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Insensibility Analysis

Author: Poetry of Wilfred Owen Type: Poetry Views: 926

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Happy are men who yet before they are killed

Can let their veins run cold.

Whom no compassion fleers

Or makes their feet

Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.

The front line withers,

But they are troops who fade, not flowers

For poets' tearful fooling:

Men, gaps for filling

Losses who might have fought

Longer; but no one bothers.


And some cease feeling

Even themselves or for themselves.

Dullness best solves

The tease and doubt of shelling,

And Chance's strange arithmetic

Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.

They keep no check on Armies' decimation.


Happy are these who lose imagination:

They have enough to carry with ammunition.

Their spirit drags no pack.

Their old wounds save with cold can not more ache.

Having seen all things red,

Their eyes are rid

Of the hurt of the colour of blood for ever.

And terror's first constriction over,

Their hearts remain small drawn.

Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle

Now long since ironed,

Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.


Happy the soldier home, with not a notion

How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,

And many sighs are drained.

Happy the lad whose mind was never trained:

His days are worth forgetting more than not.

He sings along the march

Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,

The long, forlorn, relentless trend

From larger day to huger night.


We wise, who with a thought besmirch

Blood over all our soul,

How should we see our task

But through his blunt and lashless eyes?

Alive, he is not vital overmuch;

Dying, not mortal overmuch;

Nor sad, nor proud,

Nor curious at all.

He cannot tell

Old men's placidity from his.


But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,

That they should be as stones.

Wretched are they, and mean

With paucity that never was simplicity.

By choice they made themselves immune

To pity and whatever mourns in man

Before the last sea and the hapless stars;

Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;

Whatever shares

The eternal reciprocity of tears.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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This isk, as The Longman Book of Poetry said, Owen's greatest poem as it subtly shows the opinion of the entire arm. These people sent to war by 'dullards' must 'cease feeling' and 'lose imagination' to survive.
It is the fourth stanza which catches the imagination as it juctaposes the innocence priot to combat as 'he sings along the march' to the same journey which ' we fight taciturn'. This is the first time we engage with Owen in the poem. The intellectual that Owen is causes him to sound patronising to the youthful innocence but this would be a misunderstanding as he considers those who have sent these to war. ' By choice they made themselves immune' is unlike the first 5 stanzas where the soldier is forced in to immunity. Owen pities those who , as he says in Anthem for Doomed Youth', 'die as cattle'.

| Posted on 2010-03-26 | by a guest

.: :.

The Longman Book of Poetry, 1900-1975, has this to say about today's poem:
"This is Owen's greatest poem and one of the great poems of the cntury. The
argument is complex and ambivalent. It seems to distinguish between the
necessary insensitivity of men who have to survive in conditions so appalling
that they might go mad, and the unawakened insensibility of people who have
never been confronted with the hard facts of what war is really like. Owen
recognises and gives full value to the toughness and self-control of the soldier
who has lived through the horror and found some means of withstanding its full
impact on the senses. At the same time he sees the pity of this. Nevertheless,
he knows that he as a naturally over-sensitive man can only do his job properly
in the war if he too can get a grip on himself. To be able to feel compassion,
and yet not be overcome by it, seemed to Owen the great virtue in the war and by
implication the great virtue in human affairs. Like Keats, who wanted to be a
surgeon, Owen honoured and admired the infantry officer who had the insight to
feel and at the same time the will-power to control his feelings in the interest
of his men...
... part of the poem's power comes from its amazing simplicity and abstraction.
We seem to be reading not about the problems of English soldiers on the Western
Front in 1917 but about the problems of the damned in hell."
-- George MacBeth

| Posted on 2009-02-24 | by a guest

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