As a small boy Owen fell in love with poetry, in his own words ‘through nature’. It is not surprising then that amidst the gruesome realities of the First World War he should be alert to the natural world:

  • Nowhere is Owen more sensitively aware of nature than in Spring Offensive where the men rest on the hillside before going over the top to their deaths. Nature seems benign. Trees, grass and buttercups flourish. Owen observes however that the insects are wasps and midges - creatures that irritate and harm. Spring and summer bring their delights but always there is a sense of danger. The sky and the sun are not benign, they are mysterious and threatening. Unfriendly aspects of nature can burn with fury as the men run across the herbs and heather of the hillside.
  • In Futility nature is as important a theme as war. The young dead boy is described against a background of an England in which he was a natural part. The warmth of seed-time and spring contrast with the snow which has contributed to his death. Owen’s anger flashes out against the ‘fatuous sun’ which is incapable of restoring the boy to life
  • In Exposure Owen uses the weather, a phenomenon of nature, to carry the theme of war. The wind and rain lash and the snow-flakes feel the faces of the men. The frost will fasten on bodies and ice form over dead eyes
  • Hospital Barge is an unusual poem in that here Owen’s theme is one of peace and tranquillity, of romantic kings and loss set on the canal which links to the River Somme. The sense of peace here is in marked contrast to the battlefields and bloodshed of other poems, though the barge’s cargo hints it can never be escaped
  • In 1914 Owen uses the natural seasons to place the outbreak of war in the cycle of civilisation: in 1914 the war becomes the ‘Winter of the world’

Winter sunrise image available through Creative Commons


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