Exposure by Wilfred Owen – study session 1 of 2

Today we will…

  • Read the poem ‘Exposure’
  • Learn about the poet and the context of the poem
  • Learn about language and structure in the poem

Download a copy of the poem, print it (if you can) and read it.

You can download the poem from the button below ▼

You will also need a pen and paper or your exercise book to write in

By the end of this study session you will…

  • Understand what the poem is about
  • Understand some structural and language features so that you can compare this poem to others in the Anthology

To get started…
YOU DO
Read the poem and after you have read it note down ✎ up to 5 things that you notice about…
❶ The language used (semantic field, emotive language, language and literary devices)
❷ The structure and form of the poem (the beginning and ending, verses, pace, punctuation, repetition, rhyme)

Exposure by Wilfred Owen

Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us…
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent…
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient…
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
But nothing happens.

Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
What are we doing here?

The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow…
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,
But nothing happens.

Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind’s nonchalance,
But nothing happens.

Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces –
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
Is it that we are dying?

Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires glozed
With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
Shutters and doors all closed: on us the doors are closed –
We turn back to our dying.

Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God’s invincible spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
For love of God seems dying.

To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp.
The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
But nothing happens.

I do … some context for this poem

►Wilfred Owen was born in 1893 and died in action on 4th November 1918 – just a week before Armistice Day (end of WW1)
►He began a career in the Church but stopped before WW1 started. There is religious imagery in the poem.
►His war poetry was considered to be quite revolutionary because it did not glorify war or perpetuate myths about war and the honourable and exciting features of warfare.
►Owen’s war poetry exposed the reality of war and the pointless and futile aspects of war
►In the poem ‘Exposure’ Owen shows us the brutal truth about the impact of the harsh weather on soldiers in the trenches in WW1. Soldiers suffered from frostbite, trench foot and some died as a result of the terrible conditions.
►The poem is an exposure of the reality of war through the description of how the soldiers are exposed to the elements. The title of the poem is significant on both levels.
►There is no literal battle in the poem but the prolonged and relentless battle between the soldiers and the weather

You do… listen to the poem

Follow the link below ▼ to BBC Bitesize to listen to the poem and read the ‘overview’ information

https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zwbxp39/revision/1

I DO…

Structure in Exposure
►There are 8 verses
►Each verse starts with a powerful sentence or statement e.g. “Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.”
This is followed by 3 lines that typically contain really emotive vocabulary e.g “agonies”
And the final line creates a sense of anti-climax e.g. “but nothing happens”
The tension builds in each verse and end in anticlimax to mirror the experiences of the soldiers, waiting in the bitter cold for action.
►There is a rhyme scheme ABBAC – the rhyme reinforces the repetitive nature of each day… waiting
The 5th line of each verse breaks the rhyme scheme so that these lines stand out and they seem to relate to each other if read interdependently from the rest of the poem
►The use is repetition in the 5th lines also reinforces the message “but nothing happens” and the repetition of “dying” in these lines suggests that these soldiers are waiting for their inevitable death and the pointlessness or war.
►The rhetorical questions – “What are we doing here?” and “Is it that we are dying?” seem to answer each other, like a dialogue.
►The poem ends as it begins – same structure, same message and same bleak tone. This cyclical structure reinforces the pointlessness of the situation.


YOU DO…

Highlight and note these features on your copy of the poem

I DO…
Language in Exposure

Personification
Owen repeatedly personifies the weather and its impact on the soldiers e.g “winds that knive us”. This creates a ‘real’ and ‘human’ enemy from the weather and elements and creates the image of the weather as the enemy in the ‘battle’ that the soldiers face day in and day out. Nature seems more deadly than real soldiers and the rain attacks in “ranks of gray”

YOU DO…
Find other examples of personification in the poem. Highlight and label these with their effect.

Sibilance and Assonance
Owen used sophisticated poetic techniques to describe and in contrast to the terrible realities of war.
In the fourth verse of the poem he uses sibilance ( repetition of the s, sh, f sounds) particularly effectively. The repetition of the s and sh sounds reminds the reader of the sounds of bullets whizzing past and the fading of that sound as the verse progresses. The sound might also evoke the sense of soldiers shivering ans shuddering form the cold.
Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind’s nonchalance,
But nothing happens.

In the third verse the repetition of the long ‘o’ sound is a good example of assonance and this long sound represents the long and tedious wait for something to happen.
The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow…
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.

This technique is repeated in verse 6 too.

YOU DO…
Find and label the example of assonance in verse 6 and label this with the effect on the reader.

Finally…

✎Answer these 2 questions in a short paragraph for each (3 -4 sentences) and give evidence from the poem to support your ideas.

  1. What does Wilfred Owen tell us about the power of nature in his poem Exposure?
  2. What does Wilfred Owen tell us about conflict (war) in his poem Exposure?

Well Done!