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Themes

Physical pain and psychological trauma blur in this searing description of a World War I battleground. Caught in the memory of a gas-attack, the poem's speaker oscillates between the pain of the past (the actual experience of battle) and the pain of the present (he can't get the image of his dying comrade out of his head). As Owen argues, war is so painful that it becomes surreal.

Questions About Suffering

  1. Does the gassed soldier ever seem like a real character in this poem? Why or why not?
  2. What formal devices does Owen use to make the suffering of soldiers seem realistic? (See our "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" section for some starting points.)
  3. Who suffers more in this poem: the gassed soldier or the speaker?
  4. Which is more important: the loss of innocence or the loss of bodily integrity? What in the text allows you to draw your conclusion?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

By drawing readers directly into the action of battle, Owen's speaker manipulates us into assuming the anti-war stance that results from his own experiences of the war.

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