Futility – Wilfred Owen

Move him into the sun —
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.


Think how it wakes the seeds —
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, — still warm, — too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
— O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?


Written in May 1918 ‘Futility’ depicts the scene of a soldier who has recently died in battle. Owen seems to ponder nature’s power to create life and how this contrasts to the mass killings in war.

The poem resembles the length of a sonnet however is not structured as one, being divided into two seven-line stanzas.

We see in the opening that Owen creates a scene, in this case it is one of a dying or perhaps already dead soldier. He uses the sun metaphorically in which he hangs his thoughts. ‘Move him into the sun’ this can be seen to the reader as a command however we feel that the movement must be gentle just as we feel the command has been quietly spoken. Owen then moves onto personify the sun as its ‘touch’ awakens the soldier. We see that in the first stanza Owen uses the semantic field of farming with the use of words such as ‘fields’ and ‘seeds’  this then gives an ironic contrast as we feel that nature itself is now turning on mankind. 

It is in this first stanza that the reader feels a sense of melancholy however each sense of movement is gentle and can even be seen as reverent. This tone can be characterized inline three with ‘whispering’ giving a soft sound. The tone continues throughout the first stanza as we see in line seven; kind old sun’  which again suggests softer emotions. We see in the first stanza that the sun is awakening the soldier, this can also be seen however to parallel the Christian Resurrection.

In the second stanza the reader is invited to share Owen’s thoughts. The semantic field of farming continues through however Owen also uses oxymoron; ‘cold star’ seeming normally contradictory terms, Owen uses this to describe Earth and through this scientific language, seems to make an ironic contrasts to that of his earlier words of the Christian Resurrection. It is also here that we see Owen’s use of assonance with ‘clays’ and ‘cold’ which then emphasize his scientific language to give a greater contrast to that of the religious language seen in stanza one. 

A common device seen in many of Owen’s works is that of para-rhyme and it is noticeably visible in ‘Futility’; sun – sown, once-France, seeds-sides and snow-now, this then helps to disturb the natural rhythm of the poem and adds a melancholic sound. 

The question that Owen seems to asks is that so much has gone into the creation on mankind and the Earth and yet nature herself seems to do nothing to help them or save them suggesting that even nature has now turned against them. The poem ends fittingly with a question to the reader; ‘O what made fatuous sunbeams toil to break earth’s peace at all?’ which then causes us to reflect on everything we have read. We too ourselves begin to question the very same thing as Owen as to why the sun/nature now seems to do nothing.