Wilfred Owen’s Disabled

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In Wilfred Owen’s Disabled (1917), he uses poetic devices of form, tone, figurative language and enjambment to illustrate the theme of pre- and post-war realities. In this poem, a soldier views his life as an amputee post-war and revisits what his life was like prior to going to war. The form of the poem is one that uses a predictable rhyme scheme to contrast the unpredictable nature of what it feels like to live the reality of never regaining one’s quality of life. The tone is established through contrast of words and time periods. There is figurative language that depicts the behaviors of women and society towards the soldier pre- and post- war. The overall theme of the poem is that war leaves the soldier wounded deeper than what is visible, and this theme is made evident through the literary devices that Owen employs.

The form and tone of the poem lures the reader into feeling secure with the expected rhyme scheme, but the reader is shocked by the horrors of the speaker’s sensations. Owen was a soldier and he witnessed firsthand the horrors of war (Smith). This poem brings to life the experiences and cynicism that he developed as a soldier and makes the reader feel the way that most soldiers feel before war—expectant of heroism—and then the reader experiences what the soldier feels after war—disappointment in heroism. The tone of the poem is revealed through rhyming words such as “grey” and “gay” (Owen 2, 5). This contrast between the simplicity of the rhymed words with what they imply is the difference between before and after the war.

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The figurative language in the poem reinforces the belief that Owen illustrates in his poem that warfare is evil and is destructive to the body and soul of all men (French). He compares the way that he felt after winning a football game and was drunk with the way that he felt upon return from the war: “Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal” (Owen 37). The figurative language of the crowd cheering a football goal more enthusiastically than the accolades that he received upon returning from war shows the dichotomy of expectations pre- and post-war. In line 9, the use of “threw away” is figurative language for the way that the soldier lost his knees in war. He did not simply throw them away, but Owen gets the point across that the sacrifice was pointless.

The enjambment in the poem leads the reader to think one idea is coming only to find out the reality of this soldier’s sad reality. This enjambment is effective in line 10 when the soldier wants to feel something slim. The reader finds out that the soldier wants to feel the slim waste of a girl. The reality is that the soldier will not ever have this enjoyment again.

The tone of the poem is reflective and mournful of the harsh reality of pre- and post- war life. The figurative language illustrates the pointlessness of war and that the sacrifices that soldiers make are not appreciated by the society that willingly, and gleefully, sends them off to war. This soldier is representative for all soldiers. His wounds are not only where his legs end but go much deeper into his heart. It is only one solemn man who inquiries about his soul (Owen 38), and the last stanza begs the question of why his life must go on at all—the reality of the soldier’s loss is brought to life through poetic devices which heighten the reader’s awareness of what was previously an “inadequate degree of realization” (Micallef).

  • French, Larry. “POW/MIC: Prisoners of Words/Missing in Canon: Liberating the Neglected British War Poets of The Great War.” East Tennessee State University, 2009, dc.etsu.edu/
  • Micallef, Bernard. “Revisiting the Traditional Virtues of the Hero: A Phenomenological Study of Wilfred Owen’s Disabled Soldier” [Abstract]. Springer, 2008, 10.1007/978-1-4020-6422-7_2. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.
  • Smith, Lesley. “Wilfred Owen: Biography.” George Mason University, 2018, mason.gmu.edu/~lsmithg/biography.html. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.

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