WW1 was a war shrouded with propaganda and the romanticization of war, but poetry allowed poets to convey the true destructive nature of war effectively. This is achieved through their personal viewpoint, expressing strong despair for the desolation of countless lives caused by the horrific conflict. This is because of the dehumanising effect war has on innocent individuals, causing many to lose faith. The pointlessness and futile essence of war, which perpetuates the destructiveness, is explored in Wilfred Owen’s poems, with subtle criticism on the suffering of individuals for no greater purpose. The poems ‘Strange Meeting’ and ‘Futility’ exposes the bleak carnage of war and questions the value of human lives in the face of these . Consequently, through examining the historical, personal and cultural contexts of Owen’s poems, the reader can intimately understand the destructive nature of war.
War is exposed as a horrific and destructive event, leaving damaged individuals in need of reconciliation. ‘Strange Meeting’ by Wilfred Owen is written to reflect upon the war, a place worse than hell. The descent into hell is shown as the persona goes “Down some profound dull tunnel.” the oxymoron of profound and dull highlights the ironic and bitter tone of the persona, as his life was taken from him. Later on it is revealed hell is rather a sanction from the devastating war as “no blood reached… no guns thumped… here is no cause to mourn.” The cruelty of war is illustrated through the symbolism of blood and water, as “blood has clogged their chariot wheels – I would go up and wash them from sweet wells” The pain and agony caused by the bloodshed others requires their souls to be cleansed away or purified. Disturbing imagery is also complemented with euphemisms to allow the reader to figure out his thoughts to invoke a stronger moral response. Owen foresees a post-war period with the world changed for the worse by war. He expresses his fear that “Men will go content with what we spoiled”, that they will accept the shattered world as the norm. The alternative will be ‘discontent’ and further regression into ‘this retreating world’ – a frightening and accurate prediction of events. Owen employs a multitude of literary techniques to unmask a grim reality normally hidden, and to portray the true nature of war.
The meaningless waste of humanity in the pitiful war is emphasised with multiple implications of conflict being inhumane and without real purpose. ‘Strange meeting’ explores the lifelong search for beauty and friendship, interrupted by war. The persona “went hunting wild – After the wildest beauty in the world” which alludes to the ode to a grecian urn, stating beauty can unveil truths and give something meaning, which war lacks. The poem contains several underlying messages, which is clearly laid out. The line ‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend’ best encapsulates the solidification of the bond between the persona and the soldier. The general setting of the poem as well as this leads me to the conclusion that wilfred owen is proposing that there are no enemies in hell, we are all united in death. This adds further to the argument that war is senseless and evil as innocent soldiers are thrown into battle without their own consensus and without consideration for their purpose in life.
The harsh experiences and catastrophic loss of lives in the war is conveyed through the deterioration of human worth and the eventual loss of strong faiths. Wilfred Owen’s Futility is a poem which captures the moment in which the old Romantic world died, and the faithless, bleak world of reality sets in. The poem begins with feeling of tenderness, hope for the sun to resurrect a fallen soldier suggested in “If anything might rouse him now … the kind old son will know” in which the sun is personified to be god. This shows the initial faith and hope before the true nature of war settles in.
The persona becomes frantic, demanding action. “Think how it wakes the seeds— Woke once the clays of a cold star” Owen emphasises upon the almost desperate tone of the persona through the alliteration of the speaker’s lament, alluding to the christian bible, in which god created humans with clay. Owen calls into question the worth of humans and their limbs as he asks “Are limbs so dear achieved, are sides”, depicting the waste of human potential due to the dehumanisation that warfare evokes. Desperation becomes anger as the author asks “Was it for this day the clay grew tall… to break earth’s sleep at all?” The persona shifts the tone and questions the bewittled worth of life itself during the war and the existence of a benevolent higher power that can bring back a life so purposely lost. Therefore, the meaninglessness of life and war in its very nature causes the defiance in faith. Owen’s personal loss of faith is symbolic of mankind’s pity and tragedy, which follows the secularisation of western civilisation.
In conclusion the destructive nature of war is portrayed in Wilfred Owen’s poetry by exhibiting the cataclysmic consequences war has on the individual and the loss of meaning encompassed by inevitable death and conflict. These notions are explored in the poems ‘Strange Meeting’ and ‘Futility’.