Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Analysis of Wilfred Owen's "Disabled"


Wilfred Owen was born on March 18, 1893. He is considered to be one of the leading WWI poets. He served in the British army during WWI. His family lived comfortably in Owen's grandfather's house until he died in 1897, then the family had to move to the poorer part of Birkenhead. He went to Birkenhead Institute and Shrewsbury Technical School. He began writing poetry when he around ten years old, and continued to write until his death. He was raised in the Anglican church of the evangelical school; he was a devout believer in his youth. He was admitted into the University of London in 1911, but due to his family's financial struggles he had to work as the lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden as a pupil-teacher at Wyle Cop School  for free lodging and some tuition. During his time at Dunsden parish that he became disenchanted with his religion. He was working as a private tutor at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France when WWI broke out. On October 21, 1915, he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles Offiers' Training Corps. On June 4, 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. Owen began the war optimistically, but after two traumatic events his mindset changed. First, he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar and landed in the remains of a fellow officer. Second, he was trapped in an old German dugout for days. He was diagnosed with shell shock and sent to the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. It was here that he met Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon had a huge impact on Owen's life and poetry. Owen's poetry became dark as he portrayed the horrors of the front line as realistically as he could. His poetry went against the public perception of the war at that time; it helped to open the eyes of the non-militant people back home. He returned to light regimental duties in March of 1918 at the Northern Command Depot at Ripon. He wrote a number of poems while he was in Ripon, the most notable are "Futility" and "Strange Meeting." He returned to the front line on October 1, 1918, and led the Second Manchester. While he was trying to cross a canal, he was shot in the head and died. WWI ended one week later. He was later awarded the Military Cross, which for him validated him as a war poet. 


Disabled

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,-
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.

One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. - He wonders why.
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts,
That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.

Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
And Austria's, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He drought of jewelled hills
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then enquired about his soul.

Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?


Analysis
Wilfred Owen’s poem “Disabled” is about a soldier who came home from WWI missing limbs, and how this disability changed his life. This poem was written when Owen was in Craiglockhart War Hospital being treated for shell shock. It is very likely that he saw numerous soldiers like the one he describes in this poem while he was at the hospital. It was common that soldiers would return home missing limbs or severely wounded, there wasn’t a whole lot that could be done for soldiers while they were on the frontline; so many injuries became more serious due to lack of medical care. 

CLICK HERE for the rest of the analysis of Wilfred Owen's "Disabled"


Acknowledgments
Wilfred Owen image: http://www.shropshirestar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Wilfred-Owen.jpg


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