Year 12 Standard English
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The vanquished know war. They see through the empty jingoism of those who use the abstract words of glory, honor, and patriotism to mask the cries of the wounded, the senseless killing, war profiteering, and chest-pounding grief. -Chris Hedges, journalist, author, and war correspondent (b. 1956)

2009 Exam Question

Wilfred Owen, War Poems and Others

Wilfred Owen’s poetry is shaped by an intense focus on extraordinary human experiences.

Select TWO poems set for study and explore Owen’s portrayal of suffering and pity.

The prescribed poems are:

– Wilfred Owen, War Poems and Others

                        The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

                        Anthem for Doomed Youth

                        Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori



            Mental Cases
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The link to the King James Version of the Holy Bible is not meant to promote the content or interpretation of the text provided by the translators.  The link was provided to give context to the poem which was the inspiration for Wilfred Owen's poem.

March 25th 2011

Story of the Day: The Greek stoic philosopher Chrysippus of Soli is said to have died after laughing too hard at his donkey, who was drunk, trying and failing to eat some figs. Given that it was his fault the donkey was drunk (he'd given it wine) he really only has himself to blame.
1. Is this death tragic or ironic?
word of the day: toothsome
1. What does it sound like it means?

Parable of the Old Man and the Young


So Abram rose, and clave[n1]  the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned [n2] both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,

and builded parapets[n3]  and trenches there,

And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him. Behold,

A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;

Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

 [n1]To split with or as if with a sharp instrument. See Synonyms at tear1.

 [n2]A temporary stay; a brief period of residence.

 [n3] fortification consisting of a low wall

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Anthem  -  perhaps best known in the expression "The National Anthem;" also, an important religious song (often expressing joy); here, perhaps, a solemn song of celebration 

What passing-bells2 for these who die as cattle?  [n1] 

Only the monstrous anger [n2] of the guns. 

Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle  [n3] 

Can patter out3 their hasty orisons[n4] .4

No mockeries5 now for them; no prayers nor bells; 

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –

The shrill, demented6 choirs of wailing shells[n5] 

And bugles7 calling for them from sad shires.[n6] 8

What candles9 may be held to speed them all? 

Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes 

Shall shine the holy glimmers [n7] of goodbyes. 

The pallor10 of girls' brows shall be their pall; 

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 

And each slow dusk11 a drawing-down of blinds.12[n8]   [n1]What technique?


Animal imagery

Animals led to slaughter


 [n2]What technique?



 [n3]What technique?


 [n4]What technique?



 [n7]religious imagery

 [n8]12 drawing-down of blinds - normally a preparation for night, but also, here, the tradition of drawing the blinds in a room where a dead person lies, as a sign to the world and as a mark of respect. The coming of night is like the drawing down of blinds. 


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  Futility[n1]   [n1]1. lack of effectiveness or success 2. lack of purpose or meaning 3. something futile

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
[n2] sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?


 [n2]foolish - devoid of good sense or judgment; "foolish remarks"; "a foolish decision"


Futility: Selections from Critical Theory

Kenneth Simcox
So much has gone into the making of a man ("so dear achieved"), how can the sun that has done all this in the end do so little? Line 12's "Was it for this the clay grew tall?" has life, in man, reaching its peak merely to come to nothing, and the poem ends, fittingly, in ambiguity:

- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil

To break earth's peace at all?

Why ever did the sun do anything so fatuous is one question, while another is - what was the cause of the sun behaving in this way? Depending whether the stress falls on "what" or "made" in line 13. A clever end to Owen's set of imponderables.

Notice the simplicity of the diction which together with the use of so many words of one syllable accords with the elegiac, deeply felt mood. Owen is careful, however, to avoid smoothness. The first and last lines of each stanza are shorter than the rest. Some lines begin with the stress on the first syllable (trochee), some on the second (iamb). He makes much use of his favourite pararhyme (half rhyme): sun-sown, once-France, seeds-sides, star-stir, tall-toil, snow-now; which also helps to disturb the natural rhythm.

The problem Owen faces in FUTILITY is how to reconcile the miracle of creation with the evil of that creation laid waste, which intimates futility in two senses, first the futility behind the paradox of life made death, and second the futility of trying to find an answer. Where Owen stood at that time in relation to his practice as a Christian is impossible for us to know. At least the bitterness of ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH and DULCE ET DECORUM EST, in FUTILITY gives place to the pity that characterises his finest work, and manages, I think, to transcend the pessimism and the bleakness.
Dr.Ratan Bhattacharjee

In the poem 'Futility' Wilfred Owen appears to be an apostle of peace and creation. He argued in favour of creative process that prevails in the universe. But the warmongers try to dirsupt the process by organising massacre of youthful lives.The sun is vigorous in his creation. The sun is the very source of life . The futility is still more important a subject. The efforts of the sun are all futile, not because it has failed to restore life to the dead soldier.The futility becomes more apparent when the sun finds its creation destroyed- the decaying body of the soldier. War , the destructive power seems to be more powerful than the sun , the very source of life iteself.

D. S. R. Welland

The war that Jahveh wishes for is death, the death of the spirit, whereas the compassion represented by Christ is life-giving and kind, like the sun in "Futility" and in "Spring Offensive" where the antithesis between the sun, "the friend with whom their love is done," and the "stark, blank sky" full of incipient menace and hostility may be a reflection of this antithesis between Christ and God.

A poem named "Futility," which opens with the lines: Move him into the sun--

Gently its touch awoke him once,


furnishes a striking example of this in the second and concluding verse, which runs as follows: 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?

Here the gradual retardation of cadence in the first four lines, leading up to the rhythmical climax of line five, enhances the reader's emotional reaction by delaying the stimulus for complete response until the latest possible moment, then flinging open the floodgates of the rhythm for the latter to rush with redoubled speed to its inevitable conclusion. Nowhere else does this effect occur in such entire formal perfection, though it is approached periodically in such lines as: One Spring! Is one too good to spare, too long?

Spring wind would work its own way to my lung,

And grow me legs as quick as lilac-shoots.

  And also appears in embryo in single lines such as "Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt, bullet-heads," which recur regularly throughout the poems, in conjunction with more normal rhythmical structures which it is not necessary to consider here.

  Jahan Ramazani
Owen interrogates the trope in "Anthem," "Futility," and his other successful elegies, though he adopts it uncritically in a few poems, producing dismal failures like "Elegy in April and September." Earlier elegists had consoled in part by personifying a nature that sympathetically mourns; in "Anthem" Owen personifies machines instead, and these machines cannot assuage grief since they have helped to cause it. Although some consolation might seem to lie in his projecting "anger," "mourning," and "wailing" onto an external world, he checks this possible solace by suggesting the absurdity of this projection: the idea that the guns, rifles, and shells might be sympathetic is deliberately forced and artificial, since they are also slaughtering the soldiers like cattle. Whereas the pathetic fallacy had assuaged grief by converting, magnifying, and elevating it, the trope now short-circuits: the object-world onto which the elegist projects his feelings turns out to be the very engine of destruction rather than an alternative though mirroring reality.


Questions on Futility

1. Why do you think Owen tries to convey warm and positive imagery at the start of the poem?
2. What indicates that the solider is from the country rather than the city?
3. What images does snow evoke (bring to mind)? Do those images fit what Owen is trying to convey with his use 'snow'?
4. Identity and discuss the biblical imagery used in the poem.  Why does he use biblical imagery and what effect does it have in the poem?
5. Define enjambment and provide one example of it.  What does Owen use enjambment in this poem?
6. In a paragraph compare and contrast this poem with "Disabled".

Dulce est Decorum Est

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Study of "Disabled"
April 29th 2010 Thursday Periods 5 and 6

1. How might Christopher Reeves' experience mirror the experience of returned servicemen?
2. How might it differ? Why?
3. Look at Jessie Pope's "Who's for the Game?"
4. "Disabled" is about a man who goes to war and is ravaged by it.  How might he feel about "Who's for the Game"?

Disabled by Wilfred Owen

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
- In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. He wonders why...
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts.

That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?

Caryn McTighe Musil

Owen's response to such male socialization that makes sports, war, and life simply a contest of physical prowess and endurance is evident in one of his most moving poems, "Disabled." The veteran in this work, a boy not yet twenty, was a soccer player who internalized his culture's equation of sports and war: One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,

After the matches, carried shoulder-high.

It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,

He thought he'd better join.


Less than a year after joining, he is sitting "in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark" "in his ghastly suit of grey, / Legless, sewn short at elbow." The women around him no longer cheer him on but "touch him like some queer disease."


For Owen, traditional notions of manhood included two important rites: initiation into the warrior myth and sexual initiation. The two intertwine and Owen refuses both. Though a warrior himself, Owen redefines what that really means. The young amputee veteran in "Disabled" originally imagined what being a warrior would be like through the language of other men like Tennyson or Morris or Kipling: He thought of jewelled kilts

For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;

And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears.

Questions for "Disabled"


  1. How does Owen quickly establish the solider is wounded?
  2. Why would the voices of the ‘boys’ be like ‘hymns’?
  3. What does he remember in stanza two about his life in the past?
  4. Comment on the words ‘queer disease’ at the end of stanza two.
  5. In stanza three Owen comments on how the boy has aged.  Explain how he achieves this.
  6. Discuss the erotic image of the word ‘spurted’. How is it used here?
  7. In 5-10 lines give the reasons why the boy joined up.  Refer to stanza four.
  8. How did he perceive the Germans?
  9. How did he perceive his own army?
  10. How were these illusions shattered?
  11. Describe how women now feel about him.
  12. Discuss the impact of the final two lines.

Mental Cases

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jays that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls' teeth wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain,- but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hands' palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

-These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable, and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men's extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh.
-Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
-Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.

I. M. Parsons

In the above stanza, taken from a poem entitled "Mental Cases," the verbal texture of the lines is so consistently emphatic, quite apart from any forcefulness of diction, as to be almost rhetorical; while the rhythm, in direct contrast, is so markedly unrhetorical as to be virtually colloquial. The result is a groping, jolting, clutching effect, magnificently appropriate to the subject, in which one can almost feel the convulsive vitality of the words struggling to become articulate through the quiet, choking, ironic monotony of the rhythm. This effect recurs mainly when Owen is describing specific episodes, either of actual fighting or the immediate results of fighting, and not in the more general poems, abstract or philosophical. It seems clear that in the former case something of the horror of such scenes remained fiercely alive in his memory, goading him into frantic efforts at depiction, efforts which he recognized intuitively could only attain artistic expression through the controlling medium of the strictest rhythmical restraint.


May 7 was Mrs Eldred's Birthday

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May 10

1. Look at assessment task
2. Sign Assessment Notification Form