The poem is written about a soldier who has been injured in the war. He is sat in a wheelchair and he is in a lonely place. He considers his past and how he used to be good looking and an artist. He lied about his age to enter the army. At the time, he thought it would be glorious to be a soldier and he had not thought about the wider implications of entering into military service. There is a sadness in the poem that they will not escape the horror of the way and of his uncertain future. It is a hopelessness that represents the generation, rather than simply the soldier identified.
Wilfred Owen witnessed the horror of World War I and he was hurt on the battlefield. The poem was written whilst he was recovering in hospital, in Edinburgh. He was diagnosed with shell shock. It was in this hospital that he met one of the other famous war poets, Siegfried Sassoon. Owen is just one of the many poets who recorded the events on the frontline in poetic form. After writing the poem, he returned to the battlefield. He died on 4th November 1918 and his parents discovered that their son had been lost on Armistice Day.
With Owen’s experience on the battlefield, he would have been extremely aware of the consequences of physical injuries. Unlike modern day society, after World War 1, there was no real care for those who had post-traumatic injuries. Owen wants to make it clear with profound description how horrific and life-changing the consequences of war could be. ‘Disabled’ is often described as one of the most disturbing poems that he wrote.
Metaphors and Similes
‘Like a Hymn’ (stanza 1) - considering where hymns are sung is important. This is the first signal of religion and there is the idea of being saved or a funeral procession. It is possible that there is a reference to the ‘Lord’s Hymn’, which is said at important times in one’s life.
Loss and sadness
‘Lost his colour…poured it down shell holes’
‘Threw away his knees’
There is a sense of grieving for a lives that have been wasted. Young men have died on the battlefield and there is a mourning for those lost. The poem has a dark theme.
Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound. If the alliteration begins with an ‘s’, then this is called sibilance. There are two types of sound: hard sounds (plosives) or soft sounds. It is extremely important to consider which sort of sound is being repeated, as this will determine the impact.
‘Girls glanced’ (stanza 2) - The soft repeated ‘g’ sound reminds us of a gentler time in his life. However, arguably the hard sound reminds us of the bitterness that is currently being experienced, as he worries that ‘girls’ will never ‘glance’ at him again. This is a recurring theme in the poem, as there is repetitive mention of women: ‘mothering’, ‘girls’ waists’, ‘women’s eyes’ and ‘Meg’. Perhaps he is concerned that he will never be attractive to women again.
Short sentence structures
‘He thought he’d better join. He wonders why.
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts.
That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg’
This section of the poem contains multiple short sentences. It is almost as though he is reliving his lie. It is shocking how simple the lies were but the wider impact that they have caused. He considers how the simple actions have resulted in him now sitting in a wheelchair.
Two part structure
The poem is clearly divided into two parts: before the war and after the war. There is much mention of sport and ‘goal(s)’. This further emphasises the shattered dreams of the soldier being described, as the title is clear in stating that the soldier is ‘disabled.’
‘And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.’
Looking carefully at the contrast between the applause and celebration that he was sent to war with and the sadness of the crowd on his return home, we can understand how the morale of the british people was affected by the war. Loss of men occured in every family and although his return was celebrated, Owen emphasises that it was not with the same positive energy that he left home with.
The repetition in the poem is somewhat irregular in the first half of the poem. It is as though the soldier has lost their rhythm in life and there is no regular order to life anymore. However, as the poem progresses, the rhyme becomes more noticeable and regular. Perhaps this is to recognise that this is the norm now of the soldier and he must accept this way of life.
The poem ends with an exclamation, followed by rhetorical questions, which contain repetition:
‘How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?’
There is a sense of desperation in the voice of the narrator. The situation appears to be a metaphor for the aftercare that society will provide to the soldier. The fact that the nurses are not attending to the soldier is reflective of how nobody will further care and look after the injured. He will be forgotten about.
Within the exam, you will be asked to compare one text to another of your choice. Here are 3 example essays that you could practice. You must consider the use of language and structure in your answer:
Compare the sense of loss in ‘Disabled’ to another text of your choice.
Compare the sense of helplessness in ‘Disabled’ to another text of your choice.
How is youth presented in ‘Disabled’? Compare it to a text of your choice.