Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
* The soldiers in this poem are crippled, mentally and physically overcome by the weight of their experiences in war
* Did you notice how unwilling our speaks seems to introduce himself (and his fellow soldiers)? We’re almost all the way through the second line before we (the readers) hear who “we” (the subjects of the poem) actually are.
* In fact, we get simile upon simile before we are acquainted with the subjects of this poem.
* We hear that they’re “like old beggars” and “like ...view middle of the document...
* By ending a sentence in the middle of line five, Owen creates a caesura (a pause in the line), a formal effect that underscores the terseness of the poem’s language at this point.
Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod
* We mentioned that these guys seem a bit otherworldly before, but we’ll say it again.
* Notice how lines 5-6 collect lots of “l” sounds? Words like “lost” and “limped” and “blood” all roll on our tongues, making the experience of reading the lines seem even longer.
* It’s all part of Owen’s technical dexterity: he’s trying to get us to feel how interminable the soldiers’ march seems right now
* Also notice that the blood has been shed seems to clothe them now, (or at least their feet). This creates a vivid image suggesting that the war - figuratively and literally - is enveloping their very beings
All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-nines that dropped behind
* Once again, the choppiness of line 6-7 mimics the terseness of tired men
* The rhythm of the lines even sounds a bit like the tramp of men marching in rhythm
* Plus the repetition of the “l”s continues
* Notice how we’ve moved beyond the elaborate similes at the beginning of this stanza
* Our speakers’ not worried about comparing his comrades to things that the folks at home can understand
* Worn out by the march, he’s content to speak in sweeping observations
* All the men are rendered disabled by the traumas that they’ve experienced
* Maybe this isn't exactly an accurate historical account of a soldier’s life in the war
* After all, all of the men cant be lame and blind, can they? Or… can they?
* Perhaps the “drunk” and “deaf” soldiers might be temporarily overwhelmed by the never-ending strains of battle
* Even the shells seem “tired” & “outstripped”
* The whole war, in other words, seems worn out.
Lines 9 &10
Gas! Gas! Quick boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
* The repetition of a frantic cry “Gas! Gas! Quick boys! - “ draws us straight into a frenzy of action
* We’re int he midst of an “ecstasy” of fumbling for helmets and gas masks
* We’re guessing that Owen’s trying to draw upon an apocalyptic language: at the nod the world, just about anything that you're doing will probably seem ecstatic.
* The “ecstasy of fumbling” which goes on here, however, is anything but rapturous.