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Insensibility by Wilfred Owen

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Seb Ellice

on 14 September 2015

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Transcript of Insensibility by Wilfred Owen

by Wilfred Owen

Stanza I
Happy are men who yet before they are killed
Can let their veins run cold.
Whom no compassion fleers
Or makes their feet
Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The front line withers,
But they are troops who fade, not flowers
For poets’ tearful fooling:
Men, gaps for filling:
Losses, who might have fought
Longer; but no one bothers.
Stanza II Analysis
This Stanza is much shorter than the first, however the language used by Owen is dramatic. The first two lines "Cease feeling even or themselves or for themselves". This is a way of saying that the soldiers are so devoid of emotion that they are past the point of caring for anything, even their own life. It continues on the theme of how pointless it all is, "They Keep no check on armies' decimation". This shows that the don't even really care about the outcome of the War, they have forgotten why they are even fighting in the first place. They (the soldiers) are reflecting Owens attitude towards the war, how pointless it all really is.
Poem Overview

Owen Wrote Insensibility in 1918 in Ripon while training to return back to the Western front.

Structure- '
' consists of 6 stanzas, each marked by a roman numeral, I to VI. The form is irregular in nature, the stanzas having no set style or form. This is used to create a feeling of unease when read, this ties in well with the dark cynical nature of the poem.

Rhyme Scheme: Owen uses para rhymes, which means that the poem has flow and rhythm without sounding silly.

Idea: The main idea of insensibility is that in order to be 'happy' at war, the soldiers need to let go all emotion. The soldiers are viewed as barely even men anymore, they are just statistics there to kill or be killed.

Reading of '
Stanza I Analysis
Stanza II
And some cease feeling
Even themselves or for themselves.
Dullness best solves
The tease and doubt of shelling,
And Chance’s strange arithmetic
Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.
They keep no check on armies’ decimation.
The opening line of the stanza "Happy are men who yet before they are killed can let their veins run cold" sums up the main idea of the poem very well. Owen is saying that in order to be happy, you have to let go of emotion, you have to lose your humanity. He says "Men, gaps for filling". This shows us that in war the soldiers are not men, they are merely numbers, statistics on paper. The last two lines of the stanza are striking, and very sad, "Losses who might have fought longer; but no one cares". Owen is trying to show us that these young men who are dying are easily replaceable, just another casualty. The semicolon signifies that the fact that people may care is just an afterthought, as if thinking about emotions involved is a strange and foreign concept.

Stanza III
Happy are these who lose imagination:
They have enough to carry with ammunition.
Their spirit drags no pack.
Their old wounds, save with cold, can not more ache.
Having seen all things red,
Their eyes are rid
Of the hurt of the color of blood forever.
And terror’s first constriction over,
Their hearts remain small-drawn.
Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle
Now long since ironed,
Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.

Stanza III Analysis
The third Stanza of 'Insensibility' once again continues the theme of the soldiers no longer feeling any emotion. The line, "They have enough to carry with ammunition.Their spirit drags no pack". Shows how they have become the war, the war is a part of them now. Blood imagery is used throughout the stanza, comparable to other poems such as 'Mental cases' and 'strange meeting'. The last lines of the stanza leave us with a haunting image "Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle. Now long since ironed,
Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned. This shows us the soldiers senses have been 'Ironed out', they are left, straight, flat and stiff. They have lost their life, not yet in body but in mind, they are connected to the fallen and will carry them with them forever.

Stanza V

We wise, who with a thought besmirch
Blood over all our soul,
How should we see our task
But through his blunt and lashless eyes?
Alive, he is not vital overmuch;
Dying, not mortal overmuch;
Nor sad, nor proud,
Nor curious at all.
He cannot tell
Old men's placidity from his.
Stanza I

Happy are men who yet before they are killed
Can let their veins run cold.
Whom no compassion fleers
Or makes their feet
Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The front line withers,
But they are troops who fade, not flowers
For poets’ tearful fooling:
Men, gaps for filling:
Losses, who might have fought
Longer; but no one bothers.
Stanza I analysis
"Happy are men who yet before they are killed
Can let their veins run cold".
The opening lines of the poem is haunting. The use of the word "Happy" is repeated throughout the poem, and is dripping with irony. Owen is playing at the fact that the men can never be happy in war. If they want to get through the war mentally then they need to desensitize themselves, let their veins run cold. The fact that Owen says
"Yet before they are killed
" gives a sense of inevitability to the soldiers deaths, they are all going to meet their demise. This idea of soldiers going to their deaths is seen in many of Owens poems such as '
Strange Meeting'.

Stanza I analysis continued
The next two lines "Or makes their feet Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The front line withers, But they are troops who fade, not flowers". These lines are equally horrific, with Owen introducing the sick metaphor of the soldiers walking on alleys made up of their fallen brothers. It could also be interpreted in a literal sense as the trenches were known as alleys, and were also know to be littered with bodies strewn throughout. The word "Withers" is used to bring two contrasting images together, the death of a flower to the death of the men. Owen is able to contrast the two images, a flower something associated with hope with the death of the soldiers. He links these two things together with one common theme. Death. It shows that even the strong and beautiful are not free from its grasp.
Stanza I analysis continued
For poets’ tearful fooling:
Men, gaps for filling:
Losses, who might have fought
Longer; but no one bothers
The Final lines of the stanza go as follows
The last lines of the poem once again leave us with a distressing imagine, one that Owen reinforces throughout many of his poems, that no one cares. The men are just "Gaps for filling", numbers on a page, their deaths but a statistic. The hype and celebration of going to war is gone, and now so are they, and no one cares. The way that Owen starts the sentence with one word and then a comma gives the effect of the line being an afterthought. The only words that the generals are concerned with are Men, Losses and Longer. Owen is once again showing us that war is not as it is struck up to be.
Connections to other poems
Stanza V Analysis
The Lines "Blood all over our soul" is a way in showing that the war has left its mark on all the soldiers, they are permanently scared by their experiences. The way that Owen says "he" and doesn't use a soldiers name shows that the war does not just effect some soldiers, it effects everybody involved. The use of the rhetorical question shows that he is seeing the war through the eyes of a dead soldier. "Alive he is not vital overmuch;
Dying not mortal overmuch". This is a reference to what Owen mentions about the soldiers being 'Gaps' for filling. Alive they are not important, just numbers and in death they are just statistics, not real brave men who have sacrificed their lives. The last two lines are saying once again that the soldiers are void of emotion, "He cannot tell Old mens placidity from his". Owen is saying that the soldiers treat death the same as old men, without a fight. They have lost everything and they can not see any point in fighting against what is inevitable, death.

The theme of survival runs throughout most
of Owens poetry, however it is especially embedded throughout Insensibility. In order for the soldiers to survive the war mentally, they need to rid themselves of any compassionate or sensitive emotions. They have to forgo what makes you human in order to survive their ordeal. The bitter tone of the poem could be due to Owens disgust at what this pointless endeavor is doing to these once lively young men. The theme of survival is ironic as Owen knows that in war there are no survivors.
A theme runs through the poem is the hopelessness of it all. Even if the men physically survive the war, what will be left of them? Lines such as The "eternal reciprocity of tears" shows that the men will shed tears with the dead forever, they will always be left broken by the war. This is comparable to 'Disabled' where a soldier becomes the very thing that Owen mentions, a man without hope for the future. Also the bitter and piteous tone of the poem reinforces the fact that the soldiers are beyond hope, by letting go of their emotions, they let go of their soul and their future.
Stanza IV
Happy the soldier home, with not a notion
How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,
And many sighs are drained.
Happy the lad whose mind was never trained:
His days are worth forgetting more than not.
He sings along the march
Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,
The long, forlorn, relentless trend
From larger day to huger night.
Stanza VI
But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,
That they should be as stones;
Wretched are they, and mean
With paucity that never was simplicity.
By choice they made themselves immune
To pity and whatever moans in man
Before the last sea and the hapless stars;
Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;
Whatever shares
The eternal reciprocity of tears.

The stanza starts with the word happy which is repeated throughout. The first line is about the men at home, excited about the prospect of war but "With not a notion" of what they are really in for. "Every dawn" is important as dawn represents a new beginning, therefore showing the cyclical nature of the war. The use of the word "Lad" is a way in which Owen shows us how the war is making these young men grow up, contrasting the word 'lad' with 'men'. The contrasting is continued with the new soldier singing while marching while the other soldiers march 'Taciturn'. The ‘larger’ and ‘huger' is tautology, saying two things that mean the same thing to give effect. The incorrect superlative of the huger night is an example of the irregularity of the war, nothing is how it should be, this matches the irregular structure of the poem.
Stanza IV analysis
Stanza VI analysis
The opening lines of the last stanza are juxtaposition to the opening lines of the poem, going from "Happy are" to "Cursed are". This shows that Owen is being sarcastic the whole time, he never believes that soldiers will be happy, they are and always be cursed. It once again reinforces the fact that soldiers become emotionless through war or as Owen puts it "They should be as stones". The sarcasm is shown in the lines "By choice they made themselves immune", it was never the soldiers choice to void themselves of emotion, the war did it to them. The last line represents the cyclical nature of violence and war, it could also represent the fact that the soldiers will always mourn for their fallen brothers, they may be gone in body but their spirits will remain with the survivors.
Insensibility connects with Dulce
by showing the impact that the war is
having on the men. However it contrasts with Dulce in the way that Dulce is physical suffering, whereas Insensibility is the way that the soldiers suffer mentally. Both poems are against the romanticism of war
as many of Owens poems are. Dulce also deals with the way that war turns young innocent boys into broken men "Like old beggars under sacks". This line is comparable to stanza IV in insensibility where Owen shows the way that war destroys these young men.

Insensibility connects with disabled as the
protagonist of disabled is a product of the war, he has become what Owen predicts, hopeless. The war has taken everything from him, his soul. It also shows what will happen to the soldiers after the war if they survive which adds to the gloomy and negative tone of the poem, Owen really wants us to know that there is no hope for the soldiers. The line in insensibility "Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle
Now long since ironed" links with disabled as the soldiers legs would have been cauterized to stop the bleeding, but it was not just his legs that were cauterized it was his soul. Now he is insensible.
Other poems
Insensibility also shares similarities with the following poems .

- Anthem For Doomed Youth
- The Dead - Beat

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