Futility by Wilfred Owen Some analysis



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Futility by Wilfred Owen Some analysis

  • As sun is here considered as the source of all life, so the poet tells for the resurrection of the soldier. If sun can make us alive for the 1st time then why it prohibits itself from doing it again?



  • Both poems, ‘Frustration’ and ‘Futility’, concern themselves with the grievance of a wounded man who they move into the sun, in some hope that it will “stir” him. In each version, there is a constant theme of on which they focus, however, their tone, content, imagery and language differ, and so produce another perspective on the ordeal. The revision of ‘Frustration’ into the acclaimed ‘Futility’ is a subtle transformation, combining adjustments to build upon the rhythm, tone and philosophical utterances of the former. Owen fought in WW1 as an officer in the Manchester Regiment - he was a man haunted by the horrors of war and he loathed the suffering that it caused. Doing his utmost to serve his country honourably, his poetry acted as a release from the terrors of warfare and to help him cope with the horrific events he saw each day.
    Wilfred Owen's poem is a memorial to an Unknown Soldier. We have no idea who the dead man is and we do not know whether he was even known to the poet, except in his death. Like the Unknown Soldier he is nameless, but his anonymous quality is shared with every other young man who was to be squandered in war. Our most personal experiences of love and loss are felt for him. ‘Futility’’s finality brings the emotions of loss and remembrance to the foreground... - ‘Futility’ describes the sun’s touch as “gentle” to confirm this soothing nature the sun has in this instance.



  • ‘Futility’ is more profound in its universal applications of ideas. The immediacy of “this morning” and “this snow” enables frustration to continue in ‘Futility’ - note how the title immediately renders the idea of “the futility of war”, giving a universal meaning. ‘...The “fatuous” sunbeams of ‘Futility’ denote the unreal and illusory nature of the sunbeams which now makes their efforts even more futile. The narrator is in denial and shock of the soldier’s state, thinking that the sun will have a miraculous take on him to bring him back, believing that life will be restored through the “kind old sun”. Having seen the sun “wake the seeds”, his mind allows that it will also wake the soldier... ‘Futility’, instead of abstracting one man in an entire war, questions the circumstance, to the point where the narrator questions the point of the sun giving life to “grain” at all...

  • I think the two stanzas represent the different stages of grief: the first is denial of the death (the soldier is hopeful that the sun will stir life in his dead comrade), and the second stanza shows realisation, despair and anger (the soldier then questions the point of life and existence). I think the cold star is the earth before the sun brought life to it (the sun could be a metaphor for God, whom the soldiers might feel has abandoned them in the battlefields). The poem ends in despair, mirroring the inevitable cycle of war.

  • The last line stunned me when I first read it. It is very Darwinian in its opinion that life has evolved on Earth from the Earth via the energy of the Sun. No mention of any God

  • This poem is to show the futility and pointlessness of war. 'O what made fatuous sunbeams toil, To break earth's sleep at all?' this line is a rhetorical question about why the sun brought life to earth if we were only to destroy it at war.

  • The poem is about a solider (the speaker) that cannot believe that his comrade (a fellow soldier) has been killed in battle. He believes that by moving him into the sun his friend can be revived. This is because he sees the sun as a miracle worker, a healing agent. The sun, he believes has special powers to give life. The speaker is in denial and shock. He reasons that the sun has been able to prove its potency before so why can’t it resuscitate his friend now. He thinks about how his friend has just died therefore making it easier for the sun to restore him back to life. The speaker thinks about the role played by the sun in the creation of the world. The sun made things grow. This has such a tremendous feat. If the sun could do this then surely it can “wake up” one lone solider. At the end of the poem the speaker realises how useless, pointless and hopeless the sun is and how it is not powerful enough to wake his friend. A comment is also made here about the futility of war because war causes death



  • Owen was a fairly orthodox Christian, and a Romantic (rather slushy) poet before he went to War. Due to his traumatic experiences at the front, such as being blown through the air to land on the mutilated body of a dead comrade, he wound up in a hospital for soldiers with "Shell Shock" or PTSD. There he met Siegfreid Sassoon, an already famous poet, who encouraged Owen to be more realistic, and even to be cynical.
    The first verse starts off gentle and romantic, praising the sun. The second turns cynical, breaking with the romantic tradition and even with conventional religiousity.
    The horror of war does not allow romance. The horror of war does not allow hollow pontification about it is all part of a loving God's plan.



  • Owen was against glorifying war. He himself was exposed to the horrors of war and therefore knew that wars in reality were not romantic as depicted in the war poems. The poet here portrays that the birth of human beings is a futile if it can be sacrificed so easily...


  • 'Futility' is apparently an anti war poem but it's unique as Owen, in this poem, brings his personal pain for losing one of his friends to a level of universal tragedy.
    War is nothing but a meaningless butchery of human beings. War snatches away some promising lives that were once created by the kind, old Sun. The Sun is the great creator that once made the 'cold star' i.e. the earth full of life. Owen regrets that the Sun might not have worked so hard to create life if these precious lives are only to be destroyed in war. He vainly wishes the Sun might have the power to restore life and give its deserving worth.



  • Wilfred Owen’s poem that best describes futility in war is ‘Futility’, here Owen describes the death of a soldier on the battlefield and questions whether this was the end he was planned for. Owen uses death as a starting point to consider the general human situation. In this poem he uses religious ideas to explore the moral damage as opposed to the physical. His faith and perhaps the faith of many of his generation seem to be lost in the horror of war.
    ‘Futility’is the most despairing of his poems. It is short, uses simple images and generally a colloquial language level.



  • Owen was writing his poetry at a time when there was a general War Effort attitude towards the Great War through which people were inclined to demonstrate a positive attitude towards the war and become involved. Jessie Pope, a pro-war propagandist, included in her poetry the line: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori", rendered in English as "It is sweet and right to die for one's country". IN 'FUTILITY', Owen is rebuking this statement entirely and saying that it is not a soldier's duty to die in war for any purpose, in fact the poem's title implies that war is utterly worthless and that the soldier's die in vain and not glory. Hence, he is posing the question: what point was there for the evolution of mankind if it will all be put to waste in the turmoil of war?



  • In my opinion the sun is the sun there is no alternative meaning, the cold star is referring to the earth as it was when it was created before the sun gave to it warmth. Clays refer to people as in the book of genesis in the Old Testament, how god created man from clay.
    The line "Was it for this that clays grew tall?", I believe this gives question to the creation of life if it all shall be snuffed out by war. Owen displays the war as being nihilistic or pointless, and again with the line "O what fatuous sunbeams toil To break earth's sleep at all?" he questions mans existence and why the sun warms the earth if all life turns cold because of the war.


  • One of the Guys way below mentioned that "cold star" could be a reference to the moon. i don't really see how that works. Because as I see it, "cold star" is Owen's representation the Earth just before life existed. A poetic justice.


  • This is a poem of multi layered meaning. so the sun being reference to life bringer (mother nature) and to God. the clay being a reference to the earth and to the walls of the trenches. It's apparent that Owen is talking about a friend, because of the tender language used to describe his reactions to the sun; which contrasts to the violent language used in some of the other poems.



  • Clay could be a reference to the creation story of Genesis (as Adam was made of clay). If so, then maybe the poem also intimates how many soldiers lost their faith in religion. In the absence of religion, there is nihilism, which is reflected in 'Futility'.


  • I think that Wilfred Owen is trying to convey the fact that the sun started the earth and is keeping everything in it alive. It keeps everyone one of us alive, all the animals and plants etc. His last two lines in the poem say:
    “ – O What made fatuous sunbeams toil/ To break earths sleep at all?”
    He is asking us as the reader why did the sun bother to start the earth and keep all of us alive when all we do is kill each other in the war? So many young lives were wasted by the war surrounding him. He wants answers; he wants to know why did the sun bother to give us incredible life when youth were forced to fight a losing battle in an unjust war that leads to death and destruction? Hence the reason he ends the poem in a rhetorical question. Wilfred Owen is asking each person who read the poem to actually think about the horrors of the war and ask the next generation what they were going to do about it. I recommend reading the preface to his poem anthology, it will help you understand why Wilfred Owen wrote his poems the way he did.

  • The clay Owen refers to is a reference to the earthly nature of humanity. We are 'sons of the soil' in a very literal sense, and Owen was capitalising on this to emphasise his point that it was the sun's alien and esoteric qualities that made 'the clay grow tall'. He contrasts between the 'kind... warm' aspects of the sun and the 'cold clays of an old star' (being primordial earth).

  • I think all poems are open to individual interpretation...perhaps the 'clay' is simply the walls of the trench, however it could be a metaphor for soldiers, the life and birth symbolised by the sun wakening the seeds is clearly contrasted to the death of the soldier, Owen effectively puts things in perspective, he is asking what is the point of war? WHY did this man have to die? The sun will still rise regardless, life will go on, yet his will not, this idea was apparent in many of the Trench Poets work. If you really want to understand war poetry it in interesting to compare for example poets like Owen to those like Rupert Brooke, who wrote before the war. Anyway...getting sidetracked, yeah basically he poem is about exactly what the title suggests; the futility of life if there is to be war, and more so the futility of war.


  • Owen is definitely speaking of a friend whom has fallen in battle. They move him into the sun, the cold, water filled trenches were damp and cold. They hope it may at least make him feel a bit better. He may have died from infection, or pneumonia, or even frozen to death. The clay which has grown tall, is the trench walls. Owen is communicating the pointlessness of this innocent young man's life, how in the trenches, a soldier was simply a number easily ticked off and added to the sum of the dead. What was one more death, one more kill? This young man dies in the trenches, but for what? Is the world here, does the sun shine on it and bring life, only for man to dig trenches in fields and kill and die fruitlessly?

  • This poem mourns the ironic death of a young soldier. An address to the sun which gave life to the earth and its inhabitants, is made because why is life given to people and objects for it to only be cut down in this futile way.


  • Actually, the sun mentioned in the first verse is in reference to just dead mate. The first verse basically describes the dead soldier and the way that he loved the sun. "Always it woke him, even in France" that showed that the soldier has always loved the sun and that whenever he was sleeping and it touched him, he would wake. and then Owen went on to write, "If anything might rouse him now The kind old sun will know" that simply meant that the sun has always been there to wake him up, so if they "Move him into the sun" (the very first line) and he doesn’t wake up, then really, there's nothing left to do. He's dead. and the cold star isn’t the moon, it’s the dead soldier himself, whilst the clay is his body.

http://www.eliteskills.com/c/1806 Retrieved and abridged 4 February 2010


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