Feelings are a major theme in Owen’s poetry, both his own emotions and those of other people.


Love of their country was a significant motivation for men to fight in the First World War. Owen was prepared to die for the language of Keats, before he saw the conditions in which that death would have to occur. 

The theme of love appears in different forms in different poems:

  • Owen’s poem about conventional love compared to the Greater Love men had for their brothers in arms in a time of war is one of the most important poems he writes about love
  • The theme of greater love is key to At a Calvary near the Ancre. Owen compares the love of the dying Christ for humanity to the men who also love the ‘greater love’ and ‘do not hate’
  • The moving simplicity of the trust and love that the fighting man has for his comrade creates a major theme in Spring Offensive. The poem opens with the men sleeping at ease on friends’ chests or knees and ends with the horror felt by the few who survive who are now incapable of speaking of the friends who died
  • The grim situation which Owen describes in Exposure serves to highlight the theme of love. The sacrificial love which allows men to die for each other seems to be the soldiers’ natural destiny. The unrelenting cruelty of the Western front suggests to the men that ‘love of God seems dying’
  • The love between comrades becomes the love between enemies in Strange Meeting: ‘I am the enemy you killed my friend’.


It might be expected that hatred would be a major theme in Owen’s war-poetry; however, the anti-war theme of his poems results in hatred being much less dominant than love. That said, hatred does appear and when it does it shocks in a way we do not expect:

  • Owen leaves the antipathy felt by the doctor for the soldier in The Dead Beat to fester on our imaginations: ‘that scum you sent last night soon died. Hooray!’ This from a member of a ‘caring profession’ for someone who is so ‘dead beat’ with the pounding he has received in the war that he can do nothing
  • In S.I.W. those men who shoot themselves to escape the horrors of war are seen as ‘vile’. Those at home, such as the father of the young boy Tim who kills himself, say ‘death sooner than dishonour’ and hate the ‘Hun’
  • During their Strange Meeting, Owen’s enemy/friend sums up the more significant hatred for ‘the cess of war’ as opposed to any conventional hatred for ‘the enemy’.


Fear, hatred and anger are akin. In his poetry it is Owen’s anger which we encounter most frequently, although there are some interesting exceptions:

  • In Anthem for Doomed Youth ‘the monstrous anger of the guns’ personifies the anger of war
  • Insensibility is a poem which ironically presents those who are insensible to the pain of others as the happy ones. Owen’s own anger spills out in the final stanza: ‘Cursed are dullards who no cannon stuns’
  • Dulce et Decorum Est is perhaps Owen’s angriest poem. The way he feels at how the war reduces men to ‘march asleep’ builds up, through his anger at the grotesque death-throes of the gassed man, to the venomous spitting out of bitterness at the ‘you’ responsible for telling children ‘the Old Lie’. 


Experiencing something bad which one can do nothing to alleviate creates frustration. This is clearly seen in those with injured bodies as well as those who cannot help them:

  • In Wild with All Regrets the speaker voices the private and personal anger of the man dying of wounds in hospital, castigating his arms as ‘brutes’ for their failure to respond
  • In Disabled, the soldier transfers his frustration with himself onto others: ‘Why don’t they come?’


Image of Remembrance cross and poppy available through Creative Commons‘The poetry is in the pity’, wrote Owen. The deep emotion of grief permeates almost all Owen’s poems. In some it is more overt than in others:

  • The deep grief of those who survive the Spring Offensive results in their life-long silence about the war
  • This contrasts with the sobs of The Sentry for his loss of sight
  • ‘Love’, says Owen, ‘may weep, for you may not touch them’ in Greater Love 
  • The dead enemy in Strange Meeting speaks of ‘my weeping’
  • The long lament of the Hospital Barge is in stark contrast to the cries of the dying in The Last Laugh.
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