15 August 2014

Wilfred Owen: Futility

Just a few short weeks before his death on the battlefield, Wilfred Owen wrote Futility. As he fought in the First World War, Owen was no stranger to death and he thought it almost inevitable that he would meet his own on the fields of France. 

The poem tells of the discovery, by a group of soldiers, of one of their comrades. He has died and although no reason is given, one might surmise that it was the cold which killed him or perhaps (if you want a more colorful story) a German sniper.  The narrator exhorts his comrades to move him in to the sun – perhaps that which originally stirred life on earth can prevail and bring their friend back to life. 

The poem saw something of a departure for Owen in as much as it is not as angry as many of his others.  I personally feel that the red heat of his fury at the enormous carnage inflicted on ordinary men has not cooled – rather it had been tempered in to something icily blistering instead.  Owen by this point in his life may have learned how to restrain his language but there is a sense of hopelessness in the final lines which thrusts his point home in a profoundly moving well.

In my real world life I am a lecturer and it is my pleasure each year to teach some of Owen’s poems (I mostly teach IT – it’s a long story) – and I always try and include Futility. This video is something which took me a little while to create (a very off and on process) but I hope you ‘get’ what I have done with the poem.  Perhaps it is best to allow people to imagine the visuals for themselves when it comes to poetry but if this enables anyone to more deeply appreciate or understand Owen’s poetry, then job done.

If you happen to be a teacher or student of Owen's work, you can find more of my resources around him (including the original PowerPoint of this video with additional notes on each line) on my site Teaching Resources For Me.