AD's English Literature : Analysis of Wilfred Owen's “The Send-off” as Anti-war Poem

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Analysis of Wilfred Owen's “The Send-off” as Anti-war Poem



"Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."
Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)


Wilfred Owen is a soldier-poet without any romantic enthusiasm for war. While Rupert Brooke glorifies war, Owen sings of the pathos and tragedy of war alike Siegfried Sassoon, a poet and novelist whose grim antiwar works were in harmony with Owen's concerns. Like his other war poems, The Send-off ” reveals the massacre of precious human lives that war involves. The poem “The Send-off” begins with a description of the coming of a band of soldiers to a railway station in the darkness of the evening. They were being sent to the battlefield. They came marching down narrow village paths. They were singing all the way, not in joy, but to keep their thoughts away from the impending death they were going to embrace in the battle-field. The train that was to carry the soldiers was waiting at the siding-shed. So the soldiers came to the siding-shed and stood in a row along the train to board it. Their faces looked grave, but cheerful. They were outwardly merry. This state of mind of theirs is nicely described in the opening lines:


 “Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.”


The breasts of the soldiers were covered with white flowers and garlands that were given by their sweet-hearts or near and dear ones at their village. The white flowers ironically suggest that the soldiers were going to die in the battle-field; and so the white flowers were offered to them as if in anticipation of death. As dead men’s breasts are covered with white flowers, so also the breasts of the soldiers were stuck all white with wreath and spray.

Some porters watched them indifferently the sight of the soldiers at the siding-shed roused no curiosity in them. A vagabond was standing nearby, looking intently at the soldiers. He felt sorry because he would no longer see them in the upland camp. Then came the time for the train to start. The signals were given and a green lamp was shown to the guard, giving all clear sign. The train started:

Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.”

Thus the soldiers were sent to the battle-field in the darkness of the evening. There was none to give them a hearty send-off. They departed rather secretly. None knew where they were sent. Even the soldiers themselves were unaware of their destination. The whole thing was kept secret for the purpose of security (!) The soldiers were sent as secretly as sinful acts are hushed up:

“So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent.”

The secret dispatch of the soldiers is compared to the suppression or concealment of evil deeds. The soldiers did not belong to the regiment or unit to which the poet belonged. So he says: “They were not ours.” Some women presented them with garlands of white flowers as tokens of love and good wishes. But these tender sentiments had no significance to the soldiers who were going to die. To them it was a mere routine-work to receive flowers from women before going to fight. So the poet wonders if the soldiers mocked at the love of the women who gave them flowers.

The train carried a number of soldiers. But when the war is over, very few will come back. Most of the soldiers will be killed in the battle-field and very few will survive. So the train will not be crowded with soldiers, who will be mad with joy for their home coming. There will be no ringing of bells, nor there beatings of drums or shouts of joy to welcome the few survivors. The poet repeats the word “few” in order to emphasize the fact that the number of soldiers who will come back home will be very few. They will come back slowly and silently. Their minds are now filled with horrors of war. They are crippled, both in body and mind. They have almost forgotten the roads in their native village. They move along. “half-known roads” and creep back to their village homes:

A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.”
Owen’s The Send-off ”, traditional in form, is a passionate   expression      of   outrage   at the horrors  of war and of pity for the young soldiers sacrificed in it. It is suffused with the horror of battle, and yet finely structured and innovative. Owen’s use of half-rhyme which  pairing words which do not quite rhyme, gives his poetry a dissonant, disturbing quality that amplifies his themes. 

Ardhendu De

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