Explore how the authors of “The Bright Lights of Sarajevo” and “Disabled” use language and structure to present the varying effects of war.
The poems “Disabled” and “The Bright Lights of Sarajevo” by Wilfred Owen and Tony Harrison, both give insight to the climatic nature of war, and, in the case of “Disabled”, the sweet release death would offer when an element of life’s freedom is brutally taken away. Both offer points to suggest that war is ruthless and vindictive. The poignant narrative in “The Bright lights of Sarajevo”- emphasises the contrast between despair and hope that is a common theme throughout the poem. Owens poetic narrative presents sympathy to the boy, probably because the boy felt strongly pressured by society and pride to fight for his country. Perhaps the reason Owen felt culpable to show a deep understanding of sympathy was because he was a solider himself and he appreciated the apparent attractions of war for example honour for the family, and the terror of being injured not only physically but mentally.
The title of Harrison’s poem evokes more of a positive response to the reader, and the use of the word “bright” may suggest that despite the conflict and catastrophe the city is facing, there could still be hope for its citizen’s in the form of a similarly “bright” future. Harrison wrote this poem to portray the real-life experience of what it was like for people living in the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war of the mid 1990’s. Harrison’s poetic voice explains one night in the city to present a graphic and disturbing recount of the war that lay claim to the lives of city’s innocent civilians. Never the less throughout the tragedy is a hidden feeling of hope, that takes shape in the form of a blossoming romance between two young people in the darkness of the night. Owen narrates with a subtle but strong voice that consists of persuasion and personal experience that leaves the reader with no choice but to feel utter hatred for the war, perhaps Owen wrote in this way to make people empathise with how he felt and the loss’s he encountered.
The form and structure of “Disabled” is significant to the triumphant theme of war throughout the poem. Each stanza has its own rhyme scheme to convince the author of the inconsistent times the war brought to these young and unexperienced soldiers fighting for something they didn’t believe in, this is shown throughout the poem to create an unpredictable feeling. Owen does this right from the beginning of the poem so that the reader instantly empathises with the soldiers. Each stanza is a tableau of the soldier’s life, this draws attention to the different stages of being a soldier that Owen wants the reader to understand. In stanza one, “He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark, and shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,” the soldier is motionless and is waiting for the end of the day, the poem is bookended by the same scene in the final stanza, where he is left alone again. Owen alliterates this structure to make it the first and last thought in the readers head as it is quite an alarming and troubling thought that is much more likely to stick with the reader and force them to feel uncomfortable about the thought of war. The use of iambic pentameter throughout the poem is used to create contrast, perhaps to familiarise the reader with Owen’s disparity of life before and after the war which is a consistent theme for the duration of the poem. The poem is divided into two separate sections; his life before the war began and the reality of life after the war. Owen does this to display the immense effect that the war had not only on him but on all the soldiers that fought in the first world war. In the beginning of the poem Owen described his life in a positive and free way where, “time Town used to swing so gay,” and “girls glanced lovelier,” this shows Owen reminiscing over the past. Owen does this create a deeper sense of loss. Towards the end of the poem Owen describes how “he will spend a few sick years un Institutes,” these two contrasting scenarios appear to represent the varying effects of war. Owen really tries to reinforce the underlying effects of war through the structure of his poem to leave a more analytical and critical response from the reader, therefore making them invest in Owens anti war poetic narrative.
“The Bright Light of Sarajevo” is very different in terms of form and structure, but despite this there is a very similar theme of war and loss conveyed throughout the poem. This poem Is made up from three stanzas of heroic couplets which gives the poem a natural flow and emphasis the final word on each line. The use of iambic pentameter is current to the context behind the poem that Harrison deliberately aliterates making the connection between the poem and the reader immediate. Throughout the poem there is a natural progression from negative to positive and hopeful in contrast to the consistent negative theme that is carried through “Disabled”, which gives a far more serious tone to the poem, where as “The Bright Light of Sarajevo” ends of more of a lighthearted note. As the stanzas begin to get gradually shorter the poem progresses onto contrasting matters such as war and love. By describing the struggle that the people of Sarajevo were going through at this time is mimicked by its length of lines and very long sentences. Harrison uses the first stanza to exclusively talk about the grim, bitter reality of life in the war for the people of the city and he includes skilful use of enjambment to mimic the narration of the story. In the second stanza the sentences get slightly shorter with more animated content which is juxtaposing and emphasises the resilience and strength of the characters. The final quatrain represents the last remaining bit of hope for love, this offers closing reinforcement of the poems message that there is still hope. Also the use of rhyming can bring more of a cheerful spin to the poetry in a poem that deals with such dark matters. Harrison does this to remind the reader that there is still hope in times of loss and despair. The rhyming couplets are used to compliment the themes of love, as rhyming couplets are usually used in love poems Harrison uses this technique to prove that his poem isn’t just about war and despair, but love as well. The rhythm becomes chaotic in the beginning when the war is current but as the poem proceeds the rhythm becomes more steady like a heartbeat. This relates to the contrast in war and love and the beginning and end of the poem, the rhythm becomes less constant under panic, for example the war. Harrison does this to create an unconscious and inconstant beat throughout the poem that the reader is obliged to follow. To ensure that Harrison uses contrast and vivid imagery to present the vary effects of war the reader is forced to understand the context behind the Bosnian war leaving them with a deep understanding of the poem.
Similarly, the tone of each poem is very different. “Disabled” has an overall somber and pessimistic manner reflecting on Owens traumatic war experience and inability to move on from his disturbance. However Owen has to use a persuasive tone to patronise the reader into following his anti-war writing, he is also trying to express the unjustness he feels towards the people who made him join the war. Despite this, he continues to be an excellent war writer, with reliable information and facts that are hidden in his opinion. Owen shows great resilience through the tone of his writing bearing in mind the circumstances he went through and the sacrifices he made. His audacious yet honest tone controlled his rights to believe that it was wrong to go to war and that you weren’t “unmanly” if you didn’t agree with it, this made him lead by example and not follow the ever so war orientated crowd of the early 1900’s. “The Bright Lights of Sarajevo”, on the other hand, has a much more serious tone but with a glad ending, the nature of this poem is more convocational which makes it sound spontaneous and realistic, as though Harrison was there, witnessing the characters resilience first hand. Both poems have the underlying message of war which is portrayed through the active and vigorous words from either poem.
In the poignant poem “Disabled”, Owen makes use of multiple language and literary techniques. Much like other poems of Owens, this poem is an exposé of the horrors of war and the ramifications of the return home for many soldiers. Owen writes about these aspects of war rather than about its fake glory. One primary feature of this poem is alteration, a technique which Owen repeats initial consonant. In “Disabled,” Owen’s use of alteration helps to express the alacrity with which a soldiers life can change. In the opening stanza, which depicts activity eclipsed by stillness due to the passing of the hours is a metaphor for the effects of time on the young man in the rest of the poem. Owen also showed how childish the soldiers were before they went to the war, “mothered them from him”, this is showing the innocence among the boys who were about to embark on a life changing decision to join the war. Repletion of “voices” in lines four and five in the first stanza mimic and echoing thought for the reader. Perhaps it could also represent the voices that the soldiers heard in their heads after the war due to post traumatic stress. In “town” before the war, it used to “swing so gay” when “glow lamps budded” and “girls glanced lovelier”. Owen uses alteration to emphasise the glamour. The “the light blue” of the trees and the sense of light “budded” after the contrast to the greyness and absence of colour in the present. Also the use of alteration such as “knocked knees” describe what the soldiers would have been like in time of terror. “Knocking knees” could also be a sign of how cold and fragile the soldiers were. The phrase also could involve onomatopoeia which gives a real picture so that the reader can imagine the shear fright that the soldiers were feeling and therefore empathise with them.