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January 31, 2012

Apologia Pro Poemate Meo by Wilfred Owen- Analysis

Apologia Pro Poemate Meo by Wilfred Owen- Analysis

Wilfred Owen was raised as an Anglican (of the evangelical school), and was a devout believer in his youth. Owen was also very close to his mother, and that relationship caused him to be a bit shielded from the actualities of life and war. He enlisted in the Artists' Rifles Officers' Training Corps on October 21, 1915. He became second lieutenant on June 4, 1916. Owen started the war cheerful and optimistic, which greatly contradicted the other troops. Initially, Owen despised the other soldiers, because they were crude and lacked all social decorum. Owen's outlook on the war was forever changed after he experienced two traumatic events: the first was when he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, and he landed in the remains of a fellow soldier; the second was when he was trapped in an old German dugout for several days, which had to be particularly nerve-wracking. Due to these two events Owen was diagnosed with shell shock, and he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital to recover. As part of his treatment, Owen's doctor encouraged Owen to write about his experiences, especially the ones that kept reliving in his dreams. Owen also met Siegfried Sassoon while he was in the hospital, and Sassoon's style of poetry rubbed off on Owen; Owen began to write with a tenacious realism about the pity of war. For Owen, the war front was the mouth of hell.

Owen wrote Apologia Pro Poemate Meo, which either means apology for my poetry or an explanation of his poetry, in either November/December of 1917, which was around the time of his release from Craiglockhart War Hospital. The poem conveys a battle between good and evil, both within the soldiers themselves, and war as a whole. A Soldier has to put aside his conscious and kill for the bigger picture without ever questioning whether he is doing the right thing or not. As a soldier you have to believe that you are the good guys and the enemies are the bad guys, but what if that isn't true?

Owen begins his poem with "I, too" which makes Owens recounting and analyzing of the war more believable, because he has experienced it firsthand. Owen starts with an ugly image of mud that is transformed into something beautiful by the divine image of God; mud and God juxtapose each other. This first stanza is most likely written about the soldiers in the trenches. They had mud that was dried and cracking on their cheeks when they smiled. "Cracked" is an example of onomatopoeia'"when verbal sounds imitate and evoke the sounds that they denote. Owen describes the soldiers as wretches (miserable unhappy people) but ironically these wretches are smiling. The smiling could mean that they have lost their ability to tell right from wrong; they appear to be happy when they kill someone, but that is contradictory to what we are brought up to think about killing. Murder is supposed to be something sad, and the murderer should feel guilty about taking someone's life, but these men don't seem to feel any guilt. War is personified in line three. Joining the war is considered a glorious action, and it out-weighed the price that you pay for joining. The blood that Owen mentions is referring to both British and enemy blood; there is no sorrow associated with death, it's all just business. War gave these men more gleeful laughs than war emotionally disturbs a child, which is ironic because the soldiers are acting like children when they laugh gleefully. The minimum age to serve in WWI was seventeen, but some lied about their ages to serve. Their inexperience at life made them more depraved; they had not had the opportunity to fully understand the sanctity of life.

Owen starts the second stanza with an ironic "merry," the war front was not a happy place; instead it was filled with intense pain and death. Death became absurd and life even more absurd, meaning that death had no meaning and life meant that you had to kill to stay alive. Lines seven and eight make it seem like the soldiers have a God complex; the soldiers had the power to take someone's life without any remorse. The soldiers were trained to be mindless tools of their government; they did as they were ordered to do without questioning the morality of what they were instructed to do.

Fear is personified as something that is able to be dropped off and picked back up all willy-nilly. Fear can be paralyzing, which can be disastrous for a soldier. A barrage is a heavy concentration of fire (as of artillery), and a platoon is a subdivision of a company-size military unit usually consisting of two or more squads or sections. "Dead as my platoon" is a simile; the speaker is as dead mentally as his comrades, he has allowed the war to take his humanity. His spirit has died and it sails out of war. "Surging" is another example of onomatopoeia. "Light and clear" connotes that he is both released from the physical world, and is free from the misery that the atrocities of war have inflicted upon his psyche. An entanglement is a physical and a mental barrier, which probably surrounds their dugouts. "Hope" is personified here as something that is scattered about past their entanglement, and is used ironically; in reality, they are hopeless.

This stanza uses the extended metaphor of a religious ceremony to show just how far these men have sunk. His fellow soldiers witness his spirits ascent with great exultation (rejoice or glory). "Face" is used as a synecdoche (using a part to express the whole, or vice versa) to describe the soldiers. "Scowl for scowl" refers to Owens displeasure of the soldier's behavior when he first enlisted. He despised them and they despised him. An oblation is a sacrifice offered to God. Seraphic means ecstatic; so they were ecstatic for hour, which is generally how long a mass usually lasts. Even though these men appeared to be happy and rejoicing in church they still were detestable, foul-mouthed men.
He has made relationships with both his fellow soldiers and women, which have not been told by lovers in old songs. War breaks the lovers' hearts; both the time apart and the things that soldiers experience in the war tears the lovers apart. Owen points out that it isn't fair to bind (perhaps in marriage) a young girl to a soldier, because they will only spend their time waiting and worrying for the soldier. "Soft" connotes a soft look as in a loving look. "Silk" probably refers to the glossiness of the silk, which when combined with the image of eyes indicates that the eyes are glossy with tears of sadness.

This stanza begins with another usage of irony with the word joy; there is nothing joyous about war. "Ribbon" either refers to a medal or a bandage. "War's hard wire" refers to the entanglement, and the "stakes" hold up the entanglement. The ribbon and the wire are knitted around the bleeding wound on the soldier's arm, and he still has to use the rifle that hangs off of his shoulder. A "rifle-thong" is something that is used to clean a gun.

He has realized the beauty in the hoarse (having a grating voice) oaths that the soldiers recite when they enlist. The fact that their voices were hoarse probably indicates that they were slightly unsure about what they were getting themselves into. These oaths are designed to make these men believe that they are serving the best interest of their country, and that gives them courage. Owen introduces two paradoxes in the final two lines of this stanza: first, hearing music when it's silent and second, finding peace in the midst of a bombing. The "silentness of duty" is probably referring to the loneliness that soldiers feel when they are face-to-face with death. In silence, there can be no sound, so it is impossible to hear anything even music. The music that the speaker is referring to is the cacophony of gunfire and explosions, which is not what people think of as beautiful music; or the soldiers are singing to themselves either their national anthem or some military song they learned at boot camp. The speaker says that he found peace in the midst of these explosions that spouted (to eject or issue forth forcibly and freely) reddest (probably referring to blood) spate (a sudden outburst). These paradoxes are used to stress the distortion of patriotism that these men lived; they were fighting for their country, but sacrificing their souls for a government that viewed them as expendable tools.

Despite all of their differences the soldiers are all fighting the same war, which brings them together as one. Owen dreamed repeatedly about the concept of the "mouth of hell," and for him the battlefield is this hell, and the soldiers fighting on the front line are damned to hell. The battlefield is its own world with its own rules and regulations that are completely different than those found in civilized society. "Trembling" connotes that the soldiers were extremely scared. A "flare" is usually used to signal that help is needed, but using a flare on the battlefield would be futile. There is no one to rescue the soldiers, they have to either rescue themselves or die trying. Owen ends this stanza with a simile; heaven is idealized as the only place that the soldiers will find peace and happiness, but to get there they have to die first.

The last stanza of this poem seems to shift its focus; it seems like Owen had been starring off into space while he was reminiscing about the war, but now he turns and is looking directly at his audience and telling them how they should feel about war and the soldiers that fight them. He tells the audience that they will not hear the soldier's mirth (gladness or gaiety accompanied with laughter). These men deserve to be revered and cried for, but they owe you nothing. Non-soldiers are ignorant about the true atrocities of war, but they are the ones who unjustly have the loudest opinions and the most power. Owen ends his poem with another word of irony, merriment.


Owen, Wilfred. "Apologia Pro Poemate Meo." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth Century and After. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 2006.1972-3.