A Critical Appreciation of The Sentry by Wilfred Owen
The Sentry, written by Wilfred Owen as a result of a horrific incident the poet witnessed in the trenches of World War One, tells the reader of the terrible conditions and experiences that the men endured throughout the war. In the poem he focuses a one specific incident which seemed to have forever stayed with him, when a sentry was blasted from his post and badly hurt. Owens description of this traumatising event evokes clear images in the reader's mind and it becomes even more poignant when we consider this as a real life experience of the poet.
The opening lines of the poem cast us immediately into the trenches of the First World War. Owen instantly addresses the reader with Wed found an old Boche dug-out; we are drawn straight into his world. By the second line, the poem has already begun to describe conflict with shell on frantic shell hammered on top. Battle is unexpectedly sprung upon us just as it was on the soldiers. Owen seems to create a feeling of chaos akin to that of combat, the alliteration and repetition seen in hell, for shell on frantic shell seems to stress the relentlessness of the shelling. We soon begin to realise the horrific conditions of the trenches. The weather is described with Rain, guttering down in waterfalls of slime. Owen seems to suggest its equal relentlessness to the shelling as it falls in waterfalls, the onomatopoeia of guttering further stressing its intensity. Everything described in the trench seems corrupted and stained. Rain, a precious resource for human survival is described as slime. As we continue, we can equally see this effect with the description of air as murk, stank and sour. There seems to be a general sense of stagnation. The air is immersed in the fumes of whiz-bangs and the smell of men whod lived there for years, and left their curse in the den. The idea of soldiers living in their own filth and excrement in combination creates a particularly bleak image. With the addition of If not their corpses, however Owen, reminds us that the conditions are not even the worst of a soldiers concerns. There still exists the ultimate suffering of death. It all adds to give the impression of a merciless, pitiful existence.
This reminder of death, specifically the word corpses, seems to trigger Owens memory back to a specific event. We are taken back into the conflict as Owen tells us a whizz-bangfound our door at last. A sense of chaos and action is again invoked as the language descends into fragmented, detached phrases as seen in And thud! flump! thud! down the steep steps came thumping and splashing in the flood, deluging muck. We again, in thud and flump, see Owen using onomatopoeia, the immediacy of the language further absorbing us into the intensity of the situation. We are viewing things directly from the eyes of the soldier, seeing details in real time. As objects fall into the trench we observe them just as Owen did The Sentrys body; then, his rifle, handles of old Boche bombs, and mud in ruck on ruck. This creates a real intensity and feeling of immediacy; we feel we are amongst the action ourselves.
Owen then continues to describe the injured Sentry. The man is quoted, saying O sir! My eyes Im blind Im blind, Im blind, Blind acting as a sweet rhyme to the preceding whined. Within the context, this seems almost ironic. The suffering soldiers screams of pain add to create a perfect cadenced rhyme. Furthermore the use of quotation continues the feeling of action. The despair of the situation is further emphasised as it is confirmed the man cannot at all see, not even a blurred light. The feeling of desolation continues as Owen presents us with the gruesome image of Eyeballs, huge-bulged like squids. It is an image of human mutilation which the reader finds severely discomforting. Our sympathies transfer towards Owen however as we are told these eyes Watch my dreams still. It seems as if Owen cannot escape the horrors he has experienced. As described also in Dulche Et Decorum Est, these brutal images of the dead seem to haunt Owen. However the death quickly seems insignificant as Owen tells us but I forgot him there in posting for next duty, and sending a scout to beg a stretcher somewhere, and floundering about to other posts under the shrieking air. This was the reality of the life of a soldier. Deaths like that of the Sentry were experienced of a daily basis. There is no special mark for the death of this one man; the war continues on without him.
In the last stanza, Owen reflects back on the mans death. He talks of other wretches who bled and spewed telling us I try not to remember these thing now. Yet still these memories haunt him. He describes his memory of the sentry to exact, precise detail - the wild chattering of his broken teeth, the onomatopoeia of chattering stressing the vividness of the memory. Furthermore, this haunting memory is recalled upon whenever crumps pummeled the roof and slogged the air beneath. No matter how he seems to try Owen cannot shake the images of the dead. They seem just as horrific in his dreams as they were in reality. The last two lines seem specifically poignant. Owen casts us back into one of his dreams Through the dense din, I say, we heard him shout, I see your lights, but ours had long died out. Here we see light as a symbol of hope and life. Earlier on in the poem Owen tells the man if he can see any light, his eyesight may be saved; it is a symbol of hope and vitality. In his dreams, the man cries out to Owen, claiming he can see your lights, the sad reality is the hope and life in the hearts of all the soldiers had in fact died out. There is no light left in the soldiers, only despair and desolation. It ends the poem with a sense of finality, a dark reflection on the nature of war.