Poetic Style of Wilfred Owen

As a poet, Wilfred Owen was instrumental in depicting the realistic effects of War. As such, his poetic style appeared to be a combination of satire and anguish, but he depicted “an ampler gift in traditional and Romantic qualities of style and imagination, which unite with the realism and qualify it.” (Perkins, 280) However, concentrating mainly on War, Owen did not only confine it to its realistic representation but also laid equal emphasis on the techniques of his poetry. About his style, it can be said that his association with Sassoon and his experiences during the War was instrumental in changing the course of his poetic technicalities. As one who was greatly influenced by the Romantic poets like Shelley and Keats, Owen’s poetry carried in them a “great variety of treatment– parable and vision, narrative,
subjective lyric, dramatic monologue, case history” (Perkins 280).

One significant aspect of Owen’s style is his rhyming pattern that is exceptional in the sense that it is ‘consonant rhyme’. For instance, in the poem “Arms and the Boy”, the following is to be noted: ‘blade-blood’, ‘flashflesh’ and ‘leads-lads’, etc. are all examples of his use of consonant rhyme where the consonant remains fixed and only the vowel is changed. Use of images has always been a dominant feature in Owen’s poems that contributed in his development as a modern poet. Owen’s war poems are written in a very simple, eloquent and straightforward manner in a language that is common among the soldiers. However, his use of metaphor and personification adds to the new style he has developed for treating his subject matter. Deviating from the style of his early poems highly influenced by Romantic poets, in his war poems Owen chose a directness of style with regard to the treatment of his subject and the coarseness of its impact. Undoubtedly, Owen’s poetry owes its splendour in his treatment of the grim reality of War accompanied by a sense of compassion and excellence of poetic techniques. As evident from our reading of both the poems, Owen personified the “sun” and the “weapons” respectively to emphasise on the life-emanating source of Nature while at the same time to impart the message of cruelty and violence being depicted through the outbreak of war. His use of para rhymes also serves to his purpose of creating an ambience of nastiness created by the war. For instance, sun-sown, star-stir, tall-toil–all these contribute to the disturbing effect of the poem “Futility”.

With regard to the ironic allusion in Owen’s poetry, Timothy O’keeffe noted that he “criticises the religious establishment through references to the Bible which project the disparity between the gentle teachings and example of Christ and the English Church’s support of the war.” (O’ keeffe 72-73) As an instance, the poem “Arms and the Boy” can be cited for alluding to the classical poem of Virgil, that is, “Aeneid”. By referring to this allusion, Owen parodies the opening remark of the classical epic, when translated into English, maintains that “Of arms and the man I sing…” (Virgil) Both these poems deals with war, but Owen is very critical about war in the sense that “innocence of the boy is caustically contrasted with the Classical allusions to harpies and (possibly) to Actaeon, who had violated with his eyes the chastity of Diana.” (O’keeffe, 73) As evident, Owen used allusions in order to portray the violence of the war and bring out the deficiency of morality that his age was prone to.

In stark contrast to the war poets before him, Owen found a strong poetic voice by use of images. Rejecting the style of poetry that was practised by Brooke and others, Owen wrote about the terror and shock of war from a very close point. His poems are harsh as the war, by the use of sounds as well as visually. Owen’s merit as a poet to this day lies in the terseness of his diction that represented realistically the horrors of a bygone era. Indeed, his stay at France introduced him to the Decadents, which has inculcated into his poetry a gloomy image.

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