“Disabled” by Wilfred Owen Essay
“Disabled” by Wilfred Owen
This poem was created to represent each boy and man that joined the army during the First World War because of the propaganda and false information that the government was serving out and how slowly all the victims came to know the reality, the destruction and the horror the word ‘war’ really meant. Each and every soldier that joined the army during the WWI didn’t have any other reason but the ‘glory’ that it entailed. Nobody had ever told them what they were really signing up for because I repeat, all the false information and propaganda that had been spewed out by the authorities. Boys and young men alike would be recruited at sporting events and talked into signing up for the army by the sly recruiters while the soon-to-be-soldiers were drunk on the cheers from the crowd and intoxicated with the sweet savour of victory that would soon turn sour in their mouths.
Owens purpose with his poem is to convey the desolation and devastation and destruction of war not only the readers of our current era but more importantly to the victims, be it families or soldiers and citizens that lived through the WWI. Owen tries to make the people of those times understand the truth behind all the cataclysmic, catastrophic and calamitous years of war.
The effect of this poem on the reader is magnified because of Owens past that is now engraves into our history books. Unlike the armchair patriots of the times, Wilfred Owen was a high ranking officer in the army and before he witnessed first hand the dire ecosystem of war he was a pro-war poet, since before he actually went to war he was a pro-poet the reader has the sense of security his opinion is not biased and he has experienced first hand both views of the war, from home and on the frontlines giving the reader a sense of connection and respect towards the author, in short, meaning the reader will probably believe anything and everything the poet will say.
In the first stanza Owen uses the pronoun ‘he’ to open the poem. He uses technical language however at the same time it also works as a structural device. The writer informs us that the young ex-soldier who represents every boy and man who suffered a physical loss or a mental scarring that he is ‘sat in a wheel chair waiting for dark’. By using this sentence as an introductory line the reader immediately empathises with the protagonist of the poem; which is heightened when the words ‘sat’ and ‘waited’ are read which informs the reader the writer is now passive and no longer has any control over his life.
Owen also uses linguistic techniques like sibilance; ‘sewn’ ‘short’ which gives the reader a solid image of the physical loss of the soldier and at the same time the writer empathises the loss and disability the soldier will now have to live with. He also uses alliteration ‘wheeled’ and ‘waiting’ which again furthers his passiveness. The sense of ‘passiveness’ that is transmitted to the reader has the effect of the reader feeling instant waves of pity towards all the young men that threw their lives away.
The poet has also used several connotations, however the one that stands out the most to the reader is “waiting for dark” which again heightens the protagonist passivity and communicates to the reader he has no joys left to do I life but wait for death to take him away and him never come back.
The second stanza is mainly formed by Owen contrasting vivid, pleasant images of the soldiers past, telling the reader his passions and joys he had while he was ‘whole’ and are no longer possible for him to do. The poet uses juxtaposition while contrasting happiness and waste. The first three lines are full of positivity, “swing so gay” and the traditional meaning of ‘gay’ is happiness which already gives the reader a taste of happiness which is reinforced when we are described fantastical images like “glow lamps budded” and “girls glanced lovelier”.
The positivity and fantastical images create a feeling that the soldier is fantasising about what he wishes was real but then a sudden sharp and brutal contras appears, “threw away his knees” which shows that even the soldier himself thinks that his loss was a waste, even from his point of view, the temporal marker ‘now’ is used to make sure the reader is shocked into reality that this is the present, “now he will never feel again”, the reader feels as if the ‘never’ was capitalized highlighting he will ‘never’ have a girl which hurts the reader on his behalf because we know how important they were for him since they are described as ‘warm’ and ‘subtle’, Owen uses these pleasant adjectives to get the importance of girls in the ex-soldiers life across to the reader, but the girls give him no pit and are described as shallow, “look towards the men who are whole” and they “look at him as if he were some queer disease” which shows they are uncertainty towards the boy because the scale of the physical injury he has because of the destruction of war. After reading these the reader realizes how important girls were in his life and however now he has lost the girls and his limbs, which comes over as a tragic loss for the reader.
In the third stanza Owen uses a metaphor which makes the reader understand more about the boys life before he enlisted to the army, “There was an artist, silly for his face” which can show the artists of the time were deeply affected by his beauty before he joined the war which contrasts with “now he is old”, this description ironically contrasts with how he was presented before the war because he looked too young for his age however now he looks too old for his age and ‘his back will never brace’. The ‘artist’ described in the opening sentence could also be a woman which empathises how good looking he was and again how important woman are to him.
In this stanza the present before the war and the young man’s current present re contrasted together. The author uses time markers to heighten the effect and horror of the reader and empathise that ‘last year’ the boy was beautiful, ‘now’ he looks like a ‘disabled’ old man; this is also ironic because the poem is also called ‘Disabled’.
Owen gives the sense that the soldier feels useless and impotent. He uses language to parody the creation of life which is what the young boy should be doing, he should be making life but he cannot because the ‘leap of purple spurted’ from him. The colour ‘purple’ symbolizes life, which shows he can no longer have sexual relationships because of his physical loss at such a young age which reinforces the idea that he will never have a girlfriend or a wife or even start a family because he cannot have offspring and girls ‘look at him like some queer disease’.
The quote “leap of purple” imitates reproduction, which is only supposed to being happiness and love, but instead it only brings loss and sadness for the boy. We can also find a double meaning with ‘impotent’ which is how the reader perceives the boy feels throughout the whole text, on one hand ‘impotent’ mean ‘unable to take action’ which he cant because he is now passive but on the other hand it also means “unable to achieve an erection or orgasm”, this supports the idea mentioned before about him never having a sexual relationship again.
In the fourth stanza we are informed by the boy himself that one time he liked ‘a blood smear down his leg’ which tells the reader that before, when he played football he was proud about his ‘war-wound’ which was received while playing sport. We are also told he enjoyed getting carried ‘shoulder high’ which contradicts to the present because now, being carried ‘shoulder high’ means he must depend on someone which he wouldn’t have wanted back in the day. The reader quickly reads in between the lines and sees he was treated like a hero and that sharply contrasts with how people currently treat him
Sport and heroism are tightly linked in this stanza because of all the positive propaganda going round nobody knew what really happened. The citizens of the time were fooled into believing “its not all work in the army” while being showed images of people playing football, cricket and baseball in the background which links to the current situation of the boy. He had been treated like a hero for winning his football match and had been told he’d ‘look a god in kilts’ which is ironized because now he cant show off his pretty legs of because he doesn’t have any.
The dash shows he has no proper reasons to why he joined because it makes the reader feel the boy has stopped to think and he can’t really think up any proper reason to why he joined which makes the reader extremely empathise with the boy because he had ‘drunk a peg’ and had simply committed a silly mistake most boy’s do at that age; but that mistake cost him his future. Apart from joining for all the wrong reasons which he later thinks were basically ‘to please his Meg’ and ‘he’d look a god in kilts’ we are hinted at that he wasn’t even old enough to join. “He’d asked to join, he didn’t have to beg” which shows the recruiters didn’t really care if he was old enough or not. This sense of forbade is confirmed in the first line of the next stanza.
In the fifth stanza we, the reader profoundly despises the government and the officials and how corrupt they all were at the time, “smiling they wrote his lie” which shows he wasn’t even old enough to join the army but the recruiters didn’t care. In short Owen criticises how corrupt the army really was and how low he thinks of the recruiters, “smiling they wrote his lie” makes the reader feel sympathy towards the boy that had been influenced by outside factors, never actually wanting to join himself. The way Owen has structured his poem makes the reader feel so indignant and in sync with his ideas that at this point, anything Owen said would be believed. ‘Smiling’ makes the reader conjure up an image of a sly fox, giving the boys the role of the chickens but with no barn to run to and stay safe inside.
“Fear Of fear” is also capitalized. Owen has done this to show the boy was totally ignorant of what was in store for him and when he looks back to this moment in hindsight he realizes he should have been scared.
Also, in this stanza we are listed all the glories that were supposed to exist in the army, “jewelled hilts… hints for young recruits” which builds up the hopes and expectations of the reader for a bit of positivity however that hope is cruelly taken away. The glory of “smart salutes” is also very highly ironic because now he doesn’t have an arm to salute with because he lost his limbs in the war.
The sixth stanza is the shortest one, which highly contrasts with the positive one before it. It makes the reader feel as if this is the reality check of the soldier’s now very passive life. There are no glories in it, everything is contrasted. The ‘cheers’ in the stanza before this are happy and enthusiastic, like a happy, elegant parade but in this one the reader get the feeling the crowds are unsure how to react because of the greatness of his loss hence there are no proper cheers at the soldiers return, no proper cheers like the ‘crowds cheer goal’. When he is sent out to the frontlines there are lots of happy people waving and cheering goodbye, yet when he gets back there are only ‘some’ which makes the reader feel like there are only a handful of people.
‘Goal’ is also capitalized because all the soldiers probably still clung to that one glory that was still a possibility, that there still might b e a taste of glory or appreciation for their sacrifices for their country like they had been promised after the matches and while they had been enlisting. It gives the reader the impression that the goal was all that really mattered to everyone, again, which is ironic because he can now never play football because he has lost his limbs.
We are told a “solemn man brought him fruits” which brings to mind a priest or a veteran soldier who understands him has come to see him and thanks him with a capital ‘T’ which comes along to the reader as sarcastic because after all the sacrifices for the country the soldier has done all he gets is a ‘Thank you’.
In the seventh and final stanza we are made to believe that the boy is passive and has no control over his life anymore. We are told ‘he will spend a few sick years in Institutes’ which again reinforces the sense he no longer cares which links up to the first stanza, he will do ‘what the rules consider wise’ which again refers to the idea he has no control over his life because the rules are now personified and have more authority than him.
Time markers ‘Now’, ‘tonight’ are used to show how unhappy the present is. He cannot see a future or a way out for himself. He went from a proud footballer to “he will take whatever pity they may dole” This stanza annihilates all possible positive points of the poem and highlights the negative parts that have been mentioned before even more.
At the end Owen uses the question “why don’t they come… Why don’t they come?” which parodies a propaganda recruitment slogan while he criticizes their actions. The reader also realizes that because of their actions millions of men all over the country were left passive, helpless and ‘disabled’.
In conclusion disabled is a strong poem because of the structure and style Owen chose to use. Harsh, direct words are used to subtly show the meaning behind the poem to the current reader. Even though my statement above contrasts with itself it shows us the bitterness the soldier feels towards society. The poem is basically characterized by juxtaposition of flashbacks from present to past, each time there is a flashback the reader feels like Owen uses a significant change of tone.
The author also successfully highlights the feeling of despair and darkness, which enveloped the victims in that era. All the honour and glory and admiration are all chucked aside and replaced with the cruel reality. The destruction that war inflicted is perfectly contrasted with the hopes and dreams of the boys that joined the war and the cruel reality that awaited most of the boys that survived it when they returned home. The hopes, glory and admiration are replaced with disfigurement; passiveness and dependence, making the victims seem child likely bitter and nostalgically desperate to return to the days before they joined the army and for them to never have joined.