Look how the first line begins with two strong stresses, on' bent' and the first syllable of 'double', that arrest the reader's attention, particularly as alliteration links the initial 'b' to beggars, and assonance matches the first syllable of 'beggars' back to 'bent', and the first syllable of 'under' back to 'double'.

Listen to Dulce Read bent phrase (QuickTime Version)

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The second line opens with the same two strong stresses, knock-kneed, this time accented further by the alliteration. The brutality of these opening words and stresses echoes the brutality of the soldiers' destruction, thier transformation from healthy young men into 'beggars' and 'hags'. Owen also unifies the first two lines through the assonance between 'hags' and 'sacks', which then runs through to 'backs' in line three. The short, staccato 'a's suggest the hacking sound of the soldiers coughing. Try to work out and analyze the other sound patterns Owen develops in the poem.

Look at the use of the word 'cursed'. Owen does not say 'struggled', or 'marched' or any other word suggesting movement: he uses a word that describes a way of speaking, usually violent and unsophisticated, often used in moments of anger, or passion, or grief, or distress. We not only see the movement, but we sense the state of mind behind it, and almost hear the men's march like a soundtrack to the next lines of the poem.

Listen to Dulce Read knock kneed phrase (QuickTime Version)

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Look at the way the lines break in this first four-line section of the poem (called a quatrain). Both the first and second lines have commas at the end, a pause, but the third line, which ends on an action 'turned our backs' has no pause and rolls into the next line. There the action of 'turning' ends in the direction, 'towards'. The technical term for having no pause at the end of the line in enjambment. In his book, <BOLD>Poetic Meter & Poetic Form</BOLD>, Paul Fussell writes that in a poem with a high degree of enjambment, "we get a symphonic sense of flow and flux, a sort of tidal variation." (p. 112. Note the musical reference) Although Owen does not introduce much enjambment to this poem, what effect does it have in those places where he uses it? What happens to the rhythm, for example, when you have a long pause, a period, in the middle of a line? (See line 5)

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Look at the way in which this line begins with two disruptions: the disruption of the rhythm, with the succession of four, short, sharp, stressed syllables and the disruption of the telling voice, with the cry of alarm reported in direct speech. So many short, stressed syllables one after the other act like fast, dramatic cuts in a movie: they alert us to a change of pace, a change of situation, a heightening of tension, the imminence of a traumatic event. (Think of the set-piece fights or explosions in action movies). Look at the placing, too, of this disruption, at the beginning of line nine of the poem, the point of the turn in the sonnets we have looked at in class. The whole poem, in fact, begins as a sonnet, with a regular rhyme scheme in the first eight lines, an almost-regular rhyme scheme in the following six lines, and a pattern of rhythmic lines of similiar length. The image of a man drowning in a green sea is a very strong one: the unpredictability and irrationality of wartime death captured and fixed for the reader might have ended the poem.

But it is as if the form in which Owen had initially cast the poem cannot contain it. The experience does not end with the death, but continues into the speaker's present with the repetition of that death over and over again in sleep, the time when we most expect rest. Just as the death disrupts the speaker's consciousness, so too it disrupts the traditional form in which the speaker attempts to record the event.

Listen to Dulce Read gas phrase (QuickTime Version)

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Look at the succession of words ending in 'ing' that occur in this part of the poem. What effect does this usage have on you as a reader?

By ending using the 'ing' as his rhyme, Owen is using what is called a feminine rhyme, a rhyme on an unstressed syllable. (Read it out to yourself to hear where the stress falls.) The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (p. 737) says of rhyming on an unstressed syllables: "In dramatic verse, they give a sense of colloquialism to narrative and lyric verse, they have been generally reserved for moments of special poignancy, on account of their special ethos, a "dying fall."

From your reading of the poem, how do you think these words create this sense of fading away?

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