misery with it. The tone of this is very pessimistic. Also dawn is described using a metaphor and natural imagery, suggesting it grows like a plant. This reinforces the unforgiving side of nature and its devastating impact on the soldiers. Owen gives the impression that the only feeling the soldiers have of war is that it is lasting a long time. There is a use of pathetic fallacy in these lines - reflecting the feelings of the soldiers. Melancholy = unhappy/miserable Link with monochrome colour (grey) to create atmosphere and convey mood. Repetition of this line to emphasise emptiness/pointlessness and the waiting. Sibilance: the snake-like sound/hissing mimics the sound of rapid fire bullets breaking the silence. Metaphor. Oxymoron The snowflakes are personified. They sound unenthusiastic. It suggests that even their fluttering, being carried on wind that is not aggressive (nonchalant) is still too much to bear. RepetitionAgain, the weather is presented as the biggest threat to life. SSM
  8. 8. Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces - We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed, Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed, Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses. Is it that we are dying? Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires glozed With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there; For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs; Shutters and doors all closed: on us the doors are closed - We turn back to our dying. Stealth = secretively/ surreptitiously It gives the impressive that the threats are hidden and can’t be countered. The threat here, again is the ‘pale flakes’ – the weather! Explore pathetic fallacy – weather reflecting feelings. Distressing imagery – soldiers in fear and pain in disgusting surroundings. In the trenches, dreams are forgotten. Link to ‘the trench is narrower’ – conscious. Soldiers have forgotten their dreams. They are no longer optimistic. Again, the idea of forgetting yourself can be seen in conscious. Is the imagination here being disguised…could blackbirds be grenades? Rhetorical question – soldiers have forgotten why they are there. Sad tone. Link to conscious. Very deathly imagery – possibly the ghosts are a metaphor (spiritually they are imagining themselves at home). Likely, it is creating an image that the soldiers have died. The house is empty without them. The mice are happy scurrying around. The imagery here is intended to suggest the trenches. Mice and rats littered the bottoms of trenches. Isolation – life goes on without them. Back to the business of dying – return to consciousness.SSM
  9. 9. Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn; Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit. For God's invincible spring our love is made afraid; Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born, For love of God seems dying. To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us, Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp. The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp, Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice, But nothing happens This very odd, jarring and complicated phrase forces the reader to notice is. He is saying that they cannot believe anything else – all that they have imagined is true: their homes are closed to them, their dreams are fading, they are dying. The men are becoming afraid of God’s love – how could a kind, loving God send them into such bloody battles? Owen’s questioning of God here would be shocking to many, but also echo the thoughts many would secretly have felt. Peoples’ faith in religion is disappearing. Personification of the harsh, hostile frost taking over them and freezing them. Images of disfiguration – links to Dulce (Bent double)The fact that the faces of the soldiers are ‘half-known’ suggests that the damage has made them unrecognisable, or the conflict is full of lonely men who didn’t really know each other– links to Dulce (Bent double) Owen lingers on this idea of nothing happening. Nothing is happening because they are still waiting and war is a never ending cycle. Or that those who could stop the war choose not to and this hell continues.SSM
  10. 10. STRUCTURE AND FORM • 5 line stanzas • Owen uses of half rhymes (words that don’t fully rhyme but sound a bit like they do) to form an ABBAC rhyme scheme. • The first stanza and last stanza end with the same line – ‘But nothing happens’ – you might want to consider why Owen has created this circular structure. ABOUT THE UNUSUAL, SHORT FIFTH LINE IN EACH STANZA • The final fifth line doesn’t seem to fit. It is abrupt and stands out on its own. Owen uses this disjointed line to ask his questions or repeat the idea of waiting (nothing happens). This emphasises the drawn out and unpredictable nature of war. • The line makes the stanza feel like it has been cut short – can you think of any reasons why this might be important? SSM
  11. 11. Dulce Et Decorum Est (1917) SSM
  12. 12. Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind. Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . . Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. Opens with an image of disfiguration Creates an image that the soldiers are under a weight – perhaps physical (their rucksacks) or a metaphorical weight (the wright of the war) Old hags – a cultural reference to Shakespeare. The hags are the witches. Connects the war with evil. Also suggests they are extremely unhealthy. Sludge – the weather turned the ground to marsh. Sludge connotes exhaustion but also that the weather was a big threat – link to Exposure. Ghostly image created by bombs. Maybe he can’t remember clearly – link to conscious. Safety is miles away. Metaphors for extreme exhaustion A phrase that Owen has created. Suggests wounds and loss of life. The capitalisation, repetition and exclamation marks are used to convey to tone of panic. They increase the pace to emphasise the panic. An aggressive verb linked with the agony and panic of the situation. Confused Fire and lime both are substances that burn the skin. Horrific image - inhaling the gas would burn on the inside. Metaphor for suffocating. Also not that green should be a natural colour but here it is used to represent something that kills. Link to natural world being a threat. SSM
  13. 13. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori. The war haunts his dreams – it has left him with mental scars. Helpless sight implies that he saw what was happening but could do nothing to help. Has the tone of guilt or sorrow. The repetition of 3 present participle (‘ing’) verbs implies that the action is happening in front of them. The verbs add to the pace and emphasis the very immediate danger that the soldiers were in. It also shows how quickly the gassed soldiers were dying. Smothering = suffocating. He find that his dreams and memories of the war choke him. Can’t cope. Disrespectful image of bodies being disregarded and simply throw into a wagon. Links to disrespectful way death is handled in Anthem for Doomed Youth and Exposure. Images of extreme pain. Horrific image because the soldiers’ deaths are neither quick nor comfortable. The devil is the worst sinner and even he is sick of the sins in the war. Children = young. Propaganda persuaded them and they died. Gives us the impression he is being honest. Wants people to listen. A direct address. Owen hated propaganda and believed people were lied to about the reality of war. It is sweet and honourable to die for your country.SSM
  14. 14. STRUCTURE AND FORM • There is no obvious or clearly defined structure – think about why you think this might be. • Owen does use an alternative ABAB rhyme scheme to maintain pace. • The stanzas are used to create different scenes, therefore it is structured in a way which shows many different aspects/horrors of the war: disfigurement and trench life, a gas attack, the graphic description of the effects of the attack, and the message at the end (the old lie). • The structure of the poem is also supported by the language: at the beginning the language is that of extreme exhaustion and fatigue, the pace then increases due to language (especially verbs) used to create panic, and ending with a more elevated and moralistic style of language. SSM
  15. 15. Conscious (1918) SSM
  16. 16. Semi-colon disjoints the sentence emphasising the lack of consciousness. His fingers wake, and flutter; up the bed. His eyes come open with a pull of will, Helped by the yellow may-flowers by his head. The blind-cord drawls across the window-sill . . . What a smooth floor the ward has! What a rug! Who is that talking somewhere out of sight? Three flies are creeping round the shiny jug . . . ‘Nurse! Doctor!’— ‘Yes, all right, all right.’ The poem was written whilst Owen was in hospital suffering from Shellshock. Consider the title ‘conscious’ – it raises the question about how alter and conscious the speaker in the poem is. He goes through various stages of consciousness. Personification – suggestions he is coming around from unconsciousness. The metaphor could suggest he is determined to wake up. Also has the tone of reluctance - is this because he is struggling to wake up, or because staying in a dream is far better than returning to reality? The description here is very precise. Is it real or it is imagined? The rapid change of things suggests a tone of madness. There is a sense of urgency. The blind is used in Anthem to signal death/closure. Is this the case here? Confusion suggests a disconnection with reality, linking to the title of the poem. An uncaring tone. It was officers that were sent to hospital with shellshock – perhaps the nurse knows that the soldiers still on the front line are suffering more. SSM
  17. 17. But sudden evening blurs and fogs the air. There seems no time to want a drink of water. Nurse looks so far away. And here and there Music and roses burst through crimson slaughter. He can’t remember where he saw blue sky. The trench is narrower. Cold, he’s cold; yet hot – And there’s no light to see the voices by . . . There is no time to ask—he knows not what. Note the metaphor and use of pathetic fallacy here. Owen has created an image of the soldier’s loss of consciousness. The blurring and fog means he is no longer thinking clearly. War is clearly creating mental trauma and leaving mental scars. Worse, perhaps he is dying? Happens quickly Why wouldn’t there be time to want a drink of water? A drink of water is a necessity but he doesn’t have time – the tone is one of anxiousness and urgency. This leads into his confused memories in the next few lines. It is important to recognise the juxtaposition here of music and roses with the idea of slaughter. These are contradictory and links to the idea of losing consciousness/being confused. His memory might be failing him. it could be claimed that the mind disguising traumatic memories – therefore Owen might be using symbolism here. Music – bombs; roses = blood. Blue sky is a symbol of hope but he cant remember the last time he felt optimistic. Sense of claustrophobia. His mind is returning him to his cramped and dirty trench. Can you SEE voices? Of course not, he is becoming confused. No light also suggests that he is falling into darkness…perhaps becoming unconscious or dying. The poem ends with the sense of urgency and confusion. It repeats the phrase ‘no time’ but also suggests a lack of clarity ‘he knows not what’.SSM
  18. 18. STRUCTURE AND FORM • There is a clear speaker in the poem, though he drifts between consciousness/life and death • 4 quatrains divided into 2 stanzas • Owen uses a regular rhyme scheme, only disjointed in a few places • The use of punctuation is important at creating discord in the poem – a key example of this is the disjointed flow created by the semi-colon in the first line. This might link to the idea that the speakers thoughts are broken. SSM