How the theme of loss is communicated in the poems ‘Disabled’ by Wilfred Owen and ‘Out, out’ by Robert Frost
The poems Disabled by Wilfred Owen and ‘Out, out by Robert Frost were written 1917 and 1916 respectively, the poems were both written with the theme of loss featuring prominently throughout the narrative. Wilfred Owen was an English poet and soldier during the First World War, he was one of the leading poets of the First World War and his shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare and stood in stark contrast both to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets who had a romantic view of war. Wilfred Owen used his poems to express his negative attitude to the First World War. His use of comparisons and harsh imagery keeps his readers entertained throughout the whole poem. Robert Frost was an American poet who was highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life in the United States of America and his command of American colloquial speech. Robert Frost uses literary terms such as imagery, personification and caesuras to describe the theme of loss throughout the poem ‘Out, out’. The poems both display the theme of loss quite prominently and frequently refers to the theme of loss in order to show how they felt during the time of writing.
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The theme of loss in Wilfred Owen’s poems originated from his surroundings when he wrote it; the poem ‘Disabled’ was written by Wilfred Owen in 1917 while he was recovering from injuries that he had sustained in the trenches of the Western Front. Wilfred Owen’s view on the war was quite poor at this point as he had seen many horrors while fighting in the trenches and because of his exposure to victims of Shell Shock otherwise known as post-traumatic stress disorder. The poem ‘Disabled’ talks of the tormented recollections and thoughts of a soldier in World War I who has lost his limbs in battle and is now confined to a wheelchair and is utterly helpless. The poem contrasts the living death he is now facing with the pleasures he once enjoyed “before he threw away his knees”. The main character then recalls the frivolous crowds which had cheered as he joined up to fight in the war. The main character then notes how the crowds had looked smaller and less enthusiastic, and how women no longer look at him but at “the strong men who were whole”. Wilfred Owen uses the poem title itself: ‘Disabled’ to display the theme of loss, the title is quite important as it is what grabs the reader’s attention and gives a brief description of the poem and the title ‘Disabled’ certainly does that and is to the point, this gives the reader a picture in their mind of loss in the poem due to imagery and the use of language throughout the poem.
The poem ‘Out, out’ was written by Robert Frost and published in 1916, it is be based on a true event which occurred in March 1910 when the son of Frost’s friend and neighbour lost his hand to an accident with a saw and bled so profusely that he went into shock and died. Robert Frost emphasizes on the innocence of the boy through personification frequently throughout the poem in order to show the theme of loss. Frost concentrates on the apparent innocence and passivity of the boy. The poem ‘Out, out’ can be used to demonstrate how extreme circumstances such as war can force innocent and young boys and men to leave their childhood innocence behind, and ultimately be destroyed by circumstances created by the ‘responsible’ adult as well as the idea that even if somebody dies life will go on as if nothing happened.
Disabled is a potent and strong poem which communicates the theme of loss because of mainly the style and structure that Owen has used. Harsh words are used to emphasize the theme of loss inside the poem through imagery; this is shown when the man is wearing a “ghastly suit of grey’ which shows the man’s morbid and depressed state of mind. As well as that the narrator says sleep ‘mothers’ the main character from the laughter and noises of young boys which suggests that the man no worth living for and prefers the temporary respite sleep provides. He regrets the loss of ‘throwing’ away his knees which suggests that the ideas and inspirations behind joining the war were not as patriotic or loyal as they should have been and his vanity and immaturity only has now left him a cripple. The girls all touch him like a “queer’ disease” while he used to dance with them freely in his youth; this shows how he has paid for his vanity with the loss of his legs.
Wilfred Owen also uses comparisons frequently to demonstrate loss, the line: About this time “Town used to swing so gay” uses past tense to help compare the town before the war and after the war, this helps to show how he is regretting the losses since he joined the army. The phrase “Now he is old; his back will never brace” shows the man’s loss through his physical state and can be compared to the phrase: “for it was younger than his youth, last year.” The use of imagery is used when the narrator talks of the man’s life bleeding out of him through a wound on his thigh, and the use of the word ‘purple’ which is usually a colour denoting life and vitality, shows that the ordeal the soldier had gone through when he had been injured had a deep impact on him, as he no longer feels like he had a reason to live or be happy while compared to when he was younger when he was full of joy and was living life to the fullest.
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The poem also illustrates how the man’s lifestyle changed dramatically through contrasts between his past life and his current state to show the theme of loss. He was once described as a great athlete and was popular with girls but now he is in a wheelchair and they touch him like a queer disease”, and he notices how “their eyes pass from him to the strong men that were whole”, this is contrast to before when he was the centre of attention. He is no longer seen as a normal person. The man notes that once there was an artist was once eager to paint him but compared to before “Now he is old, his back will never brace; he’s lost his colour very far from home”. The analogy is drawn between being a soldier and playing sports highlights the selfish motives the man had for joining the army such as ‘jewelled hilts, daggers in plaid socks and smart salutes’ which can be seen as a very naïve view of the army, it also acts as a constant reminder to the man that his pride and vanity had caused him to lose the exact things he had been proud of: he would never again run in a field or score a winning goal, he would never again be praised for being a hero but will only pitied and mocked endlessly for being a cripple. Things that would previously have been boasted about such as the small injuries received in a football match, and being carried on the shoulders of his team mates after a match have become permanent sources of sorrow as he no longer has his legs and needs to be carried around helplessly by nurses and doctors. This contrast is chilling and distressing as it shows his loss though comparisons between his past and his present state. The idea of how much he has lost is made worse when the ‘Only a solemn man who brought him fruits, Thanked him; and then enquired about his soul.’, this section is quite significant as it shows that there is only one man who cares to ask how he is and only then he is only caring because of his own selfish reasons and does not really care about how the man is doing, this helps further the theme of loss on ‘Disabled’. The poem ends on a sad and mundane note as the man wonders why “they” do not come and put him to bed. It is a reminder that he will have to have others do things for him from now on, this shows how the man is now reliant on others to help him and that he has nothing to live for anymore furthering the sense of loss in ‘Disabled’.
The title of the poem ‘Out, out’ is an allusion to William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, in the play Macbeth is shocked to hear of his wife’s death and comments on the brevity of life in the quote ‘out, out brief candle’. It refers to how unpredictable and fragile life can be. This title itself also relates to the narrative as the poem is also about how unpredictable and fragile life is. The theme of loss is communicated in ‘Out, out’ with the constant use of personification, an example of this would be the personification of the Buzz Saw which constantly buzzes and snarls while jumping out of the boy’s hand in ‘excitement’. The line: “leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap” as well as the word ‘excitement’ to describe the saw helps to create an image in the readers mind through personification that the saw has a mind of its own. This is uses later on to help display the theme of loss later on in the narrative. The poem is penned in blank verse with deviations from iambic pentameter to create a rhythm for when you read the poem, this helps to create tension to help display loss and tension as the narrative goes on. Robert Frost initially starts poem with mentioning the tragic event to come when he states that he wished that the workers would have “called it a day” and “given” the boy “the half hour that counts so much when saved from work”, this leads the reader to wonder what will happen as there is foreshadowing for a unknown event. This eventually leads to the sense of loss when the boy nearly severs his hand. After the boy’s hand is nearly severed, he is still mature and old enough to realize that he has lost too much blood to survive. The boy is shown to desperately attempt to “keep the life from spilling” from his hand, but even that is only an attempt, since nothing can be done and everybody including the boy knows he will die soon. Above all, though, the boy hopes to maintain his physical dignity in his death and would rather die with a hand than die with a missing hand, this helps to shows the theme of loss when the boy dies. Robert Frost also shows the theme of loss when he writes: “the watcher at his pulse took fright….” this use of imagery shows that maybe an acquaintance and not a family member who is with the boy when he dies. This scene is a cold image and shows a lack of humanity to help demonstrate the theme of loss as the boy is shown to be without much family when he dies. Near the end of the poem the narrator says ‘Little—less—nothing’, this is an example of diminishing words and the caesura used creates a pause to put emphasis on what has just been said. The theme of loss is communicated here because it shows that the boy is weak and that he has nothing because his life has been taken away from him. To communicate the theme of loss at the end of the poem Robert Frost writes that the workers: ‘And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs’, this shows that the family did not feel much emotion when the boy died and instead just carried on with their work without the boy. Onomatopoeia is also prominent throughout the poem as it helps highlight the extended personification, an example of this would be: ‘And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled’, this helps build up tension for when the boy loses his hand to help further communicate the theme of loss.
In the two poems “Out, Out” by Robert Frost and “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen, a similar theme of loss is portrayed. Both of these poems deal with the subject of physical loss, as both protagonists of these poems experience amputation which are also both accidental, in the case of ‘Disabled’ the loss of the man’s legs and the loss of a hand in ‘Out, out’. Both Robert Frost and Wilfred Owen have managed to captivate their audience’s attention, and also a certain degree of sympathy for the protagonists’ misfortune in ‘Disabled’ and ‘Out, out’. The two poets do this quite well in their poems, with the use of common literary techniques and linguistic skills, such as similes, metaphors, personification, personification, imagery, contrast, and more literary devices, which range from subtle to very obvious. The heavy use of imagery throughout the poem helped to create an image in the reader’s mind which helped to show the protagonist’s loss. Overall, this helps to make the two poems communicate the theme of loss effectively throughout the narrative.
In their different ways the poems ‘Disabled’ by Wilfred Owen and ‘Out, out’ by Robert Frost communicate the theme of loss through literary devices and language features. In the poem ‘Disabled’ by Wilfred Owen; Owen mainly uses comparisons to draw contrasts between his current state and his former life in order to show loss while the poem ‘Out, out’ by Robert Frost mainly uses literary devices which include imagery and personification well as caesuras to help convey his theme of loss. However both poems deal with the subject of physical loss and both Robert Frost and Wilfred Owen manage to captivate the reader’s attention and create a sense of sympathy through the theme of loss. I personally feel that ‘Out, out’ by Robert Frost is more effective due to the heavy use of imagery to help show the protagonist’s loss. Overall the writers communicated the theme of loss effectively throughout the narrative.
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