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Poem Analysis of “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen

April 24, 2013 by Lauren Parrott

–below is the first draft for a poetry class analysis paper —


“Disabled” by Wilfred Owen is a reflective analysis on the experiences of a World War I solider. The poem effectively contrasts the current life of the solider to his past. Owen’s offers the poem as a personal statement on war and its effect on people. This poem ultimately makes an argument for the proper understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of veterans. As a solider himself, Owen’s sympathizes with the speaker and relates to his plight (Heath). Consequently, his background is reflected in “Disabled.”

Wilfred Owen grew up with a Christian background. Although he studied to become a clergyman, he was often unsure of his religion. He joined the war at the age of 22. During the war, he saw the worst of the battlefield and began to write poetry to document his perspective on the war. In 1917, he was affected by an explosion and sent to a war hospital in England. Afterwards, he returned to service and died in battle in 1918 (“Poetry Foundation”). His biographical context is essential to understand Owen’s point of view for “Disabled.” To fully understand this poem, there is an implied assumption of knowledge regarding the facts of World War I, as well as knowledge into the amount of disabled veterans that resulted from the war.

Wilfred Owen’s poem is essentially about a disabled veteran. He is sitting in the wheelchair, “waiting for the dark” (1). The dark creates a reference not only to the end of the day, but also to the end of life. As he sits, he listens to the sound of children playing. However, he is aware that soon these kids will be called home for bedtime. “Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him” (6). Again, he is alluding to the end of their lifeful sounds, as well as too the end of their consciousness.

He continues on to reflect on the way his town used to be. “— In the old times, before he threw away his knees” (10). Here, Owen makes a compelling choice in diction by selecting the words, “threw away.” He does not describe his loss as honorable or as a sacrifice to a just cause. Instead, he assigns the phrase a negative connotation and establishes that the loss of his legs was a waste. Owen discusses the aftermath of this injury in stating, “half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race” (19). The word “lapsed” is another way of saying expired or failed. Therefore, the speaker acknowledges that in losing his legs, he also lost a large portion of his life. “Lapsed” could also be a play on the word “lap” making a comment on the race itself. The speaker could be observing that, because of his injury, the world is passing by and leaving him behind. In particular, the he reflects on the loss of female affection.

The speaker thinks back to a day when he held women’s interests. He appears to be injured most by their rejection since his injury. “To-night he noticed how the women’s eyes / Passed from him to the strong men that were whole” (42-43). The speaker expresses feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, and weakness. This image conflicts with the view of how he imaged a solider would be. He had joined picturing that he would impress girls and appear strong and fearless.

However, upon returning from war, he realized that he was not going to receive the warm welcome that he had initially imagined. “Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal” (36). This line indicates that people were more enthusiastic and concerned about the athletes than they were soldiers.

In the end, the speaker says, “How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come / And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?” (45-46). He is, in part, asking why the medical attendants are not coming to take care of him. However, he is also speaking about death. The speaker is waiting for death to arrive and to him, it is continually delayed. He is asking why death will not come and end his suffering.

What finally is one to make of this poem? Overall, the poem should be interpreted as an argument for acknowledgment of disabled veterans. Owen’s is trying to show the struggles that these veterans are put through. He calls not only for respect, but also for understanding. “Disabled” was written with the intention of bringing the tragedies of war to light, and asking the public to acknowledge the sacrifices of the veterans.

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