Wilfred Owen, a war poet, uses a great number of linguistic and structural devices throughout his poems in order to express his anger at the war. In this essay I will focus on three of his works: ‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’, ‘ Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘ Mental Cases’ to analyse and compare the effects and intentions of his writing and the ways in which these express anger.
Wilfred Owen abundantly uses irony to express anger in his poems. This is very prominent when Owen addresses the power of weaponry, as he refers to the ‘ monstrous anger of guns’ in ‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’. The personification of the guns creates a distinctly ironic tone, which is continued throughout his other poems. Such personification also highlights the disastrous effects of the guns and indeed, Owen’s opposition to such killing capacity – emphasising his anger towards the war by demonstrating its futile nature. In the same poem, Owen had previously referred to the soldiers as ‘ cattle’. This dehumanisation, juxtaposed with the personification intensifies Owen’s use of irony and demonstrates his anger towards the war by revealing the power that weapons held over soldiers, implying that men were inferior to metal. Owen maintains this ironic tone in his poem ‘ Mental Cases’ when describing ‘ the men whose minds the Dead have ravished’. Here, much like in ‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’, Owen again uses personification to express his anger at the war. He humanises ‘ the Dead’ in order to emphasise how powerless men really were. The irony here implies that men were more effective from the grave than they were on the battlefield; again Owen’s intention was to demonstrate the futility of war. This concept, along with the idea that guns had more influence than men, heavily juxtaposes the way in which soldiers were portrayed by recruitment propaganda and therefore viewed by the general public during WW1. This further demonstrates Owen’s anger as he indirectly expresses the careless way in which soldiers were treated.
Indeed, Owen profusely expresses his anger at the war by trivialising it, comparing it to a game. In ‘ Dulce et Decorum Est’ he illustrates ‘ fitting the clumsy helmets just in time’, the choice of lexis ‘ just in time’ giving the implication that, to many, the war was just a game. This reflects the view of many of the generals during wartime, who made countless decisions but never paid the price. Here, Owen’s intention was to express his anger towards his superiors in the war, through the use of a metaphor and to demonstrate how they carelessly dismissed the lives of so many soldiers. In the same way, Owen continues this harsh comparison in ‘ Mental Cases’ by depicting the soldiers ‘ pawing us who dealt them war and madness’, again giving the connotation of a game. Owen expresses anger at the war by implying that, during this time, his superiors were willing to gamble with lives in order to gain victory. Here, Owen’s effective use of animalistic imagery with the lexis ‘ pawing’, creates an anguished tone and continues Owen’s intention of demonstrating how soldiers were mistreated, portraying that they were regarded with as much respect as a mere animal and that they viewed as disposable and equally replaceable. By comparing the soldiers to animals, the effective use of dehumanisation also demonstrates how desperate and defenceless the soldiers were. At this point, Owen intends for his readers to feel sympathy, as he exposes the horror of what he and countless others experienced during wartime, which effectively expresses his anger at the ‘ war and madness’ that he and others were an involuntarily a part of.
Furthermore, another way in which Owen expresses his anger throughout his poems is through his use of iambic pentameter. In ‘ Dulce et Decorum Est’, Owen describes the soldiers as ‘ bent double, like old beggars under sacks’. By using iambic pentameter from the beginning of his poem, Owen immediately depicts war as a never ending repetition of suffering and expresses his anger at how helpless the soldiers, including himself, were during wartime: unable to escape it’s horrors. Here, Owen’s use of a metaphor extends this concept, strongly demonstrating the inevitable weaknesses of the soldiers when faced with such an oppressing and destructive environment. Owen’s anger at the war is again made evident when he reveals how little control the soldiers had in that environment. The use of iambic pentameter is continued in Owen’s poem ‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’. However, in both poems, the meter is occasionally broken. In ‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’, Owen illustrates ‘ only the stuttering rifles rapid rattle’, breaking the iambic pentameter. This creates a jarring effect which Owen intended to show that there could be an escape from the war: death. Owen’s anger at the war is clearly expressed here, as he indicates that death was the only way to find relief during the war.
In addition to this, Owen further expresses his anger towards the war and indeed, the death toll that it generated. In ‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’ Owen creates an image of sleep when he describes ‘ each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds’. This effective use of pathetic fallacy creates a dark and foreboding tone and carries an element of closure. This metaphor could indeed be a euphemism for death itself. Owen uses this to express his anger at the war by demonstrating that for soldiers, death was as common an occurrence as the transition from day to night; indeed, something that took place daily. Here, Owen’s use of a metaphor could also be a reflection of the views of the public and their attitude towards death. The dark imagery diminishes the significance of death by comparing it to sleep, revealing Owen’s anger at the casual attitudes of the public, created by the hostile environment of war that people were desperate to downplay. Here, Owen’s intention was to express the true nature of death and the heavy strain it held on soldiers. Similarly, Owen again uses pathetic fallacy to express his anger at war in his poem ‘ Mental Cases’ when he describes how ‘ Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh’. However, by way of contrast, in ‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’ Owen portrays death at the ultimate price, whereas here he reveals that, in death, there may be some comfort. This powerful metaphor implies that, in the opinion of some soldiers, it is better to die and be a rest than to be stuck facing the relentless reality of war. Here, Owen’s use of imagery and a sombre tone effectively reveal the way in which the unbearable nature of war influenced many men’s value of life and indeed expresses Owen’s anger towards war for causing such a great consequence.
To conclude, Wilfred Owen’s poems ‘ Anthem for Doomed Youth’, ‘ Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘ Mental Cases’ are all extremely successful, in similar and different ways, at portraying the unimaginably hostile aspects of warfare and the unreasonable strain these put upon soldiers, including Owen himself. It is through his plentiful use of structural techniques and employment of rhetorical devices that Owen effectively expresses his anger at the war.