How do the poets Wilfred Owen and Tony Harrison use language

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‘How do the poets Wilfred Owen and Tony Harrison use language and structure to explore the horror and pity of war in “Disabled” and “The Bright Lights of Sarajevo”’

Wilfred Owen was a brave soldier in the First World War and his experiences influenced him to write war poems such as “Disabled”. “Disabled” was set in the late 1910’s however, Tony Harrison set his poem ‘The Bright Lights of Sarajevo’ during the Bosnian War of the mid 1990’s. Although both poems are based on the subject of war, Owen expresses the horror and pity of it through the tormented thoughts and recollections of a teenage soldier whereas Harrison uses one night in the city to present a graphic recount on the horrors of war.In “Disabled”, Owen introduces the impacts of war by describing a “man sat in a wheelchair, waiting for the dark”. The description and the adjective “dark” emphasise the mans isolation and make the audience immediately sympathise with him. In the shortest and most bitter stanza, Owen compares the reaction of a football game to the end of the war. He states that “some cheered him home, but not like crowds cheer goal”. The use of irony evokes feelings of pity from the audience as a football game is nothing compared to fighting for your country; the war has diminished the respect and attention the man used to get.

The audience also feel sorry for him when it is mentioned that after the war, girls touched him “like a queer disease”. The use of this simile objectifies and dehumanises the man and the connotations in “disease” possibly represent society’s inner thoughts that he is better off dead. It is also inferred that he sacrificed his entire youth to fight for his country. This is further enhanced by the constant use of caesura throughout the poem. Owen states that “they wrote [the man’s] lie; aged nineteen years.” The use of the caesura found in the semi-colon and full stop, along with the juxtaposition of the man’s age at the time, emphasise his short, abrupt life.

Altogether, Owen’s use of metaphors and imagery evoke feelings of pity from the audience and in addition to that, highlight the horrors of war.PIty is also a major theme in Harrison’s “The Bright Lights of Sarajevo”. Harrison uses powerful language in the first stanza to put into perspective how the people in Sarajevo found it a struggle to obtain daily necessities such as bread and fuel. Harrison goes into depth about how retrieving “precious meagre grams of bread” was almost like a death sentence as people were “often dodging snipers on the way”. In relation to that, the phrase “precious meagre grams” suggests that something as common and accessible as bread, was treated like gold during the war. The use of the strong verbs “queueing” “dodging” and “struggling” add emphasis to the plights and hardships that the people had to go through.This makes the audience feel sorry for the people in Sarajevo as they can’t even buy bread without possibly getting killed. However, interspersed through the tragedy in Sarajevo, there is an undercurrent of hope, unlike Owen’s “Disabled”.

The use of rhyming couplets in “The Bright Lights of Sarajevo” such as “boys” and “ploys” create a musical tone, which mimics the structure of a nursery rhyme, adding to the peaceful atmosphere. Harrison states that after the war “even the smallest clouds have cleared away”. The use of pathetic fallacy suggests that the people in Sarajevo have discharged society’s expectations of what life would have been like post-war and have, instead, moved on. Whereas in “Disabled”, the monochromatic setting and the lack of light imagery when the man is “waiting for the dark” indicates that he has lost the will to live and therefore has no hope. The fact that there is no hope in Owen’s “Disabled” creates an effect of pity as the audience condole with the man.

The theme of pity in both poems accentuate the theme of horror in them. Owen manages to successfully present the horrors of war by including graphic descriptions of it. In the third stanza, he writes that a “leap of purple spurted from [the man’s] thigh” which gives the audience a vivid image of how horrific war injuries were, which is ironic in this case as the man used to like “a blood-smear down his leg”. The colour purple has connotations of royalty which could possibly be mocking the romanticism of war and the notion of ‘doing it for your country’.