Owen’s poem serves to uncover the lie that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. Owen’s use of diction, vivid language, and graphic imagery emphasizes his point. The poem describes the fatigue, blindness, evil, obscenity, death, sufferings, and disgust of war. It shows the true life of a soldier, lying low, ill, endlessly trudging through mud with bloody feet, away from and into the pain of gas poisoning of comrades, and away from the injured and dead, but never away from the memories. It ends with a bitter attack on those who see glory in the death of others.
The only beauty in this poem is an idea that rest will come. Unfortunately, it is pointed out that the only rest is an undignified death; for those who sleep, sleep restlessly. The ugliness of war is described as low like old beggars under sacks, diseased coughing like hags, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind, exhausting drunk with fatigue, pointless flound’ring . . . Dim . . As under a green sea . . . drowning, careless of living or dead flung aside, evil like a devil’s sick of sin, disgusting like eyes writhing . . . blood gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs. . . vile, incurable sores, bitter as the cud, and merciless on innocent tongues.
The comparisons of lines 1, 14, 20, and 23 through 24, describe the soldier as someone the reader can see and war as the disease Owen wants the inexperienced to understand.
1 Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
14 As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
20 His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
This places the reader in the soldier’s place?drowning, stumbling, and fumbling–and shows the lack of glory in war. These lines tell the reader what a man becomes once he has been to war?less than an admirable human, drowned in evil deeds, and emotionless.
Lines 23 and 24 give war a character.
23 Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
24 Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
They create a tangible entity for the reader. They show the truth of the creature of war?cancerous, bitter, incurable?and its eternal, undignified effect on the innocent.
Owen uses plural pronouns and the past tense to describe what cannot be undone. He uses we and our to include the reader as part of the ill-equipped troops?as tired marchers and witnesses to death and pain. Owen changes to the present tense and singular pronouns to prove he was there and speaks specifically to those who could not know without experience. He relates urgency through his personal experiences to those who might believe that to die in war is a glorious and heroic act. He points a very strong finger at those who would influence the innocent.
The thought of killing, watching comrades be killed, and of constantly trying to survive is horrific. Owen’s precise details of the emotions, thoughts and sights of the soldier, succeed to drive the full horror home. The scene witnessed by Owen is detailed enough to seem familiar. All the senses are used by Owen; the constant inputs of sound, smell, touch as well as sight increase the dimensions of his images. He attempts to connect war with other aspects of human suffering. Owen makes images and actions recognizable, even to those who have never experienced war.