Futility

Futility

By Wilfred Owen

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Summary of Futility

  • Popularity of “Futility”: The poem “Futility” by Wilfred Owen, a British soldier, poet, writer, and activist, is a wonderful poetic piece. It is stated that Wilfred Owen composed it in May 1918. It was later published in The Complete Poems and Fragments. The unique quality of the poem lies in its elegiac expression about the dead soldier and life in general.
  • “Futility” As a Representative of Life and Death: Wilfred Owen opens the poem، asking somebody to move the dead body of a soldier gently. He is telling him to turn his face toward the sun so that he could see it. He, then, adds to the knowledge of the other present there that the soldier used to wake up and get up with the sun but now only the sun knows when he will get up, for he is dead now. It was just until this morning but now only the sun is aware when he will get up like the seeds that the sun makes germinate. The poet questions death whether it takes away every ability of the body that is dead now. He also questions whether the clay that is supposed to be the main ingredient of the body grows so tall or what makes the earth moves in the sunlight. In short, the death of the soldier makes him questions the sun, the earth, and life itself.
  • Major Themes in “Futility”: Death, the life of a soldier, and the dilemma of life are three major themes of this poem. The poet goes into questioning mode when he sees his friend dead. He asks his other friend to move his body to turn him to the sun that may make him get up but it does not happen. This makes him question the life of a soldier who was alive yesterday and died today. Then he also questions the birth or creation of life from the earth for which life is necessary. His argument is that the sun which is responsible for life on the earth may force his friend to get up and become living in front of his eyes.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Futility”

literary devices are literary strategies used to make writings beautiful and meaningful. The analysis of these devices in the poem as given below shows this fact.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ in “Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides”, /o/ in “O what made fatuous sunbeams toil” and the sound of /a/ in “Was it for this the clay grew tall?”
  2. Alliteration: It is a device that means to use words in quick succession having initial consonants such as /th/ sound in “this the.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /f/ and /s/ in “At home, whispering of fields half-sown”, /c/ and /s/ in “Woke once the clays of a cold star” and the sound of /m/ and /s/ in “O what made fatuous sunbeams toil.”
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. The poem shows the use of imagery such as “At home, whispering of fields half-sown”, “Woke once the clays of a cold star” and “If anything might rouse him now.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows the use of the metaphors of life, seeds, the sun, and the earn.
  3. Personification: The poem shows the use of personifications such as the fields that are whispering and the sun that knows how to awake a person. The poet has personified them as if they have life and emotions of their own.
  4. Rhetorical Question: The poem shows the use of rhetorical questions such as; ‘Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?’, ‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?’, and ‘—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil, To break earth’s sleep at all?’
  1. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. The poem shows the use of the symbols such as clay, limbs, warmth, cold, and nerves to explain life and its features.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Futility”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction and Tone: The diction of the poem is highly figurative with literary devices as given above. Its tone, however, is not as tragic as it should be. It is rather quizzical.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABCDEEE rhyme scheme in both stanzas.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. The poem has two stanzas each having seven verses.

Quotes to be Used

These lines from “Futility” are relevant to use when motiving the youths about the power of nature.

Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?