Disabled (Forth Valley College, 2018) is a poem by Wilfred Owen, written in 1917 during the great war about a young man who makes a drunken decision to join the army as an infantry soldier. Throughout the poem, it switches between the soldier’s years as an adolescent and his life post-war where he has been compelled to have limbs removed due to injuries sustained in battle. This poem will be compared to Refugee Blues (Forth Valley College, 2018) written by W.H. Auden during the second world war in 1939. Auden writes about German Jews who have been forced to escape from Europe during the reign of Adolf Hitler. Contrasts are made between aspects observed by the speaker and the type of life and conditions they are currently living in, which portray large amounts of discrimination and dehumanisation.
Disabled is made up of seven stanzas that follow a very irregular pattern and almost looks messy on the page, this is displayed by the length of stanzas which average six to eight lines. This irregularity gives the reader an impression that the young man’s life is chaotic and is not what it used to be before he sustained his injuries. An exception to this layout is stanza six which is significantly shorter than the rest. The reason this it is so short is to highlight the return from war and how he was not greeted with crowds of people cheering for him as a hero, instead, he is underwhelmed by the response he received as only one man “brought him fruits”. Owens piece transitions mainly between past and present to give an account of what his life was like as youth and his current state, the frequent switch between these tenses also emphasises the conflict and shows how hectic it is inside his mind. However, the last stanza is written in a tense that suggests the ex-soldiers future which states that there is not much of a life worth living anymore and there’s little he can do to change these conditions, all in the name of fighting for his country. Refugee Blues in comparison has twelve stanzas that follow a regular pattern, each stanza is similar in length and all have three lines. Unlike, Owen’s poem, Refugee Blues has a narrative that follows a sequential order rather than switching between the past, present, and future. Each stanza mentions the situation and then goes on to end each stanza with the words “my dear”. This is a technique used by the poet to signify hope for the refugee’s, in a situation and environment that appears to lack hope.
Both Disabled and Refugee Blues share a common theme as they were written during War times, and are based on events during the wars or the backlash from them. Throughout both of the poems, there are many examples of imagery that help to create a vivid picture of what the poet has written about. The use of different poetic devices supports this. “All of them touch him like some queer disease”. This simile is used in Disabled and is particularly powerful as it suggests the ex-soldier is being treated by the opposite sex as a disease, this image dehumanises him as it compares him to a lesser being. Dehumanisation is an important amongst the poems as Refugee Blues also contains imagery that suggests this theme. Auden’s poem points out the treatment of animals and highlights that said animals are amongst superior conditions in comparison to the German Jews, “Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin…”. This quote shows that even a dog has a jacket with a nice pin, further highlighting the insignificance of the speaker. More examples in the same poem that relates to dehumanisation would be “Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:”and “Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees; They had no politicians and sang at their ease”. These lines further emphasise that the animals out in the wild have better conditions to live in than the Refugees, there is also the added element of freedom. The Fish swimming in the pond are able to swim where they want without any worries, as well as the birds in the trees that are singing without any concern for issues in humanity such a politics. Owen writes about the ex-soldier as he watches on at the women who used to look at him, “he noticed how the women’s eyes passed from him to the strong men that were whole”. Another comparison to Refugee Blues as this imagery also has an element of freedom linked to it, the solider used to be young and strong which made the women look at him. Now he is confined to a wheelchair as they look on at men who have their full bodies intact, this suggests that the young man is a free man, but he doesn’t feel like he has freedom as he is trapped in a body that is nothing like the one he used to have.
Within the two poems, the use of sounds helps to bring significance to the text, firstly the rhyming system. Disabled does not have a stable rhyming scheme, as aforementioned within the structure, it’s lack of orderliness contributes to the idea of the ex-soldiers mindset and the conflict within him, the rhyme keeps changing just like his thoughts. It suggests an unpredictable and volatile situation much like war itself. Disabled also has a very slow and irregular meter, it is meant to be read in this manner. To contrast, Refugee Blues has a very different type of rhyming arrangement, it is consistent with the first two lines of each three-line stanza rhyming with each other. The meter in this poem allows the reader to almost sing the poem as a traditional blues song would be sung. The use of repetition is shared between both poems, in Disabled it says “How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?”. This is a powerful use of repetition here as it emphasises the that no one is there to help him and makes the reader feel pity. This could also suggest a disconnection from humanity, he is waiting for a nurse in this institute to come and put him into his bed but asks why no one has come to help. Auden’s poem shares a similar theme of disconnection with the use of repetition “Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors, A thousand windows and a thousand doors:”, the repetition used here is to further underline the large number of windows and doors that are available in the city, but still mentions that there are none for them which is also showing a disconnection from humanity. The two poems both have use of onomatopoeia, for example in Disabled, it reads “And leap of purple spurted from his thigh”, this use describes the sound that the purple liquid makes as it comes from his thigh and gives the reader an image of how it is projecting from him. In Refugee Blues, Auden writes “The consul banged the table and said”, the use of “banged” suggests that the consul was forceful and further highlights the rejection that the refugee’s faced. He also writes “Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;”, this is suggesting that the rumbling is the sound made by Hitler’s fighter aircraft as they are referred to thunder. The use of onomatopoeia here is impactful as it makes the reader feel the fear of hearing such a terrifying sound from the sky.