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Wilfred Owen - 'Exposure'


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Our brains ache
From the very first word, Owen's inclusive possessive pronoun alerts his readers that the episode to follow draws on his personal experience of WW1 conflict.
the merciless iced east winds that knive us...
Owen immediately personifies the weather as an antagonistic (evil / villainous) figure through his negatively emotive verb "knives"; pathetic fallacy enhances the sense that the weather is betraying (back-stabbing) the men. The ellipsis (one of many examples) enhances the sense that the soliders are waiting "But nothing happens"
we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire, / Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Naturalistic imagery (wind, ice and - here "brambles") are corrupted by the effects of war into something terrible and "mad". The highly emotive verb "tugging" (creating a sense of dying, fading life) pairs with the simile "Like twitching agonises" for a truly disturbing personification. Conflict destroys everything.
What are we doing here?
Both a genuine and rhetorical question. The voice in Owen's poem expresses the poet's own disillusionment (feeling of hopeless disappointment) with the conflict as well as creating a further sense of the soldiers' confusion established in the first stanza
Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
"Dawn" (sunrise) is personified, here, not as a hopeful figure (as is typical) but through a militaristic semantic field. For Owen's soldiers, daylight only brings the promise of more conflict.
But nothing happens.
A short sentence repeated by Owen often in the poem and increasing the desperation felt by the soldiers each time.
Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence. / Less deathly than the air that shudders black with snow.
Owen contrasts the highly active sibilance (repeated 's' sounds echoing the sound of 'streaking' bullets) of the first line with the "shudders" of the "deathly" air. The comparative phrase "Less deathly" to begin the second line of the stanza create a sense of how powerful and death-bringing nature can be - even more so than the "bullets". The cloud "shudders" (typically associated with creapiness) and the snow is "black": another death-like image.
Tonight, this frost will fasten on this mud and us
The certaintly of the modal verb "will" creates a clear sense of dread from Owen; there is no escaping the terrible, desructive power of nature for these men
All their eyes are ice
Does Owen's metaphor refer here to the dead men frozen to death by the snow or the emotionally dead "burying-party" sent to remove them? That it could be either (or both) creates a powerful sense of how inescapable nature's power is: no one can survive if nature chooses to kill us.
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