Wilfred Owen – The Show

My soul looked down from a vague height with Death,
As unremembering how I rose or why,
And saw a sad land, weak with sweats of dearth,
Gray, cratered like the moon with hollow woe,
And fitted with great pocks and scabs of plaques.

 

Across its beard, that horror of harsh wire,
There moved thin caterpillars, slowly uncoiled.
It seemed they pushed themselves to be as plugs
Of ditches, where they writhed and shrivelled, killed.

By them had slimy paths been trailed and scraped

Round myriad warts that might be little hills.

From gloom’s last dregs these long-strung creatures crept,
And vanished out of dawn down hidden holes.

(And smell came up from those foul openings
As out of mouths, or deep wounds deepening.)

On dithering feet upgathered, more and more,
Brown strings towards strings of gray, with bristling spines,

All migrants from green fields, intent on mire.

Those that were gray, of more abundant spawns,

Ramped on the rest and ate them and were eaten.

I saw their bitten backs curve, loop, and straighten,
I watched those agonies curl, lift, and flatten.

Whereat, in terror what that sight might mean,
I reeled and shivered earthward like a feather.

And Death fell with me, like a deepening moan.
And He, picking a manner of worm, which half had hid
Its bruises in the earth, but crawled no further,
Showed me its feet, the feet of many men,
And the fresh-severed head of it, my head.

Written in the November of 1917 ‘The Show’ depicts the scene of battle during the war. As a reader we immediately get the impression that this poem will be specifically about a battle during the war as it’s title ‘Show’ would suggest. In the poem, Owen takes the point of view of a spirit, surveying a battlefield from a “vague height” with “Death” flying beside him. From this vantage point, Owen sees horrific sights across a landscape he compares to the moon; ‘cratered like the moon’ This comparison shows similarities to Owen’s ‘Futility’ where he depicts the image of the sun awakening the dying soldier.

Owen’s motive in this piece can be seen to shock the reader into the horrors of war, he does this by using plain language to specify certain aspects; ‘slimy paths’ this ensures that we as the reader, are given a clear  and precise image into what Owen is trying to convey to us. Owen also uses a heavy half-rhyme to give a harsher edge; ‘killed..hills’ it is with the use of half-rhyme that Owen ensures that as a reader we are constantly linking each stanza together without having to read back,

The form of the poem takes up irregular and illogical stanzas, however with the use of half-rhyme although separated lines they share one rhyming couplet, for example lines 10 -13.

Another way in which Owen achieves his motive in writing is by  the use of three repulsive images; an environmental hell, bodily sickness and humans seen as less than human. Images that are seen in a number of his works such ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’.

An environmental hell is depicted with Owen’s personification of the battle field; ‘warts that might be little hills’ From this we are given the grotesque sights of the battle field which subsequently puts in shock with what was endured and suffered from soldiers. This personification of nature can also be seen in ‘Futility’ where Owen personifies nature and how it is turning against them.

Bodily sickness can be seen through his description of the soldiers; ‘long-strung creatures crept’ with this alliteration we find the soldiers are now unidentifiable through the brutality of the war. Being described as ‘creatures’ does not give positive connotations and so makes us believe that they are no longer human.  This also gives the image of the humans now being seen as less than humans.

The poem ends with Death personified; ‘and Death fell with me’  and the army of wounded all merging into one bizarre image in which Death, is manifestly the winner.

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