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Romeo and Juliet | Futility

Steph Atkinson | Wednesday April 18, 2012



Guide Navigation

Part 1 Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet | Part 2 Marvel’s To His Coy Mistress
Part 3 Browning’s Sonnet 43 | Part 4 Owen’s Futility
Part 5 Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade

Wilfred Owen’s Futility

Overview and Context

Futility is one of the 5 poems that WW1 poet Owen had published during his lifetime. Composed most likely in Ripon – though perhaps in Scarborough – this lyric is set against the First World War, a kind of macrocosm when placed against the feud in Verona in Romeo and Juliet. It explores the creative power of nature set against the futility of existence since everything is destroyed.

Some Initial Notes

Owen himself categorised this poem under the heading ‘Grief’. He uses the sun –  a source of life – as a unifying device: as mentioned on the website below, ‘as a metaphorical framework on which to hang his thoughts’. It is a ‘short elegiac lyric’ which is 14 lines long, like a sonnet, but not structured as such. Perhaps this structural choice could indicate that whilst Owen may have considered the sonnet form for his work, he found it inadequate or not quite suitable to express the depth of his grief.

The source of much of the information above is: http://www.wilfredowen.org.uk/poetry/futility.



Lines 1-3: the opening imperative is somewhat mitigated by the adverb ‘gently’ on the second line. The tone seems respectful, as if the corpse’s dignity must be maintained, despite the fact it is no longer animate. The speaker’s sadness pervades these lines, with references to the past, such as ‘once’, reminding the reader that the speaker’s present is death. The irony is that the sun, a life-giving force, can no longer wake the dead solider. There is also a dichotomy between ‘home’ and ‘France’ and a terrible sense of nostalgia (even though Owen composed the poem whilst at ‘home’). The irony is redoubled as the personified sun ‘touch[es]’...

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