We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.


Symbol Analysis

Even before the shells drop and the world turns into a living nightmare, Owen concentrates on the ways that bodies get warped by the war. Emphasizing the ways in which men break under the stresses of war, our speaker creates a battle zone peopled by the walking dead.

  • Line 1: "Bent double, like old beggars under sacks" is a simile, which compares the men marching to beggars. Starting the poem off with an image of men "doubled" creates the possibility that the soldiers really have become two people: the men they were before the war and the creatures that they are now.
  • Line 2: More similes. This time the men are "Knock-kneed, coughing like hags." How do we know it's a simile? Well, it's a comparison that's created by using the word "like" to link the subject (the marching men) to another term (the hags).
  • Line 5: "Men marched asleep." Line five starts out with a stark image. People don't usually walk in their sleep, unless something is seriously wrong. Making abnormality the norm seems to be one of the major functions of this war.
  • Line 6: The parallel construction of the lines "All went lame; all blind;" emphasizes misery as a universal condition. No one escapes. No one.
  • Line 15: The speaker's reference to his "helpless sight" creates an almost paradoxical image: his sight works well. After all, he can see the image of the man dying – in fact, it's our speaker's all-to-active sight, which becomes the problem. What Owen is actually describing, however, is the helplessness of the speaker himself. If that's the case, then "sight" functions as a synecdoche, standing in for the speaker as a whole.
  • Line 18: The imagery created by describing "the white eyes writhing in [a soldier's] face" is horrendous. It's almost like the eyes have lives of their own: they've detached from the working of the body as a whole.
  • Lines 21-24: Owen is racking up some serious imagery points here. From gargling blood to cancer-like sores, we've got it all. This poem is a true house of horrors. We get to witness as a soldier's body breaks down entirely.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...