The First World War had produced many war poets from a wide range of backgrounds, a wide range of perspectives. War, through their very own experiences, was their common subject though their voices continue to speak out entirely individually through their war poetry. The most well-known of these include Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, two war poets with differing styles, united in their negative attitudes towards the war and their aims to portray its true horror.
In the broad selection of poetry by Owen and Sassoon, there are certain poems which explore a similar theme in different ways; Owen’s “Disabled” and Sassoon’s “Does It Matter? ” both try to portray the disabilities suffered by soldiers because of the war. In these two poems, each of the poet’s distinctive style is evident, and while Owen offers a precise picture of tragedy which appeals to the reader’s sympathy, Sassoon takes on a sarcastic approach, choosing instead to slice into the reader’s conscience with cutting questions.
The poem “Disabled” has a reflective and sad tone, and Owen tells the tragedy of a young man losing his limbs in the war to represent the many war veterans suffering a similar situation. Written in third person point of view, it has six stanzas with lengths varying from three to sixteen lines in a verse, with no real rhythm or overall rhyming pattern. The poem’s lack of structure is clearly a direct representation of the disabled man’s life, broken, uncertain, just a cluster of memories and regret.
In “Disabled” the reader is immediately presented with the image of the helpless invalid, “He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for the dark, and shivered in his ghastly suit of grey”. The man seems to be waiting for the night, or perhaps death itself, to come and end his suffering and his “ghastly suit of grey” is a symbol of his appearance, his life, dull and depressing, devoid of any colour. There seems to be a sense of hopelessness, the poem is straight to the point and tells the reader exactly how he is, “Legless, sewn short at elbow”, as if there is no point in hiding reality.
To the unfortunate man, the boys’ “voices of play and pleasure” “rang saddening like a hymn”; this paradox of play and pleasure being saddening, emphasized by the alliteration and simile, shows how the man’s life is turned upside down, and the happiness of others only brings sad memories. There seems to be a melancholy mood in the second and third stanzas as the man relives memories of a lively town, “when glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees, and girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim”.
The poet states that this was “In the old times, before he threw away his knees”, making it seem as if the man is very old now, while also highlighting the fact that the war was a waste of his knees. It is then revealed that it has only been a year since his transformation from a young man to an old one, “For it was younger than his youth, last year. Now he is old”. The war has clearly stripped him of his youth, made him pass by “half his lifetime”. He had poured his colour, his vitality, “down shell-holes till the veins ran dry”.
Because of the war, he will never be able to have a relationship with a girl, for “all of them touch him like some queer disease. ” The fourth stanza is the longest stanza in the poem, and unlike the others, it has a rhyming pattern of ABABCACADCDCEDED. This stanza is the memory of the man’s past life before the war, a life with structure and big hopes, hence the length and pattern. Ironically the man used to be proud of his injuries, and “liked a bloodsmear down his leg”.
He was just like any other young man of that time, ignorant of the true horror of the war, and signed up to please his “giddy” girlfriend, while dreaming of “jeweled hilts”, “daggers”, and “smart salutes”. In this verse Owen uses him to represent the many other young soldiers who were influenced by the propaganda that glorified war, and blames the officials for drafting the soldiers despite knowing they are underage, “Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years”.
In contrast, the fifth stanza is the shortest stanza, symbolizing the little return he received despite sacrificing his legs for the war. The celebration for his return could not even compare to when he got a goal in football, and “only a solemn man who brought him fruits thanked him”. The emphasis on “thanked” might even suggest that the man was insincere. The last stanza returns to his current situation, where he is completely dependant on the others, only taking “whatever pity they may dole”. His life is now completely meaningless, and women wouldn’t even spare him a glance.
He only asks for someone to end his misery, and the poem ends with a hopelessly echoing cry, “Why don’t they come and put him to bed? Why don’t they come? ” On the other hand, Sassoon’s “Does it Matter? ” appears to be the complete opposite. In contrast to “Disabled”, “Does it Matter? ” is highly sarcastic, and it invites the reader to consider what is would be like to lose one’s legs, eyesight, or mind. For such a complex subject matter, the poem is very brief, spanning only three short stanzas with five lines each.
It has an ABBCA rhyming pattern and a distinctive rhythm, like a nursery rhyme. This adds to the patronizing tone of the poem, almost as if the speaker is speaking to a child. Clearly Sassoon is mocking the ignorance and naivety of war supporters, having once stated himself that he particularly wanted to upset “blood-thirsty civilians and those who falsely glorify war”. “Does it Matter? – losing your legs? ” the poem starts with this sarcastic rhetorical question directly addressed to the reader, inviting us to consider.