Wilfred Owen is known for his painfully true stories of soldiers in the First World War.
A young soldier himself, he composed poignant and accurate details and used them to mould incredibly moving poetry. Owen would have been a channel for alternative views on the war, views that would have drastically changed from the time he had enrolled. His views, sometimes interpreted as less patriotic, combined with his realism and linguistic talents have made him one of the most enjoyable poets of his time. The language in Disabled is Owen’s main vehicle in creating a really moving piece.The first two stanzas of the poem focus on the physical aspects of this young man’s life and to some extent the views of wider society, also touched on later in the poem. This first stanza sets the scene for this poem.
The tone of the poem is very solemn, highlighting in particular, this man’s physical disability. However the language is what draws the reader in and evokes strong emotions towards the subject. The first line of note is ‘Legless, Sewn short at elbow’. This is where we get a first glimpse of the injuries sustained by the young soldier. He has lost part of his arm and both legs.The sentence is disjointed, and the syntactic awkwardness of the phrase mirrors the injuries he has received, the distortion of his body, and we feel pity for the young man’s situation. The words ‘Legless’ and ‘at elbow’ are sibilant and harsh which reflects the reality of his situation, putting plainly his inadequacy.
‘Voices of boys’ that sound as they finish a football match makes the soldier feel sad, as he is reminded he will never have that liberty, again instilling a feeling of pity for him. These young boys remind him of his childhood that he will never regain.The line ‘Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him’ is another reference to this young soldier’s injuries, only this one is psychological. He has obviously encountered the horrors of war and this has had an adverse affect on him to the extent that he is unable to sleep from a condition known at the time as shell shock, now known as post traumatic stress disorder. Sleep has taken them away ‘from him’, indicating he cannot join them. Moving through to stanza two, we can see a drastic change in tone for the first three lines, although the tone is still on the physical aspects.In the first three lines the soldier looks back in his happier times in life.
‘Town used to swing so gay’ expresses how things were happier before the war. ‘Girls glanced lovelier’ describes his good looks before the accident and how the girls wanted to be around him. In the last four lines the tone changes to a more solemn one. One particular line in stanza two that stands out for me is ‘before he threw away his knees’. It suggests he wouldn’t have lost them if he hadn’t enlisted. It almost seems like Owen blames him for the loss of his own knees, which I true enough, as he would be uninjured, had he not joined.The lines ‘never feel how slim girls waists are..
. touch him like some queer disease’ reflects his sadness and reminds him of the rejection faces, displaying the resentment of what has happened to him, these horrors that he has experienced caused many difficulties in his life and this has affected peoples view on him and now they treat him like a monstrosity, something to be avoided. The next two stanzas discuss the emotional aspects of War and its affect on people, mainly focusing on the reasons why he joined up, and we see him evaluate the choices he made.
Stanza three discusses the affects war has had on his youth. ‘For it was younger than his youth, last year’ explains how the war has aged him. By adding ‘last year’ to the end of the sentence it illustrates he is stripped of his youth and innocence because of the war. His baby face has been changed and carved into a harden war victim. It makes him sound old even though the oldest he might have been was around 22 years old.
As the reality of warfare sunk in, he ‘lost his colour’ and subsequently his vitality when he ‘poured it down shell holes till the veins ran dry’.This last phrase is particularly stirring, as the use of the word ‘poured’ indicates he did so willingly, like it was his fault he lost his vitality. In some respects he is, and this is discussed in stanza four, where he looks back on the night he signed up. Stanza four is all about the honour and glory that being involved in war would bring to the young man. In stanza four the poet explores these ideas of why the soldier chose this life, suggesting it was to become a hero, ‘carried shoulder high’ like he was after his football matches.
He also considers maybe it was for ‘to please his meg’ this stanza explores reasons why he joined and the phrase ‘he wonders why’ shows he is questioning the sensibility of his reasons, and subsequently the actions he made. He ‘once liked a blood smear down his leg’ because it was from an injury during football. It was considered courageous and honourable to have the blood, now it is seen as a weakness, ‘the strong men that were whole’ didn’t sustain the debilitating injuries, and proposes an inequality between himself and ‘the strong men’.The last stanzas of the poem highlight the problems in wider society and their lax judgment pre-war and what appears to be lack of caring post-war for the men who risked life and limb. Stanza five is about the night he enlisted and how easy it was for him to join the army. He didn’t have to prove his worth to the recruitment officers; they just signed him up without question. They didn’t question that he was nineteen years old, which he was not. The immature way he describes his enlistment is proof that he is younger than nineteen As well as the poet saying ‘wrote his lie’.
He knew nothing of Austria and ‘Germany he scarcely thought of’. He did not know anything about the politics of the war. He only thought of how the uniform would make him look, and how people would treat him once he put it on. “Jeweled hilts” are daggers; Scottish soldiers would put them in the top of one of their stockings and he saw this a perk of warfare. He would have been drawn in by “Esprit de corps” which means to have regard for the honour and pride and interests of a military.I think this stanza underlines the lenient system that surrounded enrollment at the time. The last 2 stanzas are the most poignant for me. They are very sad and somber and reflect the future for the injured service man.
The readers are reminded of the consequences the soldier has had to endure. We are reminded of the grief he will feel for the rest of his life. As he spends ‘a few sick years in institutes’. You see the soldier realise that he will never have the freedom he used to, and will have to ‘do what things the rules consider wise’.He realises he will never find love, when he sees the women’s eyes pass to ‘the strong men that were whole’. The young soldier now feels nobody cares for him and questions ‘why don’t they come? ’ This shows a longing for exception and emersion back into normal society.
The structure really lends its self to this poem. It’s quite simple, but the glimpses into the past, which are then followed by explanations to his present situation, and helps us to understand. It starts off in the present, giving us a quick insight into the unhappy life of this soldier.It then takes us to his past for a short while so we are able to experience and see the pain and loss he feels for what he used to have. Towards the end of the poem we see a glimpse of the future for the injured service man, and how lonely his life will be, all because of his mistake.
Wilfred Owen’s strong ideas of realism, his talents and his personal insights into the life of a soldier I can confirm that Wilfred Owen has successful created some of the most beautiful poetry on the topic of World War One. He is, indeed, a most talented and compassionate poet.