Exposure and Spring Offensive
Owen signed up to fight in the war in 1915. He thought that war was romantic and heroic but when he was in the front line he realised that it was the exact opposite of what he thought it would be. He uses nature and the natural world to represent this evil place but also in his poetry the natural world is the soldier’s one source of comfort. So in this essay I am going to discuss how Owen portrays the natural world in his poems ‘Spring Offensive’ and ‘Exposure’. To begin with the tone in ‘Spring Offensive’ changes as the poem progresses. This mimics the mood of the soldiers.
Even though the tone changes throughout the poem it is noticeable that the theme of the soldiers not wanting to go into war. Even in the ‘quiet’ moments in the poem the threat of suffering is present. However, the tone in ‘Exposure’ is different to the tone in ‘Spring Offensive’ because the tone in ‘Exposure’ is mainly one of frustration, despair and desolation. This is felt by the soldiers as they wait to go into battle but it appears that that time will never come. Nature adds to the tone in ‘Exposure’
Also the rhythm and rhyme in ‘Spring Offensive’ is a very important part of the poem. It is important because it gives the reader a bigger insight into the poem. When he pairs “last hill” and “stood still” together the repeated ‘ll’ sounds gives the reader the feeling that the journey the soldiers are taking is a long one. When he uses “grass” and “glass” it gives the reader a better idea of the distress the soldiers are feeling through the harsh ‘ss’ sounds. He also uses “together” and “heather” to create pace to show the soldiers’ movement.
But, the rhythm and rhyme in ‘Exposure’ isn’t as important as the rhythm and rhyme in ‘Spring Offensive’ because it doesn’t explain much more to the poem. All it does is use half rhyme because perfect rhyme has no place in this poem as it would create a sense of fluid movement which the soldiers never feel. Further more, the imagery in ‘Spring Offensive’ changes in every stanza to create a different feeling each time. The poem starts of by making the soldiers sound like they are beasts; “they fed, and eased of pack-loads, were at ease”. Also it tells us that the soldiers are accepting that they are going to die.
I know this from the line “knowing their feet had come to the end of the world”. It also goes on to make nature sound like its comforting the soldiers as “marvelling they stood, and watched the long grass swirled”. It also makes summer sound like it is helping the soldiers forget about the pain they are suffering; “and though the summer oozed into their veins, like an injected drug for their bodies pains”. Then the feeling of war being heroic returns with nature offering golden gifts to the soldiers; “blessed with gold their slow boots” but it is still letting us know that the soldiers are reluctant to go into war; “slow boots”.
The use of the simile “like sorrowing arms” unites nature with the natural suffering of the families left behind. Near the end of the poem there is the image of pounding sea. This gives the image of the soldiers crashing into a “surf of bullets”, tossed upon the “upsurge” of hell. Nature’s power and force is linked with the hellish power of war. The final stanza shows nature returning to a peaceful state, but the memories of battle are still present. However, the imagery in ‘Exposure’ remains the same the whole way through the poem. It is just mainly showing nature as the soldiers’ main enemy.
The wind is personified and is said to “knife” the men. Silence is also personified as an invisible but real threat. Image of men’s suffering linked again with nature, “mad gusts… like twitching agonies of men among its brambles” which is letting us know nature can cause pain. This is the opposite of ‘Spring Offensive’ where nature has healing qualities. In this poem the power of god seems to be dying. War is more powerfully destructive than god’s ability to create. Death is the main image in ‘Exposure’ but it is death through nature rather than through weapons; “frost will fasten… shrivelling many hands… the signs of death are shared by the corpses and by the living.
The men are described as “ghosts” because the suffering of war has caused the men to die inside; this means they aren’t vulnerable to emotions anymore. The dreams the soldiers have are concentrated on nature in its restored form, “grassier ditches… littered with blossoms” this idealised view of nature only exists in a wishful form. Also the language in ‘Spring Offensive’ tries to affect the reader’s emotions. The poem starts of with harsh constant ‘K’ sounds which are aurally discomforting; “to face the stark, blank sky beyond the ridge”.
This mimics the soldiers’ distressing existence. It also goes on to use of the connective “so”, this suggests harmlessness and ordinariness but it introduces the deathly action of their charge. The language in ‘Exposure’ is used in the same way as the language in ‘Spring Offensive’. There are harsh consonant sounds and sibilance emphasises the bitter and bleak conditions of the men. So to conclude Owen uses nature and seasons to show that he thinks that war is an awful place and that you feel the negative effects of war even if you aren’t involved in a battle at that time.