How Does Wilfred Owen Explore the Horror of War Through the Power of Poetry? Analysis

Throughout the several poems Wilfred Owen wrote throughout his experience during the First World War, he explores many themes in relation to the war and the emotions associated with these. One of the most prevalent ideas Wilfred Owen chooses to emphasise in many of his poems is that of the sense of horror associated with war and all the consequences of it such as those including death, disability, pain and gore and this emphasis can be clearly seen in 2 of Wilfred Owens most famous poems: Dulce Et Decorum Est and Mental Cases.

First and foremost, the technique Wilfred Owen employs in nearly every poem he wrote to help convey the sense of horror is that of imagery which is generally created through the use of vivid descriptions and strong language. This is shown on Lines 3 and 4 in Stanza 1 of Mental Cases; “Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish, Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ tongues wicked”, where Owen uses words commonly associated with evil such as ‘skull’ and ‘wicked’ as well as the use of descriptive language to paint the image of an evil and distorted face.

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Owen also uses these techniques in Dulce Et decorum Est where he once again uses vivid and descriptive language to describe the face of a soldier who had fallen victim to the toxic chemical agents used by the Germans in the war.

The 2 lines which portray this image; “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;”, like those explained in the poem Mental Cases, also employ a variety of graphic language as well as a reference to death by hanging in the phrase “devil’s sick of sin;” and through these techniques paints a vivid and descriptive picture of the face of a fallen soldier and help to accentuate the sense of horror which has been created by the poem.

There is another prime example of this descriptive imagery helping to create an overall scene of desperation and hopelessness in the lines “Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. ” from the same poem. The repetition of the words ‘green’ and the use of the adjective ‘misty’ as well as the metaphor of the ‘green sea’ being used to represent the chemical agent being inflicted upon them illustrates the scene quite clearly to the reader and creates the sense of being trapped with no escape through the metaphor Owen uses about being ‘under a green sea’.

The use of a simile in the line “Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,” where as the effect of misty panes and green light has been caused by the gas mask also helps to convey a vivid image of the scene to the reader. Through these examples it can quite plainly be seen that Wilfred Owen utilises the techniques of descriptive language as well as other language techniques in order to create vivid imagery which helps portray the true horror of the war to the reader through emphasis of certain emotions such as desperation, evil and death.

Throughout many of his poems, Wilfred also uses many poetic devices and these are often employed to help convey a message, illustrate an image or emphasise an emotion. Wilfred however, uses these to also enhance the sense of horror created throughout these poems and also convey the emotions and themes associated with it to the reader. One of these poetic devices Owen uses the most is that of alliteration, often using it to emphasise a point and help to fully convey the point he is trying to express to the reader. This can be seen multiple times in both Mental Cases and Dulce Et Decorum Est and some examples include “Knock – kneed, … , “Men marched asleep. ”, “And watch the white eyes writhing in his face. ”, “Treading blood from the lungs that had loved laughter. ” and “Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous, … ”.

As well as effectively emphasising and conveying ideas to the reader, these alliterations are also coupled with other poetic devices such as contrast and the use of similes so as to further emphasise and illustrate the point. Several examples of this include “Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous … ” where juxtaposition is also employed so as to further highlight the horror of the sight of the corpses being described, “Men marched asleep. which couples the use of a hyperbole with the alliteration to inform the reader of the exhausted state of mind the soldiers are in and the phrase “Knock – kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, … ” which employs a simile to compares the physical condition of the soldiers to that of an old wrinkled witch. Aside from alliteration Owen, although to a slightly lesser extent, also utilizes many other poetic devices and these show up every so often throughout the poem including techniques such as repetition, personification, assonance, onomatopoeia, oxymoron and internal rhyming.

All of which, serve to only further emphasise the emotions and themes pertaining to the horror of war. Some examples of these include “Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,” where the internal rhyme of the verbs ‘batter’ and ‘shatter’ help create an scene of intense action and violence, “Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood – black;” which uses repetition of the word blood which is commonly associated with violence and death to further emphasise these themes and further accentuate the feeling of horror Owen is trying to associate with war and “ … ut what slow panic,” which employs oxymoron with the two words ‘slow’ and ‘panic’ which seem to contradict each other and combine to imply that the husks of men these soldiers are seem as though they have been through endless torture. As can be seen, Wilfred Owen’s use of various poetic techniques helps to emphasise and express many of the themes and ideas in his poem in relation to the horrors and gore of war.

As can be seen in the poems Dulce Et Decorum Est and Mental Cases, Wilfred Owen explores the horror of war through the use of descriptive and graphic language to create intense imagery as well as employing a wide variety of poetic devices such as alliteration, assonance, repetition and contrast in his poems. These attributes of his works help emphasise and strongly convey to the reader the sense of horror which is a major theme throughout many of his poems and allows him to effectively explore the horror of war through the power of poetry.

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How Does Wilfred Owen Explore the Horror of War Through the Power of Poetry? Analysis. (2016, Nov 16). Retrieved from