Compare how Owen uses the natural world to reinforce the suffering that the soldiers faced in the poems ‘spring offensive’ and ‘exposure’.
Wilfred Owen was an experienced soldier who fought in World War One. He wrote poems based on his experiences in the war. Many of his poems focus on the ordeals of the soldiers and the problems they face. In the poems ‘Spring Offensive’ and ‘Exposure’ Owen shows the love/ hate relationship between soldiers and nature. I think that Owens personal experiences of both battles of war and nature were the inspiration for these two poems.
Wilfred Owen once said ‘My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity’. These poems certainly show the pity of soldiers and of war.
The poem ‘Exposure’ tells of men fighting two enemies. The enemy in battle but also an unexpected enemy that caused far more pain and suffering to the soldiers – nature and horrendous winter weather conditions.
This poem shows the reality of war as in some parts the soldiers are dying from the weather, and hallucinating from its effects.
The poem ‘Spring Offensive’ is set in a different scene but there is still a lot of detail to nature and the soldiers. The poem is about a group of soldiers who wait for the enemy and in this time they see the weather get worse and worse. When they finally attack the weather conditions are horrendous. They are exposed to open gun fire and many are injured or killed.
In this poem the soldiers are so focussed on the battle at the beginning, but once the battle begins the weather changes, the tone changes and nature is against man.
‘Spring Offensive’ begins with Owen setting the scene with a nice calm atmosphere ‘The sun, like a friend with whom their love is done’. This quote shows that the sun was their friend i.e. the weather was good, But once the battle started it got worse. Again Owen uses personification. At the beginning of both of these poems nature has been against the men, so the poems have this as a similarity. Unlike ‘Spring Offensive’, ‘exposure starts by setting the scene with ‘merciless iced east winds that knife us’. Owen uses personification to describe the pain from the winds, using the words ‘knife us’, shows that something like the wind was causing so much pain to the soldiers.
Knives are usually associated with pain so the words ‘merciless and knifes’ shows that the wind went through the soldiers creating a big obstacle for them as fighting is hard but with the discomfort of the wind it must have been a nightmare for the soldiers, and it must have been a nightmare that Owen personally encountered as he describes it with so much pain and feeling. Both of the poems start by setting the scene but in ‘Spring Offensive’ the weather is calm and things are calm. Differently in ‘Exposure’ you go straight into a nightmare of the soldiers, with bad weather conditions and on the verge of fighting.
The tone in ‘Exposure’ is very depressing and bitter when Owen describes the surroundings and sets the scene in the first few stanzas, but by the third stanza it is even more negative and bitter as things are described, such as dawn which is usually described as a nice peaceful time is described as ‘poignant misery’. This shows that the morning, which is usually regarded as beautiful and full of hope for the day ahead, is hated by the soldiers who see it as another day of fighting. Another day of being inches away from death. Again this is a negative phrase but unusually, it is being negative towards something which isn’t bloodthirsty and a killer. In the fourth stanza Owen describes the opening of gunfire onto the men. There is a dramatic change in pace in this stanza.
There is now some action so Owen made the rhythm faster to create some tension. An unusual, but very true to the men fighting, quote is ‘less deathly than the air that shudders black with snow’ This shows that the gunfire which would be feared more than the weather by most people is said to be less deathly than the weather. The words ‘black with snow’ show that by the colour of the skies It is described as being black which is a negative and depressing colour and because of the fact that the soldiers are fighting in snow which they find worse than the actual gunfire could hint that some of the soldiers could give themselves up to the enemy bullets to save themselves from other worse things. I think that Owen may well have thought of doing this as he talks with so much hatred about the weather and in the poem he describes that it has come to the worst it can get (snow) you feel that he may well of thought of throwing in the towel and ending this nightmare.
The tone in ‘Spring Offensive is similar to ‘Exposure’ by starting with a peaceful and calm and constant tone in the first stanza. Some words help to continue this tone; May breeze; summer oozed into their veins. These help to keep the tone calm and also describe nature and set the scene. Also from a readers point of view you can see that the weather is fine and perfectly normal at this stage very unlike the poem ‘Exposure’. It’s not until the third stanza that fighting and bad weather appear. There is a sudden change in tone which makes the reader more alert and ready for something to happen. The last words of the second stanza are ‘they breathe like trees unstirred’ this quote is describing the soldiers in a very calm way, it shows that everything is quiet and tranquil.
This therefore makes it easy for Owen to change the pace because it was so relaxed beforehand. Also in the quote it says that the soldiers are sleeping; as well as the reader, the quick change between pace could have affected the soldiers because they may not have expected it but all of a sudden they were under attack. A way that Owen makes this sudden change in pace is by using shorter and sharper words in the first line of the stanza. ‘Till like a cold gust thrills the little world’ this shows that the weather has just got worse and that things will get worse. The words ‘cold’ and ‘thrills’ are very different to the stanza before because they are more active and descriptive words.
Another important aspect of war that is put so mercilessly into Owens poems is death. Once there is absolutely nothing left for the soldiers there is death. At the end of ‘Exposure’ Owen describes the torturous death of the soldiers with very graphic words and creates very vivid image of their death. ‘Tonight his frost will fasten on this mud and us’ this is the first line of the last stanza of ‘exposure’ and it shows that the soldiers can’t escape death anymore. They have this last night of sleep and then Owen is saying that the ‘his frost’ i.e. Gods frost, will kill the soldiers. This is contradicting and unfaithful of Owen because he is blaming the death on God whereas earlier in ‘exposure’ he said ‘Gods invincible spring’.
The hatred and unfaithfulness of God was clearly the view of Owen and his comrades at the time of this near death experience and the amazement that he survived this night which he dreaded in ‘exposure’ shows that the motive for writing about the near death experience was from his survival of this. In contrast to ‘Exposure’ ‘Spring Offensive’ describes those who have died as going into hell. ‘Rushed in the body to enter hell’ this shows that those who died were regarded as going to hell. It also shows that the dead soldiers were helpless in their final minutes of life because of Owen saying that they’re going to hell.
A popular song sung by the soldiers was “keep the home fires burning” however there is a clear contradiction of this when Owen refers to “sunk fires.” Nearing the end of ‘Exposure’, the troops have given up altogether, their moral has disappeared. There is a strong sense of abandonment among Owen and his comrades; “shutters and doors, all closed” this relates back to the earlier scenes of “Spring Offensive” where it appears there is a barrier between life and death.
Another comparison between ‘Exposure’ and ‘Spring Offensive’ is religion. In ‘spring Offensive’ the quote ‘god caught them before they fell’ is used cleverly by Owen to say that they died before they fell to the ground. This quote shows the brutalality and pitilessness of war and that all that the alive soldiers have left is war. They have been reduced to almost nothing and there is now nothing left for them, nothing for them to look forward to because it could be them who is maliciously shot down.
All that is left is war and pointless fights. Similarly, in ‘Exposure’ the quote ‘for love of god seems dying’ shows that the soldiers are being tortured so much that they have lost faith in god. This leads to the religious theme of evil and suffering were many religious groups ask why god has let this kind of torture happen to so many good people. In this case Owen is explaining the sense of loss among the soldiers, like a final prayer before death because of the negativity of the soldiers that have fought on for days and nights enduring so much pain, feeling that they have mentally come to an end.
Wilfred Owen had a deep and abiding sympathy for his fellow soldiers. I think that his poems speak on behalf of his fellow soldiers as well as his own personnel encounter. Whilst his own undisputed courage in action gave him the moral authority to denounce the war. Both “Exposure” and “Spring Offensive” narrate the truth behind the soldiers, they both relate to the experiences faced by the armed forces and both enforce the explicit details of the weather and of the fighting that haunted the poet’s life. His progressions after his meetings with death and war are enhanced with a more meaningful approach. Beginning to question life in itself; both “Exposure” and “Spring Offensive” represent his desperation and solid lack of hope. Owen himself appears beyond help; his faith lost.
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