12th March 2018

2.4 Essay Task

In his poems, Wilfred Owen uses many different language techniques such as personification, sibilance and alliteration to convey the fear and confused emotions created by modernized warfare and its effect on soldiers. In a time of great arrogance towards the suffering of millions of men dying on battlefields across Europe, Wilfred Owen created poetry that reflected the true nature of war and shared it with the masses. In this essay I will be studying and comparing the language techniques used by Owen in two of his most famous poems;  “Anthem for Doomed youth” and “Exposure” in order to further understand his efforts to convey the horrors of war through poetry.

In almost all of his poems Wilfred Owen uses Personification to convey the intent of an object or its emotions to a reader in order to conjure a certain feeling or perspective. In his poem “Exposure” Owen uses personification often to describe the awful weather conditions him and his fellow soldiers dealt with, an example of this is the line; “Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces”. The author describes the snow fall as fingering and stealthy which could also be a fit description for a burglar or robber, a person who is quick and quiet and who you never see coming. The cold in this poem is similar to this as there is not much you can do to prevent a robbery just as there is nothing you can do to save yourself from the freezing winter in war torn Europe. Conditions that will eventually take your life like a burglar steals your belongings; With cold and stealthy ease. This sentence also uses alliteration to help personify the weather and convey the malicious intentions of the snow fall to the reader with the words such as “fingering and faces” which could indicate that the cold is out to get them like a monster at the foot of a child’s bed, and that trying to keep warm is like hiding under the covers from its cold grasp. This sentence shows the soldiers child-like innocence which is a key idea featured in many of Wilfred Owens other war poems such as Anthem for Doomed youth, which also uses alliteration.

Personification is also seen in Wilfred Owens poem; Anthem for Doomed youth and is utilized to show the evil and anger of the modern weapons used against young, brainwashed soldiers sent to die. This use of personification is seen in the first paragraph in the line; “The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells” where the poet describes the shells fired by artillery as “shrill” which gives the reader an idea that the bombardment of the shells is incessant, continuous and endless and is simply a minor annoyance to the mentally destroyed soldiers who have seen and heard things so much worse. This idea is reinforced by the poets use of the words “choir” giving the reader the idea that there is numerous shells exploding at once and are whistling and singing like members of a choir as they fall to the ground. The word “demented”, indicates that the shells are insane and behave somewhat like a person with dementia; repeating words or phrases over and over again but in the shells case, forever falling and exploding on young soldiers.

Similar to the poem “Exposure” Anthem for Doomed youth also features a large amount of alliteration that is used by Owen to reflect wars endless violence and suffering. In the third line of the poem, the sentence; “Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” is used to enhance this subject with words like “rapid” and “rattle” evoking a feeling of uncertainty and gives the reader an idea that they are quivering, nervous and scared, similar to the young men in the trenches behind them. As this sentence continues it becomes evident that it is the soldiers overwhelming fear is dashing their hasty orisons (or prayers) as they have become so separated from their god due to him inflicting upon them the crushing horrors of war. This idea of overwhelming fear is reinforced by the poets use of the word “stuttering” which is used to personify the the bristling rows of rifles and the word is often associated with nervous or under confident people, a huge understatement compared to the mental conditions of the shell shocked soldiers. Another example of alliteration is used again in the poem “Exposure” which continuously uses this technique to describe the weather, the cold and the men’s suffering to the reader in even more horrific detail. This is seen later on in the poem in the line; “sudden, successive flights of bullets streak the silence” where the poet uses alliteration and sibilance to give the sentence a hissing snake like feel. In many stories, snakes are associated with evil or malice which is reflected in the deadly bullets whizzing through the air above the soldiers. However as the poem continues the poet writes that the bullets are “less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow” which seems strange as bullets used in war are especially designed to kill human beings but compared to the harsh winter cold they are harmless. This indicates that the weather was considered much more evil than the enemy soldiers and their guns and that Owens fellow soldiers were more afraid of having their lives taken slowly by the cold than dying quickly by a bullet.

In conclusion Wilfred Owen uses personification and alliteration to convey the horrors of war and the suffering him and his fellow soldiers went through desperately trying to stay alive, Owen often used these two language techniques in the same sentence to improve his descriptive power.


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