Wilfred Owen, selected poems Contents
- Wilfred Owen: Social and political background
- Wilfred Owen: Religious / philosophical context
- Wilfred Owen: Literary context
- Wilfred Owen: 1914
- Wilfred Owen: Anthem for Doomed Youth
- Wilfred Owen: At a Calvary near the Ancre
- Wilfred Owen: Disabled
- Wilfred Owen : Dulce et Decorum Est
- Wilfred Owen: Exposure
- Wilfred Owen: Futility
- Wilfred Owen: Greater Love
- Wilfred Owen: Hospital Barge
- Wilfred Owen: Insensibility
- Wilfred Owen: Inspection
- Wilfred Owen: Le Christianisme
- Wilfred Owen: Mental Cases
- Wilfred Owen: Miners
- Wilfred Owen: S.I.W
- Wilfred Owen: Soldier’s Dream
- Wilfred Owen: Sonnet On Seeing a Piece of Our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action
- Wilfred Owen: Spring Offensive
- Wilfred Owen: Strange Meeting
- Wilfred Owen: The Dead-Beat
- Wilfred Owen: The Last Laugh
- Wilfred Owen: The Letter
- Wilfred Owen: The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
- Wilfred Owen: The Send-Off
- Wilfred Owen: The Sentry
- Wilfred Owen: Wild with All Regrets
Mental Cases - Synopsis and commentary
Synopsis of Mental Cases
Owen writes as if he is a visitor to the hospital ward where the men, the ‘mental cases’ as he calls them, sit all day. He asks who they are and why they only sit and rock. Either he or the person he is with (‘we’ and ‘us’ are mentioned in the first and last verses) answers the questions. The men in the ward are those who have seen and experienced the horrors of war. They relive their experiences endlessly, with no respite.
Investigating Mental Cases
- The horror Owen describes in Mental Cases, the ‘wading sloughs of flesh’ line 13 echoes the corpses and waist-high slush he describes in The Sentry. Both poems dwell on the eyes of the tormented. Note down the references to eyes in both poems
- Re-read Dulce et Decorum Est. Notice Owen’s reference to the eyes of the victim of the gas attack
- Why are the references to eyes so powerful and effective in Mental Cases, The Sentry and Dulce et Decorum Est?
Commentary on Mental Cases
Owen sets out to shock us in Mental Cases. Over the three verses Owen takes us on a journey. Firstly he asks who these men are and describes their behaviour in grim detail. He or another voice answers the question by describing what they have experienced on the front. Finally Owen links the horror of the past to the mental torture of the present.
In Mental Cases Owen makes reference to two major works of literature:
The Book of Revelation
In Mental Cases Owen turns this biblical picture on its head:
- There are two voices in the extract as there are in the poem
- The questioner asks who are the blessed, arrayed in white. In Mental Cases the protagonist asks a similar question about those who have ‘came out of great tribulation’ v.14
- They too have experienced much blood - but it has not saved them as it has saved the saints in heaven
- Like the saints, the mental cases are committed day and night; not to God but to reliving their traumas
- They have not been led into living fountains of water - a metaphor for life and salvation
- All tears have not been wiped away from their eyes. Rather their eyeballs ‘shrink tormented back into their brains’ l.19-20, where they see the repeated vision of hell
- Unlike the saints in heaven, the mental cases are not protected from sunlight. Instead night and day are both alike - harbingers of blood and destruction from which there is no release.
Owen uses this phrase in line 26 of Mental Cases: the men pick at ‘the rope-knouts of their scourging’, linking them with Dante’s damned. Dante observes the damned with repugnance and pity much as Owen views the men in Mental Cases.
Owen wrote to his mother from Ripon on 25th May 1918:
Owen was using the word ‘terrific’ as in the sense of terrible or horrific, not in the sense we might use it today to mean very good. Two months later at Scarborough, Owen revised the poem and gave it its new title. Owen had been a ‘Mental Case’ at Craiglockhart. As with the poems where he made himself revisit horrific dreams, in writing this poem Owen would have called on his own experiences of mental breakdown.
Siegfried Sassoon, who was also a patient with Owen, wrote this about Craiglockhart:
Investigating commentary on Mental Cases
- Owen is using this grim poem to show the horrendous aftermath of war, which he regards as hellish. In the early part of the twentieth century, mental breakdown gained less sympathy than physical injury. What differences do you notice in Owen’s presentation of the men in the poem Mental Cases with his description of the man in Disabled?
- Compare the way in which Owen creates his image of hell in Mental Cases with the image of hell he gives us in Strange Meeting
This is an example of apocalyptic literature, full of colourful imagery and symbolism. It contains seven letters to churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) who are commended for their zeal or criticised for lack of it. The overall message is that kingdom of God will triumph in the battle against evil and the book ends with a beautiful description of the Heavenly Jerusalem as the symbol of God's presence among humankind in a new heaven and earth.
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