Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
- What's with the fact that these two lines form their own stanza? Shouldn't they be part of the second stanza?
- We don't have a solid lock on Owen's intentions here, of course, but here's what the poem itself tells us: this stanza fits into the rhyme scheme of stanza two.
- In fact, it's almost like Owen snapped it off of the second stanza and pushed it down the page a little ways.
- Why? Well, for one thing, these two lines bring us out of a past experience (the experience of the gas attack) and into a horrific present.
- In some ways, the present is a lot like the past – after all, all our speaker can think about is the gas attack.
- In others, however, it's a marked shift in the momentum of the poem.
- We can't think of the dying soldier as part of the past, if only because he plays such a huge role in our speaker's present.
- "All" his dreams have been taken over by a nightmarish memory of the gas attack.
- Notice now how the speaker seems to be directly involved in the man's suffering: in lines 14-15, watching through "dim" light as his comrade goes down.
- By the time we get to line 16, however, the other soldier "plunges" directly at our speaker. Moreover, the helplessness of our speaker takes center stage.
- He can't do anything. He can only replay the horrors of the scene, turning them over and over in his mind.
- It's almost as if using the word "drowning" at the end of line 15 triggered our speaker's memory, making him re-hash the horrors that he's witnessed.
- "Drowning" occurs again in line 17. In fact, it actually rhymes with itself.