by Wilfred Owen
Owen dishes out a two-for-one in this poem—and you don't even need a coupon. That's right: there are two speakers for the price of one. The first speaker is rumored to be based on Owen himself, which makes it all the more eerie when we finally get to the part in the poem when he discovers where he's ended up:
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell. (9-10)
Speaker number one is a recently fallen soldier who ends up in this strange place (we eventually realize it's hell) where he runs into a soldier from the enemy army, who we eventually realize he's killed in battle.
Through speaker number one we get a pretty familiar first-person narrative where we get only a vague sense of where we are and what we're doing there. The first three lines from his point of view ("It seemed that out of the battle I escaped / Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped / Through granites which Titanic wars had groined") make us feel his disorientation, as if he's waking up from a bad dream or serious head injury.
We only actually hear the first speaker speak very briefly before we're introduced to speaker number two, the soldier who was killed by speaker number one. Awkward. The majority of the airtime in this poem is dedicated to this guy's speech. He rants on and on about the destructive and evil qualities of war and how it's ruining men and nations alike:
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress. (25-29)
It's through this speaker that we get most of our information, and the most complex emotional output. Speaker number two is Owen's main vessel to deliver his own thoughts and opinions on war. And we've got to say, he gives quite the riveting performance.