Owen wrote this poem to express the damage done through war towards the humanity of the soldiers and men involved; he evokes empathy in the readers using techniques such as war imagery and personification. In the first stanza, he makes us, as readers, feel distant from the ‘mental cases’, ‘these’, ‘they’ and ‘their’ all create a space between us and them; however he includes us in line eight, ‘we’ are mentioned (line 8). By not naming them, he makes a representation of what they lost (who they are and how you define them). He dehumanises them by creating horror through the use of violent images like ‘gouged’, where the reader gets an image of scooping out something, adding a dark aspect of torture.
Syntax also contributes, he writes the word ‘twilight’ at the end of the question, which draws attention to the word, emphasizing the importance that it is the end of the day, suggesting that darkness is approaching. The men are described as animalistic. Owen gives us a picture of a ‘hellish’-belonging creature ‘baring teeth’ and ‘drooping tongues’. All these descriptions are given in the form of a question, asking ‘who are these?’ which makes the reader wonder what kind of monster-like people they are. Owen does this to emphasize the aftermath of war; it makes his next stanza, which answers the questions, much more powerful. The last question ‘who these hellish?’, not only tell us they look like they belong in hell but also goes back to the original question ‘who are these?’ The second stanza answers the questions and helps us understand why they are so damaged ‘these are men’, Owen recognises them as human, whose mentality was ‘ravished’ and destroyed by the ‘Dead’, the personification suggests they are still there, still people haunting them.
Memory is also personified as it ‘fingers’ in their mind, suggesting they have no control over it, they are helpless. Both Repetition and alliteration are used ‘murders, /Multitudinous murders’ repeating the word, adding an adjective and creating alliteration emphasizes it, making it more powerful. Empathy is developed through the use of vocab, such as ‘these helpless wander’; this makes us feel pity for them because they are lost victims, shattered by the war. Owen forces us to confront these events they have lived through, the rhyming of ‘batter’ and ‘shatter’ are sharp-sounding words that represent the violence of thought, and the linking here emphasizes the destruction. The last stanza concludes the pervious, ‘therefore still’; the word still shows it’s continuous, suggesting it’ll go on forever. The placement of the word ‘tormented’ at the end emphasizes their suffering.
They are very distorted, we know this because even ‘sunlight’, a prime part of life, ‘seems a blood-smear’ and the ‘night comes blood-black’, they live in ‘dawn’ although it brings no redemption or new start, the simile ‘like a wound that bleeds afresh’ shows they never get better, it’s a cycle that never heals. The imagery of blood gives us an insight to what they see, black blood, blood smears, and it’s haunting. The oxymoron between ‘hilarious’ and ‘hideous’ added to their alliteration helps the reader become of aware of these gruesome sights. The falseness of ‘set-smiling’ goes back to the opening stanza and dehumanisation, its sibilance makes it stand out, making them seems even more lifeless.
The last four lines each have a verb in the present tense, creating a sense of urgency; they progressively get more violent, from involuntary ‘plucking’ to ‘snatching’ and ‘pawing, this can be an indicator of their state of mind, getting worse. The last two words sum up the whole poem, ‘war and madness’, the two major themes, the effect and one of the results. By the end of the poem the reader acknowledges the war stripped their humanity away, making them seem hellish-belonging creatures through the question-answer-consequence stanza structure, overall showing us the damages done after the soldiers experiences during the war.