Explain the ways in which Wilfred Owen evokes feelings of pity and horror in “Disabled”
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War. Many of his poems have been praised for their bleak realism and it is also the case that his poem, “Disabled”, is observational and written in the third person from his own direct observation and experience. “Disabled” is about war, violence and mutilation as well as society’s reaction to this.
It was written around 1917 showing the horror of war and evoking feelings of pity towards the soldiers.
In “Disabled”, Owen uses the analogy of playing sports and being a soldier in war, to inform his readers about how war is not glamorous, but rather life-threatening and gruesome. He also portrays the main character’s past and state of mind. Owen’s use of the word “He”, leaving the soldier unnamed implies that he is referring to one of many young soldiers affected by the war. Through the soldier, who is also the main character, Owen tells his audience of the contrast between the glories of military spectacle at first look, and the realistic horrors of the battles in war, which are grotesque and horrible.
Wilfred Owen also used the technique of contrast to show the reality of the society’s thoughts on war at the time. The first stanza starts with a depressing description of a lone man “sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark” in a “ghastly suit of grey, Legless, sewn short at elbow”. This is Owen’s first use of description in the poem to portray the truth of war. By exposing the impact of the war on the soldiers, Owen has immediately grabbed the reader’s attention and sympathy for the soldiers in war.
The psychological harm on the soldiers as a result of the war is also revealed in the first stanza by Owen when he mentions that even the “Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn, Voices of play and pleasure”. Wilfred Owen’s use of adjectives such as “dark”, “grey” and “shivered” in his opening stanza shows the isolation and loneliness of the soldier. It also shows his sad emotion and psychological scars as mentioned before. His disability is also strongly portrayed within the first stanza with the use of alliteration, “suit…sewn short”. It also includes a strong contrast to the soldier’s life by using the technique of repetition.
Repeating “Voices of”, emphasises the sounds of boys playing in contrast with his loneliness. Knowing that the soldier could not even appreciate innocent voices, the audience projects a great amount of sympathy towards the soldier. The social attitudes of people before and after the war are cited by Owen. The soldier states that “About this time Town used to swing so gay”.
“In the old times, before he threw away his knees”, he was able to live his life like a carefree youth. However after facing the reality of war at a young age, he was unable to “feel again how slim Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands. All of them touch him like some queer disease. ” This huge inevitable turn in the young soldier’s life evokes a great amount of sympathy from the readers as they have become aware of the physical and emotional harm attached to war. “Disabled” holds many phrases that give out strong messages.
The expressions “glow-lamps” and “girls glanced” are linked together with the use of alliteration in the second stanza and they contrast with the soldier’s life that he had before he joined the war. Owen also mentions the soldier remembering his old life, “About this time Town used to swing so gay When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees” while he went out for evening parties “before he threw away his knees”. This is depicted as a useless loss and sacrifice to the soldier as he compares his past and present life.
The contrast of the soldier’s life in this stanza evokes a great amount of pity from the readers. Apart from the physical harm enforced on the young soldier, he was also internally scarred. Owen first gives his audience a glimpse of the soldier’s depressed state of mind when he indicates his “ghastly suit of grey” in the first stanza. The audience feels sympathy for the soldier as his entire youth had been taken away from him. Owen conveys this message in the third stanza, “There was [once] an artist silly for his face, For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; … And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race”. This third stanza gives a deeper insight into the soldier’s interior harm briefly mentioned in the first stanza. In the third stanza Owen uses a great deal of vivid imagery to describe what soldiers go through at war which evokes a large amount of horror from the audience in response to war. Owen mentions that the soldier “lost his colour very far from here, [and] Poured it down shell-holes” which shows that he has lost a significant part of his life because of the bombing.
Owen uses irony and the concept of reversal effectively in his next stanza when he mentions that once the soldier was proud of a “blood-smear down his leg” obtained during a football match. This is one of Owen’s uses of the analogy of playing sports compared to being a soldier. The analogy is again used in the sixth stanza when Owen compares the reaction from society after a football game and after the end of the war, “Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.”
The ways of the society shocks the audience of “Disabled” and brings out a large amount of repulsion on the young and wounded soldiers of the war. The soldier’s life had been ruined by the war because although the soldier had faced many difficulties as a result of the war, it is mostly the fact that his life has come to an end, or close to the end, on account of his eagerness to join the war in his youth. The readers know of the soldier’s young age because of the statement that Owen had mentioned, in his fourth stanza, which acknowledges that the army happily wrote “his lie: aged nineteen years”.
This shows the audience that the soldier was barely an adult when he joined the war and this brings out the most pity from the audience for the soldier. Near the end, in the sixth stanza, Owen gives an insight into society’s cruel reaction to war; the people didn’t care. “Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal. Only a solemn man … Thanked him”. The thought that people appreciated a football goal more than a wounded soldier that had gone out to fight for them and serve their country makes the readers pity and sympathise with the disabled soldier.
It makes them able to see the horror of the war and society. Many of these feelings of pity for the soldier are to an extent repelled, due to his selfishness and is contradicted by his pride and wrong intentions such as “to please the giddy jilts, He [had] asked to join” the army. This creates a huge feeling of horror towards society’s thoughts and influence on young people. It makes them believe that instead of joining for the right reasons, the society and propaganda has made young children think of joining the war for the wrong reasons. In the soldier’s case, “It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg…
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts”. Owen has mentioned all of the influences of the society during the time of the war in his fifth stanza, some of which include: “jewelled hills For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes; And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears; Esprit de corps”. The phrase “How cold and late it is! ” describes how the soldier is all alone without anyone to keep him company. This section shows that he can’t do anything meaningful in life again. The exclamation mark emphasises the strength of the soldier’s feelings within his new and ruined life because of the war.
The young soldier has been transformed into a dependent and helpless young man, highlighted by Owen’s use of repetition “Why don’t they come… Why don’t they come? ” By revealing the great change in life for the soldier as a consequence of going to war brings out a feeling of extreme horror towards the war from the audience. Owen ends the poem leaving the audience with a clear idea of the soldier’s future emphasising his now lack of freedom and his wait alone in bed until death comes to take him away from his pain and misery.
“Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes, And do what things the rules consider wise, And take whatever pity they may dole”. “[The soldier] noticed how the women’s eyes Passed from him to the strong men that were whole”. They all “touch him like some queer disease. ” Ultimately, Wilfred Owen mainly uses phrases and metaphors to convey the reality and horror of war and to evoke feelings of pity from his audience with the help of alliteration and lots of vivid imagery.