Overview Wilfred Owen talks “of the grievances of a wounded man who they move into the sun, with the hope that the sunshine will „stir‟ him”. The poet begins the poem talking of a certain “Him‟ It is obvious that the poet is talking about the Soldier. The anonymity points to his relegation of identity; and lack of individuality in a system that places the System over the individual. The anonymity of the dead soldier may also be employed for objectivity, and to render the experience universal-so as to highlight the predicament of any soldier. The poem functions as an elegy for the dead soldier.
In addition, Owen experienced one of his own comrades deaths in a similar way, so he was writing from personal anguish.
Title The term ‟futility‟ foregrounds the pointlessness of war. Moreover, it underlines the futility of extinction. This poem challenges the ideals of young men who define patriotism as “serving one‟s nation” and it offers readers the principle that life is futile due to the inevitability of death Owen took part in World War I as an officer in the Manchester Regiment. Therefore he bore witness to the catastrophic effects of war. He was depressed and disgusted at the distressing and demoralizing consequences of the War. He endeavoured to fulfill the responsibilities to his country.
Structure The poem traces the soldier‟s train of thought – the initial gentleness of the first stanza changing to a rising bitterness in the second, culminating in the despairing cry of the last two lines. Furthermore, the descriptive mode in the first stanza, shifts to an interrogative and philosophical mode in the second. The poet is in total denial over the death of his fellow-being. The Sun was capable of waking vegetative entities like seeds, and the hard “clays of a cold stars”. While it refreshed lifeless stars, why was it incapable of endowing life to a rational being whose significance cannot be understated? The poet is also aware of Nature‟s overwhelming powers that Man-made inventions cannot withstand (floods,tsunamis,earthquake)Why cannot Nature then revive the aftermath of a man-made atrocity such as war?
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides, Full-nerved, - still warm, - too hard to stir? The rhetorical question is aimed not only at the Sun, the Sustainer of Life. It is also intended at the devastating concept of war in general.
Imagery The sun stands as a metaphor for the Giver of Life here. Once, the poet asserts, the sun‟s touch did awaken the man in question. Once upon a time, he was „at home‟. “At home” signifies that the man was comfortable and satisfied. The phrase “whispering of fields unsown.” suggests the possibility of fields yet to be sown, dreams yet to be realized. The sun always did awake him, until this day. This suggests the likelihood that he is not in a condition anymore to be awakened by the sun. The sun is personified – „it‟s touch…the kind, old sun‟.
Snow‟ stands as a powerful emblem of death, decay and destruction. It is as opposed to the warmth of the sun. Only the Old Sun (the Perpetuator of life) could discern if anything was capable of rousing the man to his senses. The line echoes the fact that no one who had crossed in to the realm of death, has been back to tell the tale of Death. The lines also refer to the inevitability of Death, and hollowness of life. Hence, the title “Futility”.
Wilfred Owen used the word wheat as a symbol or metaphor to symbolize the secrets behind the fallen~ many of them only lived 1/5th of their lives. Furthermore, wheat whispers: the British grain fields are solemn and shows the security of the youth environment that these fallen men used to treasure in their lives.
Other techniques … Repetition – „wake‟ and in it‟s different forms such as awoke, wakes, woke As well as the synonyms „rouse‟, „stir‟, and „break…sleep‟. Diction – use of soft words such as „touch‟ and „whispering‟ emphasis the fragility of the soldier. And other words such as „limbs‟, „nerved‟ and „sides‟ to show his appreciation of life.
Rhetorical Questions Three rhetorical questions in the last six lines of the poem to express the emotional outbursts of the speaker;„ Can‟t you wake the body you worked so hard to make?‟„ Was it for this you grew him?‟„Oh, why did you bother?‟
Final words … This poem challenges the ideals of young men who define patriotism as “serving one‟s nation” and it offers readers the principle that life is futile due to the inevitability of death. Futility is defined as any event or process that is meaningless in a person‟s lifetime. The concluding thoughts of a Great War Soldier is completely evident in this poem. Owen conveys the War as a meaningless battle, the soldiers are boys depicted with admirable characteristics; I will be a courageous fighter for Great Britain”!