Wild with All Regrets - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery in Wild with All Regrets


In Wild with All Regrets Owen uses imagery very sparingly. When he does it is powerful and affecting.Image of London circa 1870 

  • ‘My fingers fidget like ten idle brats’ l.2. (Amputees often report ‘feeling’ limbs that are no longer present.) Here the digits are like lazy pupils beyond their teacher’s control.
  • ‘I’d love to be a sweep’s boy, black as Town’ l.37. The capitalisation of Town means it refers to London, every building of which, in Owen’s day, was begrimed with soot and pollution from coal fires. Until the mid-nineteenth century it was the job of the ‘sweep’s boy’ to clean soot from these chimneys, blackening their own skin. This was a terrible job, yet, because it would mean life, the dying man would do it. 


Using appropriate military terminology, the dying man gives human intentionality to his incapable limbs as if they are malignantly conspiring against him l.1,2. Perhaps their mutiny has taken them over to side with Death, which is personified as an army commander whose threatening presence allows no respite for those he claims l.4 (a ‘stand at ease’ was the military order giving soldiers on parade opportunity to relax).

By contrast, the ‘Spring air’ is personified as an agent of restoration l.16-7. However, it is no match for the urgent power of the soldier’s own spirit chilling and climbing through his friend as they share in grieving for the loss of the soldier’s life.


  • Blood: The presence or loss of blood denotes the presence or loss of life. The soldier has lost too much from his wound to carry on. As in many of Owen’s poems, blood also has overtones of religious sacrifice for the salvation of others
  • Dust and dirt represent both life and death. The man will become dust after death but on the faces of even the lowliest, living ‘muck-man’ it becomes ‘dear dust’ l.26 because it speaks of tangible living
  • As he recounts his life, the soldier realises that it has been dedicated to hurting and making money, ironic symbols of what have, in effect, been the driving forces of the war and thus the man’s death
  • Breath and air are symbols which recur throughout the poem, representing life itself. Ultimately the soldier can live on only in the ‘rich breathing’ of his friend. Given that the poem was dedicated to Siegfried Sassoon, whose verse had so impressed Owen at Craiglockhart, it is perhaps he to whom a dying Owen bequeaths his spirit, trusting that his poetic voice can continue.

Investigating imagery and symbolism in Wild with All Regrets

  • Owen described this poem as a photographic record of a man dying of his wounds. How does Owen use visual imagery to understand the reality of the dying man?
  • Compare Wild with All Regrets with Disabled and Mental Cases, two other poems which describe the aftermath of war. Which most gains your compassion?
    • Justify your answer by examining Owen’s technique

Themes in Wild with All Regrets

  • The overarching theme of this poem is death and the approach of death
  • The longing for life, the desire to cling onto anything however lowly to prolong life despite great pain and suffering is part of Owen’s universal theme of the pity of war
  • Spiritual uncertainty, which was a preoccupation of Owen towards the end of his life, is also a theme of this poem. The soldier prays for life but recognises the reality of death and seems to seek continuance through a human, rather than divine, agent.
  • The presence of a friend who has witnessed the soldier whole (l.7) and not forgotten him in his brokenness (lending a book to alleviate the tedium of hospital l.5) is what gives rise to the whole poem. The theme of camaraderie runs through many of Owen’s poems. When authority, the elements and even God appear to let them down, the men learn to depend on one another. In Wild with All Regrets the dying man wants to fuse his existence with that of his friend, so that they can share in grief at the senseless waste of human life and perhaps breathe more richly for having known each other. However, the speaker does recognise that his friend’s life will eventually move on, beyond the span of their current intimacy.

Investigating themes in Wild with All Regrets

  • Remind yourself of the poems Disabled and Mental Cases. In what ways are the themes of both poems similar to Wild with All Regrets?
    • How are they different to the themes of Wild with All Regrets?
    • Which of the three poems do you feel says most about war and the pity of war? Why?
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