Robert Graves And Wilfred Owen

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Robert Graves And Wilfred Owen

Although the poems "Recalling War" by Robert Graves and "Mental

Cases" by Wilfred Owen are both concerned with the damage that war does to
the soldiers involved, they are different in almost every other respect. Owen's
poem examines the physical and mental effects of war in a very personal and
direct way - his voice is very much in evidence in this poem - he has clearly
seen people like the 'mental cases' who are described. It is also evident that

Owen's own experiences of the war are described: he challenges the reader with
terrifying images, in order that the reader can begin to comprehend the causes
of the madness. Graves on the other hand is far more detached. His argument is
distant, using ancient images to explore the immediate and long-term effects of
war on the soldier. The poem is a meditation on the title, Graves examining the
developing experiences and memories of war with a progression of images and
metaphors. "Mental Cases" is a forceful poem, containing three
substantial stanzas which focus on different aspects of Owen's subject. The
first stanza is a detailed description of what the 'mental cases' look like.

Their outward appearance is gruesome, "Baring teeth that leer like
skulls'", preparing the reader for the even more horrifying second stanza.

The second verse concentrates on the men's past experiences, the deaths they
have witnessed and the unimaginable nightmares they have lived through:
"Multitudinous murders they once witnessed." The last stanza concludes
the poem, explaining how the men's lives are haunted by their experiences, they
go mad because the past filters into every aspect of their present lives, the
men retreat away from the memories and into madness. The form of Owen's poem is,
therefore, built around three main points: the appearance of the men, their
experiences, and the effect this has on their lives. In Graves' poem the form is
also key to understanding the poem, but perhaps in a less obvious way.
"Recalling War" has five stanzas, in a form that corresponds to the
psychological emotions and physical experience war provokes. The first stanza
describes how Graves expects the war to be remembered twenty years after the
event: the wounds have healed and the blind and handicapped men forget the
injuries the war caused, as their memories are blurred by the distance of time;
"The one-legged man forgets his leg of wood". In the second stanza

Graves moves on to question the nature of war. This verse is a description of
the atmosphere and setting of war. "Even when the season was the airiest

May/ Down pressed the sky, and we, oppressed, thrust out". The third stanza
focuses on the battle itself, and the fourth explores the aftermath of battle
and the unbearable nature of the war. The fifth and final stanza returns to the
ideas expressed in the first stanza, of war being an unreal memory. The form of
this poem is crucial to its understanding. The progressions marked by the
stanzas highlights the argument Graves is making. "Mental Cases" and
"Recalling War" are both poems that rely on the atmosphere and tone
they create, indeed this is a key source of their power. Owen creates a
terrifying atmosphere throughout the poem, which is clearly a reflection of his
subject matter. Not only does Owen describe in awful detail the shocking
appearance of the men, he also includes horrific images of war. The tone is very
powerful, with Owen asking questions in the first stanza, "but who are
these hellish?", a device which cleverly establishes direct contact with
the reader and an engaging discourse. This connection with the reader is
exploited in the second verse, in which the reader experiences the full force of

Owen's imagery. The final stanza opens with a tone that is factual: "-Thus
their hands are plucking at each other", summarizing the fact that these
men behave the way they do because of the events they have and are experiencing.

Owen ends the poem by insisting on the complicity of both himself and the reader
in the fate of these men, an accusation which, after the powerful prelude, is
hard to deny. Whereas Owen's poem is powerful as a result of its consistently
horrific atmosphere and tone, Graves' poem changes tone from stanza to stanza,
emulating the different stages of feeling a soldier experiences. The poem opens
with a tone that is factual yet distant, as though an old tale were being told
"As when the morning traveller turns and views/His wild night-stumbling
carved into

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