Disabled - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of Disabled

Owen describes an ex-soldier who has lost all his limbs in the war, contrasting the life he once led to his current existence. Having been wheeled out to a public park for some fresh air and different scenery, the disabled man waits, unable to move, as dusk falls. The observer comments on how the man will never experience a normal life. Once he was fit, athletic and so handsome that an artist wished to paint him. He had joined a Scottish regiment after he’d had a drink, aiming to impress the girls (someone had said how good he’d look in a kilt). Lying about his age, the young man had joined up, not motivated by enmity towards his country’s foes (Germany and Austria) but by the glories of war.

WWI wounded soldiers on railway platformHis departure to the front was loudly cheered but there were fewer to cheer his wounded return. Just one well-meaning man visited him, thanked him for his sacrifice and asked about the state of his faith. The disabled man will spend his last few years in institutions with no autonomy of his own. No longer attractive to women, he waits for the end of the day and, by implication, waits for death.

Investigating Disabled

  • This poem is about one particular soldier, his past, his war experience and his future. How does Owen make this a universal anti-war poem?

Commentary on Disabled

Owen wrote Disabled at Craiglockhart in 1917 where he would have observed men like the one in the poem. Robert Graves was visiting Siegfried Sassoon at the time and both were impressed by the verse. Owen revised Disabled in Ripon during his training in 1918. 

The description of the man’s injuries is gruesome but reflects Owen’s first-hand experience of such sights. The limbless ‘suit’ the ex-soldier now wears is a mocking contrast to the uniform of a Scottish regiment he’d anticipated, which typically included a swinging tartan kilt and bejewelled ceremonial dagger (known as a sgian-dubh) - particularly unrealistic attire for fighting in muddy trenches.

Investigating commentary on Disabled

  • The boy who becomes the limbless man joined up to ‘please the giddy jilts’ l.27. How does this add to the pathos of the poem?
  • Compare the references to women and girls in Disabled with Owen’s references to the women in The Send Off and The Dead Beat.
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