Other recent critical approaches

Modernist criticism

Modernist approaches to poetry tend to avoid racial and political commentary on the poems. They focus instead on such aspects of form as: 

  • Style
  • Characterisation.

Owen is sometimes seen as the first modernist poet. Although he echoes the Romantic poets, he brings to his poetry a completely new and different style of writing:

  • Owen’s style is seen as modernist particularly in his use of pararhyme
  • Owen’s interest in representing the war and the pity of war was through characters and incidents rather than through polemic.

Psycho-analytical criticism

This approach is derived from the ideas of Sigmund Freud and uses some of the techniques of psychoanalysis to interpret literature. Critics might consider the way in which the unconscious aspects of a character's mind are represented or the degree to which a character has repressed experience. Like Freud and Carl Jung, they may also investigate the significance of dreams, fairy tales and myths as ways of accessing the unconscious. Owen’s famous poem Strange Meeting is in some ways psychological in itself. In the poem Owen descends as in a dream into a world where his own views are spoken to him in the words of the enemy he killed the day before. Owen unpacks his own psyche. He is not repressing anything in terms of his war experience and guilt.

On the other hand, because of the social mores and legal situation of his day, Owen may be repressing his own sexuality. Many of his war poems celebrate men and the love of men for each other. He did write several homoerotic verses.

Post-colonial approaches

Post-colonial criticism of poetry challenges the sense of European cultural supremacy which one finds in many poems. One important strand within post-colonial approaches concerns the critics’ challenge to classic Western and European literary texts. They object to the way in which such texts claim a universal significance on the grounds that they are ‘great' works of art and have value in all cultures and for all times. Post-colonial critics analyse such texts and identify where white, Western values are being promoted at the expense of other cultures and the way in which these other cultures are marginalised. 

Owen’s poetry is Eurocentric. His experiences of the Western front are geographically limited to a few miles of Northern France. The only possible reference to other fronts, in what was a world-wide war, is in The Send-Off where Owen actually says that he did not know where the men he witnessed were sent. There is no mention in any of his poems of the troops from other parts of the British Empire.


This type of critical analysis looks at the way in which the writer structures the narrative. The questions which this approach addresses include:

  • How are events constructed?
  • Through whose point of view are they seen?
  • How is the narrative of the poetry pieced together?
  • Who or what is narrating?
  • To what extent is the narrative mediated?

How are events constructed in Owen’s poetry?

It is most helpful to look at the ‘event heavy’ poems rather than Owen’s more reflective philosophical ones. For example, in Exposure, although little happens the event is built up through descriptions of the weather and the dreams of the men. The end is constructed through what they say about what will happen when night falls and the frost comes.

Through whose point of view are they seen?

Many of Owen’s poems are seen through his own eyes. He is the officer in The Dead Beat, The Sentry and in S.I.W.. The Letter is seen from the point of view of the man writing home.

How is the narrative of the poetry pieced together?

In Anthem for Doomed Youth Owen tells the story through the conventional sonnet form. The Last Laugh is told in three similar shaped stanzas from different viewpoints. Dulce et Decorum Est starts with a description of soldiers in the past and moves to the present horror of a gas attack before he challenges the ‘friend.’ 

Who or what is narrating? 

In most of his poems it is Owen who is narrating. In The Letter it could be argued that the letter itself carries the narrative.

To what extent is the narrative mediated?

This considers the narrator not necessarily as a person, but more as a window through which one sees a constructed reality. This can range from someone telling a story to a seemingly objective camera.

In Spring Offensive there is no overt narrator. The scene is described and the attack recounted, albeit subjectively. However, regarding the post- attack question, it is hard to disassociate Owen from the emotion evoked.

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