The Portrayal Of Forces In ‘Exposure’ By Wilfred Owen And ‘To Autumn’ By John Keats

  • Words 1190
  • Pages 3
Download PDF

Wilfred Owen’s ‘Exposure’ and John Keats’ “To Autumn’ both recount the power of natural forces. Owen writes about the harsh effects of winter on soldiers in World War I. Meanwhile, Keats personifies Autumn as vibrant and nurturing, yet there is a tone shift towards the end of the poem to foreshadow the ominous winter. Both poets describe natural forces, however, Keats portrays nature as benevolent yet unsettling due to reminders of death, whereas Owen depicts nature as malevolent.

‘Exposure’ depicts the anguish a soldier feels from the harsh effects of winter through the speaker’s narration. This is evident through Owen’s comparisons of nature to a violent enemy, the emphasis on damage inflicted by nature and the melancholic tone throughout the poem. Owen follows a repetitive rhyme scheme representing the monotonous nature of war. Since all 8 stanzas in the poem ends with an anti-climactic coda, this dismisses all the tension built up in the stanza and emphasizes the futility of war.

Click to get a unique essay

Our writers can write you a new plagiarism-free essay on any topic

Throughout the poem, nature is personified as a violent soldier. Owen achieves this by personifying nature as ‘merciless’ and having the ability to ‘knive us’, with ‘fingering stealth…feeling for our faces’. This compares the movements of natural forces to a malicious soldier with it reaching out for the soldier’s face. The word ‘merciless’ emphasizes this by suggesting the winds are relentless. Furthermore, the brutality of nature is emphasized in ‘dawn massing…her melancholy army’. This personification compares dawn to an army general with an extensive army comprised of clouds and snow. This makes it apparent that nature is just as formidable an opponent as the enemy soldiers. The power of this natural force is made overwhelming with the diction ‘massing’ which accentuates the enormous size of the army. Together, these descriptions make it evident that nature is an agent of violence in the poem.

The vicious portrayal of nature is further developed through Owen’s descriptions of the damage caused by nature. Owen utilizes tripling in ‘war lasts, rain soaks and clouds sag stormy’ to create an overwhelming sense of nature attacking the soldiers. This emphasizes the amount of damage withstood by the soldiers. This is accentuated through the phrase ‘war lasts’ – emphasizing the perpetual harm inflicted by nature. Additionally, Owen begins ‘Exposure’ with ‘our brains ache/wearied we keep awake’ which emphasizes the torment felt by soldiers in war. This is apparent with the inclusion of ‘wearied’ which suggests fatigue. Furthermore, the simile of ‘like a dull rumour’ describes the sounds of gunshots as though it were customary to soldiers, suggesting the threat of bullets are incomparable to nature. This accentuates the damage caused by nature to the soldiers’ mental state. Ultimately, Owen makes evident nature’s enormous and violent power.

To complete his portrayal of the harshness of nature, Owen makes use of a melancholy tone in the poem. The onomatopoeic sibilance in ‘silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous’ is mimetic of the men’s whispering and the ominous silence in the poem. Moreover, Owen utilizes strong plosives in ‘deep into grassier ditches…drowse, sun-dozed’ which further accentuates the depressing tone in the lexical field of suffering including ‘ache’, ‘wearied’, ‘drooping’ and ‘agonies’. This is reiterated through ‘agonies’ which is implicit of anxiety. Together, Owen’s use of lexical fields and sounds darken the melancholy tone, emphasizing the terror caused by nature.

The overall impression given in ‘Exposure’ is that the soldiers are trapped in an everlasting torment caused by nature, manifested by harsh conditions. At the end of ‘Exposure’, Owens explores the futility of war, coming to the realization that all his suffering was vain. In contrast to ‘Exposure’, ‘To Autumn’ describes nature in autumn as blissful and songlike. Keats emphasizes the benignity of nature in autumn, contrasting the vicious portrayal of nature by Owen. However, Keats also explores the impending downfall of serene nature by foreshadowing the execrable nature in winter. ‘To Autumn’ is written in the form of an ode, showing Keats’ fondness towards nature. Each stanza contains 11 lines which show an unconventional structure that foreshadows the unpleasant end of the season. The poem starts with an alternating rhyme scheme but diverts to an unorthodox rhyming pattern as if the harmonious nature of autumn will transition into sorrowful nature in winter.

Keats makes it apparent that nature in autumn is song-like and blissful. Like Owen, Keats uses onomatopoeic sibilance in ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. This is mimetic of a hushed tone, reminiscent of autumn’s serene nature. This also sounds reverent like a prison which foreshadows the upcoming morbid winter. Furthermore, ‘fruitfulness’ reinforces the idea of nature as vivacious. Moreover, Keats uses a musical lexical field with ‘sing’, ‘whistle’, and ‘treble soft’ to describe nature which continues an extended metaphor of depicting nature as song-like. He also presents an ecstatic feeling for nature in “budding more, and still more.” The anaphora of ‘more’ mimics an archetypal childish claim – persistently wanting ‘more and more’. This suggests the narrator’s excitement towards nature and accentuates that nature in autumn is blissful. Together, these descriptions make it apparent that nature in Autumn is depicted as songlike and blissful.

Keats’ impression of nature as affectionate and godlike is enhanced through Keats’ use of imagery. By saying nature is ‘conspiring…to load and bless,’ Keats personifies nature as a godlike figure that is scheming how to load vines with indulgent fruits. This is emphasized with ‘bless’ as it holds a holy connotation. Moreover, Keats personifies nature as a ‘close-bosom friend’, depicting nature as companionable and the diction ‘close-bosom’ suggests nature’s affection. The benevolence of nature is supported when Keats describes cottage-trees “to bend with apples,” which suggests the trees are so overwhelmed by the bounty of nature that their branches bend due to the weight of apples. Together, Keats’ use of imagery accentuates depictions of nature as godlike and affectionate.

Despite nature being portrayed as blissful in autumn, Keats uses a melancholy tone to foreshadow the macabre winter. In the last stanza, Keats marks a volta with a sudden rhetorical question, “Where are the songs of Spring?” This explicitly suggests the anxiety of impending death during winter. Keats emphasizes the melancholy tone through the metaphor ‘a wailful choir…gnats mourn’, which compares the gnats to a funeral choir – as though winter is the death of harmonious nature. This is further delineated with ‘wailful’, suggesting that gnats are mourning the loss of blissful nature. Keats also uses discordant plosives through “barred clouds bloom…soft-dying day” to darken the melancholy tone, however, it is kept subtle with ‘bloom’ and ‘soft’. This represents the tranquil nature of autumn, being replaced by bleak nature. Ultimately, the melancholy tone after the volta makes apparent the imminent transition into distasteful weather.

Both poems mark the varied effects of nature. Keats encompasses the simultaneous beauty and morbidity of nature in autumn while Owen represents the terror inflicted by nature in war. The contrast between both poems portrays the unpredictability of nature. These poems give us profound respect towards nature as they remind us of the bounty of nature given towards humanity, while also reminding us of the human suffering caused by intolerable conditions. Ultimately, both poems help one to understand the ways in which nature can be an unsuspecting friend or foe.  


We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy.