How are loss and wasted youth presented in Disabled and Out Out?
Firstly, in Disabled, the theme of loss is immediately presented in the first line of the poem: “He sat in a wheeled chair,”. The word “wheeled” immediately proposes the sense of the loss of freedom and independence as it shows he is unable to walk, and therefore requires assistance from other people to push him around. He has become extremely reliant on others, which gives him a sense of uselessness and that he’s simply become a burden on other people to help him. Furthermore, in the second line, it is said that he is, “waiting for dark,”. The word “waiting” implies that he has lost his sense of purpose in life, emphasising the uselessness he has, almost making him seem like an empty vessel. He has nothing to do anymore and he can only wait for the assistance of other people to push him around in vain.
The use of iambic pentameter in the lines, “Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn, Voices of play and pleasures after day,” presents the theme of stability and peace that he once experienced before going off to fight in the war; there were very few inconsistencies or problems. The lines are easy to say as the number of syllables per line are somewhat consistent, mirroring the easy life he once had. Further down the poem, the use of iambic pentameter becomes less frequent, which is apparent in the last three stanzas. As the iambic pentameter collapses, so does his purpose, stability and enjoyment of life. Continuing on from the quotation, “Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,”, it shows the emotions of nostalgia and perhaps jealousy. The simile, “saddening like a hymn” brings about an essence of solemnity. The fact that the voices of the children playing in the park are compared to a hymn, could show that his perception of the supposedly joyful voices had been twisted due to the trauma of the war, as hymns are mostly quite sombre in tune. Rather than cheering him up, it saddens him to be aware of the fact that he will never be able to experience happiness like those children ever again.
As the poem continues, Owen builds upon the sense of loss and despair by the use of a flashback in the second stanza. In the first three lines of the stanza, it is made apparent to the reader that his life before the war was full of bliss and excitement. After the first three lines, it then goes on to describe his youth being drained from him and wasted in the war: “He’d lost his color very far from here, poured it down shell-holes till veins ran dry,”. The word ‘poured’ would literally refer to blood pouring out of an open wound. In this poem, the word ‘poured’ is used to compare the sacrifices on the front lines to Christ pouring out his own blood in order to save others. In the context of Disabled, the soldier’s blood is being ‘poured down the shell holes’ for the sake of his country. In addition, the word ‘poured’ is an active verb, much like the other verbs in the poem such as, ‘lost’ and ‘threw away’, suggesting that the man’s suffering and pain that he is currently experiencing was a result of his own volition to sacrifice himself for his country. The line at the end of this stanza is “And a leap of purple spurted from his thigh.” The purple symbolises the energy and vigour that he used to have, and it can also symbolise nobility, showing that his sacrifice put him on a pedestal.
In the fifth stanza, Owen develops his longing for pride and approval of others, reflecting his youth, naivety and innocence. The man admits that he lied about his age to get into the military simply because of the glory and praise that he would receive and gave no thought about the Germans and the reality of war that awaited him, convinced by the propagandist story of war being glorious. Furthermore, the fact that he was accepted into the military, despite having lied about his age, can also reflect the corruption and greed of the people who allowed him to be enlisted. Moreover, in the quotation, “no fears/Of Fear,” the word ‘Fear’ is capitalised and is therefore personified. The lowercase ‘fear’ and the personified ‘Fear’ mirrors the contrast between the man’s indifference to the reality of war and the actual, harsh reality of war and life on the battlefield. As a result, his lack of knowledge about the reality of war and his ignorance towards the consequences emphasises his juvenility as he had no experience in an actual battlefield. At the end of the stanza, ‘he was drafted out with drums and cheers,’. This shows him being intoxicated by the excitement and adulation, blindly walking into an entirely different world to the one he had fabricated for himself.
Going into the sixth stanza, the repetition of the word ‘cheer’ is used. Additionally, the word ‘cheer’ is also used in the last line of the previous stanza in the quotation, “with drums and cheers.’ and with this, each time the word ‘cheer’ is used, the enthusiasm of people for war is progressively stripped away. The first ‘cheer(s)’ is plural, showing the large number of people who had that enthusiasm and confidence for war and is also paired with the word ‘drums’, amplifying their blissful ignorance towards the cold reality of war. The second ‘cheer(ed)’ is in the past tense which therefore refers to the cheering being something that had already happened and that its influence and power is already gone. Finally, the last ‘cheer’ is left as a single sound, reflecting the emptiness and loss of confidence that the man is now experiencing. The use of iambic pentameter is also used within the sixth stanza, however, it is soon broken because of the shortness of the stanza, as the next stanza switches to non-iambic pentameter. Consequently, the short-lived iambic pentameter in the sixth stanza mirrors the first, but short, act of kindness from the priest towards him ever since he entered the military. That act of kindness and somewhat warm atmosphere is soon broken as the final stanza begins, mirroring his life collapsing, becoming unsteady and unpredictable.
Finally in the final stanza, the poem switches back to the present, realising the bitter and bleak future ahead of him, knowing that he will be constantly in hospitals and various other institutes, dependant on others to keep him alive. War propaganda created an image of soldiers being heroic, courageous figures, meaning those who did not enlist into the military were deemed as cowards, hence why ‘the women’s eyes passed from him to the strong men that were whole.’ The man in this poem is not ‘whole’ both physically and mentally, hence why he is being given less attention than he had been given before he experienced the reality of war. In the final two lines of this stanza, the repetition of the rhetorical question, ‘Why don’t they come?’ is used, almost making him sound like a child, begging for attention. There’s a circular construction to this poem that reprises the beginning, in which the man wanted to be put to bed and forget everything and the same desire to forget is also embedded within the rhetorical question, ‘Why don’t they come and put him to bed?
At the beginning of the poem, the saw is personified through the use of the verbs ‘snarled and rattled’. The violence of those verbs gives the saw a malicious and perhaps villainous character, foreshadowing the danger that might happen later in the poem, and at the same time giving the saw the role of the protagonist in this poem. In contrast, the next two lines contain quotations of sibilance: ‘stove-length sticks’ and ‘sweet-scented stuff’, providing a gentle, but temporary, softness to the poem, which therefore masks the sinister nature of the saw. The use of the softness is a build-up of a false sense of security, showing how the saw takes the boy by surprise later in the poem. This false sense of security is also implemented by the quotation, “And nothing happened: day was all but done,” which implies that day was a peaceful day with nothing else to come after it.
From the fourth to sixth line, Frost proceeds to describe the setting of the poem: “And from there those that lifted eyes could count/Five mountain ranges one behind the other/Under the sunset far into Vermont.” The description of the setting creates a tranquil and beautiful atmosphere with the positive connotations associated with the word ‘sunset’, strongly contrasting with the work going on around and hints at the day about to end peacefully, like any other day would. The fact that the mountains in the background are mentioned almost indicates that the beauty of the environment is begging to be noticed, however the fact that it is almost sunset indicates how hard the workers are working, unaware of the beauty around them, reflecting how workers have to prioritise work over appreciating small and nice things.
The quotation,”snarled and rattled” is repeated twice in the seventh line, indicating that the saw is still in action, making it apparent that the sense of danger and malice from the saw is still active. When the boy is described to be “saved from work”, it can be thought to mirror a soldier being saved from conflict on a battlefield at war. Men, at that time, had to enlist into the army which represents the economical crisis and struggle of the men who made up the majority of society and the workforce. In the context of this poem, the boy had to replace his father’s normal job, putting him in the danger that only an adult should have been put in and therefore putting the boy’s youth at risk. Furthermore, the emotions of the narrator is also shown through the quotation, “Call it a day, I wish they might have said,”, portraying the frustration and regret that is felt after the saw strikes the boy’s hands.
In lines fourteen to eighteen, the event in which the saw slices the boy’s hand happens. The fact that it takes five lines to describe the event indicates that it must have been seen to have happened in slow motion, which amplifies the intense pain and shock that was felt. The saw is given an animalistic character through the use of zoomorphism in the quotation, “Leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap-“. Again, this shows that the saw is of a vicious character, however the short quotation, “seemed to leap-” could perhaps contradict that. “He must have given the hand,” implies that the boy must have “given the hand” to the saw, which is particularly striking, as a saw, like all tools, is a type of extension of a human. This brings about the question of whether it was the boy’s fault that he was injured, or rather, it was the saw’s fault.
Moreover, the use of parentheses after “seemed to leap-” allows the reader to think about the fact that the boy may not be as much of a victim as originally thought, which again brings the question of who was to blame for the incident. One might think that the boy may have brought the injury upon himself on purpose, for the sake of getting out of work, much like what some soldiers did during the war. After the boy realises that his hand had been lacerated, Frost goes onto describing his loss. In line twenty-five, he says, “He saw all was spoiled.” The word, “spoiled” refers to food becoming rotten to the point of it being inedible, and in this poem it implies the point of no return for the boy.
Near the end of the poem, the boy begs his sister to not let the doctor amputate his hand: “Don’t let him cut my hand off-“. From this line, a myriad of the boy’s emotions can be inferred from this such as, pain, frustration, desperation and fear. The line, “So. But the hand was gone already.” is very blunt in saying that his hand had been already amputated. Additionally, the word, “so,” interrupts the flow of the lines, just like the boy had been interrupted when begging his sister to not let his hand be amputated and it cruelly dismisses the boy’s objections to the operation and the use of a short sentence, “But the hand was gone already,” brings about a sense of concision. The boy’s hand could be thought of his youth and innocence, which has been cut off from him, leaving him scarred for life.
Finally, the poem ends with, “No more to build on there. And they, since they/Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.” “No more to build on there,” is a phrase that could be used at the end of a presentation or a debate. This presents the boy, who is now dead, as worthless and as someone who nobody should bother worrying about anymore, reflecting the heartlessness of the adults around him, due to the fact that they had to prioritise their own survival instead of others because of the war. The poem ends with “since they/Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs,” and represents how the other people moved on from his death and abandoned the memory of the boy very quickly, emphasising the theme of wasted youth and loss.
The poem is set in one long stanza, written in unrhymed iambic pentameter, also known as blank verse. Iambic pentameter is used in line twenty-seven: “So. But the hand was gone already.” With that line, the regular and rigid form of the poem had been broken. The meter is interrupted to signal that something terrible had happened, allowing the point of death of to be made. Furthermore, the way that the iambic pattern switches from being there to not, can reflect the way how people in society are forced into hard, steadfast roles in the work industry – either that, or their worth as a person is brought to zero.
Having read through all of the poetry and prose texts, I chose to write about the poems, ‘Disabled’ and ‘Out Out’. Both poems effectively convey the themes of young people being taken advantage of and being placed in situations that adults hold responsibility for, which relate to both to the society of the past and today’s current society now.