Analysis of a Poem by Wilfred Owen, Mental Cases essay

Analysisof a Poem by Wilfred Owen, Mental Cases

Thepoem “Mental Cases” by Wilfred Owen captures the repercussion ofwar that is the damage to the minds of men. Owen elucidates thatpeople did not readily accept the effects of the war at that timebecause damage was less shameful compared to bodily wounds. The aimof the poem was to provide an in-depth detail of the shocking andphysical symptoms of mental torment that soldiers encountered duringthe war. The analysis provides support to the subject matter of thepoem in reference to the three stanzas.

Inthe first stanza, the subjects of the poem are namelessly referred toas ‘these’ or ‘they’ which is the objectification ofindividuals whose mental capacity is traumatized by the experiencesof the wartime. Also, the poem utilizes querying tone of ‘Why’,‘Who’ and ‘Wherefore’ which demands a deliberated response,prompting reflection on the casual association between the mentalbreakdown and the dreads of war. The use of ‘Wherefore’ which isan archaic language gives a biblical weight to the moral consequencesthat resulted from their conditions at the time of war. The use ofsimile in the poem such as “Baring teeth that leer like skulls`tongues wicked?” shows there is a link between the dead and theliving which stresses on the separation from normalcy as well asproviding a snippet of the manner in which the war made them ‘wicked`(Owen 22). It also presents an emphasis on the frightening impact oftheir leering expression. Owen expresses the mental and emotionalanguish of the soldiers during the war to be far worse than death.

Inthe second stanza, the objectification of the subjects is identifiedas the individuals whose minds have been ‘ravished.` A link isformed in regards to the deprivation of sleep that is another attackon senses. Death is inferred as the ‘ravisher’ which is the causeof the state of the men’s minds at that time. Their psyches havebeen attacked by ‘Dead’ rendering them another victim of war.Their sleep has been taken away by the experiences of war and in anyinstance of a nap they are plagued by nightmares. In lines 2 and 3“…Memory fingers in their hair of murders /n multitudinousmurders they once witnessed…” Owen utilizes Macbeth allusions tostress on the mass murder that the men had to witness (Owen 22). Itenables the readers to create links between what men once witnessedand their current mental distortion. The Macbeth allusions are alsoused in line 4 “…Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wanders…”to show the extreme disconcertment of the men who witnessed the warand the predicaments of destruction that resulted from the murdersduring the war (Owen 22). Also, the use of the phrase “thesehelpless” in line 4 indicates the development of empathy on thoseaffected by the implications of war. In the last four lines, there isthe use of high modality to emphasize the severe conditions that areendured by the helpless men as a result of the war. The use of thephrase ‘flying muscles’ is a clear indication of the bodies ofmen that were ripped apart during the war and the squandered life aswell as mental health.

Instanza three, line 1 “…Therefore, still their eyeballs shrinktormented…” offers the irrefutable association between insanityand war which further emphasizes the suffering of the men. The menfocusing on their inner sight that has been fractured by death andpain have been forced to lose visual contact with the outer world.The life these men live resembles live in a twilight world whereevery day provides resemblance of any other day with a mentaldisturbance that results from the memories of the war. In lines 5 and6,

“Thustheir heads wear this hilarious, hideous, /n Awful falseness ofset-smiling corpses,” the poem also reveals the insightfulness ofthe poet in regards to what he is witnessing (Owen 23). It enablesthe reader to acknowledge the horrible sight of the forced leering ofheads. The use of the extended metaphor that infers the affected menas ‘set-smiling corpses’ is a clear indication of dehumanizationof these patients who were previously referred to ‘living corpses’in the first stanza (Owen 23). Owen also uses a sermonic tone in thelast four lines that call for us to recognize the fact that we areaccountable of the fate of these men. Our involvement is evident whenthe poet uses terms such as ‘us’ and ‘brother’.

Inconclusion, Wilfred Owen captures the repercussion of war which isthe damage to the minds of men. The main aim of the poet is toprovide an in-depth detail of the shocking physical symptoms ofmental torment that men faced during the war. The use of literarytechniques such as simile, allusions, diction, personification,metaphor, archaic language and objectification provides a betterunderstanding of the subject matter in which the poet is trying toconvey that is the mental implications of the war on the men.


Ward,Candace. WorldWar One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg, and Others. Courier Corporation, 1997.