Insensibility

Insensibility

by Wilfred Owen


Happy are men who yet before they are killed
Can let their veins run cold.
Whom no compassion fleers
Or makes their feet
Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The front line withers.
But they are troops who fade, not flowers,
For poets’ tearful fooling:
Men, gaps for filling:
Losses, who might have fought
Longer; but no one bothers.

II
And some cease feeling
Even themselves or for themselves.
Dullness best solves
The tease and doubt of shelling,
And Chance’s strange arithmetic
Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.
They keep no check on armies’ decimation.

III
Happy are these who lose imagination:
They have enough to carry with ammunition.
Their spirit drags no pack.
Their old wounds, save with cold, cannot more ache.
Having seen all things red,
Their eyes are rid Of the hurt of the colour of blood for ever.
And terror’s first constriction over,
Their hearts remain small-drawn.
Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle
Now long since ironed,
Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.

IV
Happy the soldier home, with not a notion
How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,
And many sighs are drained.
Happy the lad whose mind was never trained:
His days are worth forgetting more than not.
He sings along the march
Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,
The long, forlorn, relentless trend
From larger day to huger night.

V
We wise, who with a thought besmirch
Blood over all our soul,
How should we see our task
But through his blunt and lashless eyes?
Alive, he is not vital overmuch;
Dying, not mortal overmuch;
Nor sad, nor proud,
Nor curious at all.
He cannot tell
Old men’s placidity from his.

VI
But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,
That they should be as stones.
Wretched are they, and mean
With paucity that never was simplicity.
By choice they made themselves immune
To pity and whatever moans in man
Before the last sea and the hapless stars;
Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;
Whatever shares
The eternal reciprocity of tears.

Summary of Insensibility

  • Popularity of “Insensibility”: Wilfred Owen, a distinguished British poet, wrote ‘Insensibility’. It is a narrative poem about the untimely death of soldiers. It was first published in 1920. The poem speaks about the bravery and courage of the soldiers. It also illustrates how they are treated as subjects in war and are killed mercilessly.
  • “Insensibility” As a Representative of Sorrow: This poem is an expression of sorrow. The speaker narrates the like soldiers participating in the war. The poem begins with a declaration that men can never be happy and contented in war. If they want to perform well on the battlefield, they need to desensitize themselves. They should let their blood run cold because sooner or later they are going to die.
    He presents a heart-wrenching picture of the soldiers walking on the dead bodies of their fellow soldiers just to show that even the strong and beautiful souls are not free from the grasp of death. However, their bodies are just statistics for the world, as no one cares about their personal loss and emotions. While talking about the aftermaths of war, the speaker claims that war snatches away spirituality. The soldiers eventually become insensible. They are haunted by the looming shadow of death after they have returned from the war. What, however, stays in the minds of the readers is the way he documents the miserable plight of the war soldiers.
  • Major Themes in “Insensibility”: Death, sufferings, and warfare are the notable themes of this poem. Throughout the poem, the speaker tries to explain the true emotions and sufferings of the people taking part in battles. Though they are aware of their possible death, they happily hide their fear and emotions. Their primary focus is to fight in the war as if the war is part of them. They do not even care about their lives. The speaker also talks about the attitude of the world toward surviving soldiers. Sadly, no one understands the damage war brings or sees their wounded soul. Soldiers spend their lives, perplexed after witnessing death and pain. It becomes difficult for them to catch the normal pace of their lives.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Insensibility”

Literary devices are tools that represent a writer’s ideas, feelings, and emotions. They also make the text appealing to the readers. Wilfred Owen has also used some literary devices in this poem to make it appealing. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been listed below.

  1. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings different from their literal meanings. Here ‘All things red’ symbolizes blood and destruction of war. The ‘Last sea’ symbolizes approaching death.
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same lines. For example, the sound of /s/ in “Before the last sea and the hapless stars” and the sound of /r/ in “His days are worth forgetting more than not” and the sound of /f/ “For poets’ tearful fooling”.
  3. Imagery: Imagery is used to make the readers perceive things with their five senses. For example, “Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers”, “But they are troops who fade, not flowers” and “Happy the soldier home, with not a notion.”
  4. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /f/ in “But they are troops who fade, not flowers,” and the sound of /s/ in “Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle” or “We wise, who with a thought besmirch”.
  5. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /e/ in “How should we see our task.”
  6. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it continues in the next verse. For example,

Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle,
Now long since ironed,
Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.”

  1. Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a sentence that is posed to make the point clear. For example, “But through his blunt and lashless eyes?”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Insensibility”

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. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are six stanzas in this poem, each varies in length.
  2. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are suitable to be used as a quote in a speech while talking about the hardships people endure during and after wars. You may also quote these lines to encourage people to spread peace instead of war.

Happy the soldier home, with not a notion
How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,
And many sighs are drained.”