Title of the Poem: “Futility”
Name of the Poet: Wilfred Owen
The theme of the poem is futility of war. The theme is developed by a consideration of an elemental natural process as futile. The speaker questions the purpose of the hard labour of the sun which roused the sleeping earth. The efforts of the sunrays are considered to be futile because they cannot animate the limbs of a soldier who died in a battle.
It is a fourteen-line poem; yet, neither it can be categorised as a Petrarchan sonnet nor as a Shakespearean sonnet. There are two stanzas each having seven lines. The first deals with the expectation of the speaker that the sun will revive the young dead soldier, while the last is about the frustration of the speaker at the sun’s inability to achieve that. The mood is serious and suitable for the theme. Use of pararhyme (such as once/France, seeds/sides) aptly complements the theme of the poem. Iambic tetrameter is used in the poem. At times, iambic is varied with trochaic, anapaestic, pyrrhic and spondaic substitutions. For instance, the second foot and the third foot of the third line of the first stanza are trochaic and anapaestic respectively. The metrical irregularity and pararhymes or eye rhymes (that punctuate regular rhymes as in snow/now/know) seem to be suitable for the tone of frustration and seething anger that pervades the poem.
The imagery of the poem consists of sensuous images (visual: “star,” “limbs;” tactile: “touch;” thermal: “cold,” “warm;” auditory: “whispering;” kinaesthetic: “move,” “stir,” “rouse,” “grew”), and figurative images (personification: “the kind old sun will know;” metonymy: “Move him into the sun” instead of sunlight — the cause for the effect; synecdoche: “clays of a cold star” — material for the thing made; circumlocution: “cold star” for earth). The metaphor of fatuity associated with the personified sunbeams suggests the fatuity of human beings who pursue war ruthlessly. It must also be noted that the diction of the poem is precise and appropriate, and, at times, evokes the poignant. The sense of tenderness evoked by expressions like “gently,” “whispering” and “the kind old sun” is disrupted by rhetorical questions like “Was it for this the clay grew tall?” Three questions that conclude the poem are suggestive of the speaker’s anger and helplessness in the wake of his realisation that war is futile as it causes loss of human life. There is an allusion to the First World War (1914-1918) in the reference to “France” where young English soldiers were sent to fight against German soldiers during the war. The poem, thus, might have thematic similarities with Wilfred Owen’s war poems, especially “Strange Meeting”; however, difference between the poems lies in the treatment of the theme. Here, the speaker soliloquises; but in “Strange Meeting” the speaker apparently converses with an enemy soldier.
In conclusion, it might be said that the poem emphasises the utility of human life by evoking the futility of war. The purpose of the composition of this lyric is to arouse consciousness in the reader about the value of human life. Thus it is an anti-war poetic statement.