Wilfred Owen uses a variety of poetic devices to make the reader feel sympathetic for the disabled person portrayed in the poem. Many of Owens ideas of sympathy are not easy to find and the reader picks them up more subliminally unless he were to study the poem. Firstly, the most important point to convey sympathy is the theme of retrospect and tense in this piece and it runs clearly throughout. Owen starts the first stanza in the present tense and we immediately see that he is lonely and inactive. “He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting…” shows us that he is unable to move and can only sit, his life is controlled by doctors and his ability to make decisions is compromised by injury.
Furthermore, the word “waiting” shows that all he can do is sit around and wait for things to happen, he cannot create or instigate something to cheer him. The poem then, in the fifth stanza he reminisces about what he thought war might be like, “…jewelled hilts” and glory. However, at the end he says, “Now he will spend a few sick years in institutes”. We feel sorry for the man as we think he has been cheated and lulled into a false sense of security. Owen also uses contrast to evoke sympathy in the way he rhymes at the end of the sentences. The rhyming words contradict or juxtapose one another. “Knees” and “disease” are used for contrast as having knees symbolise health and normal lifestyle and it’s what he had before the war.
Disease on the other hand symbolises a lack of knees or bad health and it is what he was left with after the war. The juxtaposition of good and bad things makes us feel sad for the man and also make us feel his regret of joining up. Another vessel which Owen uses to make us feel sympathetic is metaphor and simile. He says, “Poured it down shell holes till the veins ran dry”.
This shows us how angry he is with himself in the fact that he is saying he might just as well have poured his blood and his life away. He feels like he made no impact on the war and only bad has come out of it. Caesura is also used to break up sentences and disrupt the flow of a poem. They can create sympathy as sometimes they can be ironic or rhetorical questions. “He thought he’d better join – he wonders why” is a good example as it shows his remorse for joining the army and the fact that it is out of sync and without a rhyming pair makes it stand out in our memory as a definitive thought of his.
The poem also ends with questions like “why don’t they come” which tell the reader that since the war he is completely reliant on others and he despairs with his lack of freedom. Owen also uses women and war officers to make us feel sympathetic. “Smiling, they wrote his lie” tells us that the officer signing him up knew that he was not eighteen and was not doing his job properly. It shows that the officers cared more about the numbers in the army than the actual wellbeing of English people. He also describes women as being shallow and their eyes “passed from him to the men that were whole”. This shows they do not care about a man’s personality and character, only his looks and sexual appeal. This makes us feel angry towards women for being so shallow and want them to not be so driven by seemingly unimportant things.