Futility Of War Essay Titles

Expression of War

in “Strange Meeting”, “Anthem for a Doomed Youth”,

“Futility” and “Mental Cases”

by Wilfred Owen

The four poems “Futility”, “Mental Cases”, “Anthem for a Doomed Youth” and “Strange Meeting” by Wilfred Owen are all concerned with the physical and mental consequences of war. In the following these poems are being compared and analysed as to the question whether they treat basically the same themes or are of fundamental differences.

Owen, who volunteered to fight in World War I, witnessed the horrors of war himself. After traumatic experiences he was diagnosed as suffering from the shell shock and was sent home. In these poems, which were all written immediately after his war service, he confronts the reader with the horrors of war. As he says in his famous statement, his poems are not meant to be beautiful, as poetry was considered to be during this time, they rather create a vision of pity, futility and tragedy: “My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.”

The poems “Anthem for a Doomed Youth”, “Mental Cases”, “Strange Meeting” and “Futility” all treat different dimension of war and its consequences. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” reminds readers that each one of the millions who died in World War I was an individual. The first line “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?” points out, that innocent young men died not like human beings but were slaughtered like cattle.

“Mental Cases” shows the mental affects war can have. Owen often describes these as “unseen scars”. Even if you managed to get out of war alive, men might be mentally destroyed. This poem describes the tragedy of not being able to stop and help a dying men if you want to survive. “Always they must see these things and hear them” implies being constantly confronted with the horrors of death and even worse the inability to help. If men survived they often did on the expenses of others and this guilt is what they have to carry for the rest of their lives. This is so haunting that “sunlight seems a blood-smear” and ”night comes blood-black”.



The speaker says to move him into the sun. The touch of the sun had always woken him before, both at home and in France, but it did not this snowy morning. If there is anything that could wake him it would be the "kind old" sun. It wakes the seeds and once it woke the "clays of a cold star". The speaker wonders if the man's limbs and sides, which are still warm, are now too hard to stir. He wonders if this is why the clay "grew tall", and why the "fatuous sunbeams" bothered disturbing the earth's sleep in the first place.


This short but impactful poem was only one of five published during Owen's lifetime. It appeared in the Nation on June 15th, 1918 and was either written at Ripon or Scarborough. Its format is a short elegiac lyric like a sonnet, though it is not structured as one. It features Owen's famed pararhyme –sun, sown; star, stir; tall, toil – which disturbs the natural rhythm and gives the poem a slightly tortured mood. It is included in composer Benjamin Britten's 1961 War Requiem, which intersperses several of Owen's poems among the Latin passages.

The poem concerns a soldier or several soldiers moving a recently deceased fellow soldier into the sun, hoping its warmth will revive him. Despite the sun's life-giving properties, it can do nothing for the young man; his life is cut short like the "fields half-sown". This was a reality known all too well to the poet – young men were being killed before their lives had barely begun.

The imagery regarding the sun contrasts its vitality and warmth with its ultimate inability to wake one who has died. In the first stanza the sun is personified and described as "kind" and "old", its warmth ancient and affirming. The speaker is quiet and gently hopeful when he asks that the body be moved into the sun. Many of Owen's poems focus on the bond between man and Nature, and here Nature seems like it could revive the speaker's friend.

In the second stanza, however, the speaker becomes more upset and questioning, the tone shifting to accommodate the change in his mindset. The speaker is confused how the sun could wake the seeds and animate a fully-formed man (the Biblical "clay" of Adam), and now can do nothing. This loss of one precious life makes the speaker bitterly wonder why "the fatuous sunbeams toil / To break earth's sleep at all". Death has made a mockery of creation; the critic Gertrude M. White writes that "in violating their own human nature, in reversing by violence the natural order, men alienate themselves from Nature herself."

The meaning of the title, then, is the futility of trying to understand how nature could create life but stand by as it is laid to waste. The critic Arthur E. Lane sees Owen creating a "poetic transformation of battlefield death, death particular and individual, into death as the absurd and ultimate denial of the value of life."

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