Wilfred Owen’s poem “Disabled” deals with the after-effects of war, which was glorified in the cultural scape of his time, as he pulls the readers into the life of a young war veteran who lost his limbs during a battle. The said veteran is consigned to a life in a wheelchair which gradually pushes him into feelings of regret and nihilism. “Disabled” does not follow any particular form throughout its length, it consists of five stanzas of varying lengths and does not have any rhyme scheme, mirroring the disorder and uncertainty that has taken over the young man’s life.
Wilfred Owen was a British poet regarded as one of the best war poets the country had seen. His poetry stemmed from his first-hand experience of trench warfare and the horrors of war in general. His famous poems include “Anthem For Doomed Youth”, “Insensibility”, “Futility” and “Strange Meeting”.
HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXT
The poem is set in the wake of the WWI , which was the first war in history to have large-scale use of weapons and means of mass destruction and murder. The scale and scope of the conflict meant that almost none in Britain was left untouched by the war, either directly or indirectly. Though Homeric notions of glory and valour at war were exalted to enlist patriotic youths for the conflict, these notions came under severe scrutiny. “Disabled” was written in 1917 and was posthumously published after Owen lost his life to war. Owen’s poetry is filled with depictions of violence doubt and regret concerning this mass violence.
DISABLED | SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
Disabled | Analysis, Stanza 1
He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.
The poem begins by giving a record of the current situation of the soldier. He is sitting alone in the twilight waiting for the night while shivering in his ghastly grey suit. He is legless and his hands ended at his elbows which are now sewn shut. He can hear the voices of the many children as they play in the park, like a hymn that casts him into sadness, which he will have to suffer until sleep finally comes to mother him away from it. The opening lines show the loneliness of the soldier as he suffers alone, consigned to the wheelchair. The sounds of children playing in the park fill him with sadness, as we know that he used t be ‘able-bodied’.
It is implied that he needs the hospital staff to move him as he does not have his arms or legs anymore. His calling his suit “ghastly” tells us about the terrifying reality of his everyday life and like his suit his life too, has turned pale and colourless. The stanza has alliteration in the second, third and fifth lines, them being “ghastly suit of grey” “sewn short”, “play and pleasure” . The man waiting for the impending night and the line about how sleep is his only refuge can also be taken to mean that he does not find meaning in life anymore and is waiting for death to finally free him from his chains.
Disabled | Analysis, Stanza 2
About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
—In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.
The veteran is seeped in thoughts, of a time before “ he threw away his knees.”. He remembers how quaint the town looked, with the glow lamps increasing the beauty of the town and the town folk alike. He regrets his choices as he thinks how he would never again wrap his hands around a girl’s waist or feel their gentle warm hands on him as now they treat him as if he is a strange disease.
The stanza delves deeper into the man’s mind as his desire for physical affection and the romantic connection is laid bare in front of the readers. Also the words” threw away his knees”, show his bitterness about the choice he made and how it has affected him, it also implies that his actions were in vain or pointless. The past is shown with lamps and illumination, with warm hands and beauty as opposed to the grey suit and loneliness with only the cold wind that accompanies him in his present.
Disabled | Analysis,Stanza 3-4
There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join. He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts.
That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.
He remembers how there was an artist that loved his face, but now he says that e is no longer young his back will not stand straight anymore, and he has lost all his colour after draining all of it in the warzone until his “ veins ran dry”. He remembers the time he used to like blood smears on his legs and when people used to carry him on their shoulders. And it was o one such day that he choose to join the army. He did it not because of his ideals or patriotic drive, but for validation and the supposed glory as he lists the reasons for him joining the war, someone had told him he would look like a god in quilts, maybe he also wanted to please Meg, then it was the fascination with “smart salutes” and the uniform.
There is the use of juxtaposition to show his fall from grace can be seen in these stanzas. He remembered a time when he was a great athlete, with people who would swoon at his looks, but now he is reduced to a depressed amputee alone in a wheelchair exposed to the cold. His younger self liking the bleeding injuries after a football game is juxtaposed with his bleeding legs in the war zone, perhaps the injury that had cost him his legs. Also the words “ lost his colour very far from here” could also be referring to how the war has removed all happiness and excitement from his life, not just his blood and youth. The stanza also reveals how the prime motivation for youth to enlist for a war is not ideals or patriotism, but the glorification of war and the Homeric notions of valour. The masses are led to believe that joining the war would give them something they did not have before. Also, the reference to kilts suggests that he enrolled in the Scottish regiment.
Disabled | Analysis,Stanza 5
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?
The last stanza is mostly about how returned back home after the war. And how people reacted to it. People cheered him home, but none of them was passionate like those that he got when he used to play football. The only thing that stood out to him was a solemn man who brought him fruits and asked him how his soul was. He resents the fact that his life will probably just be a list of do’s and don’ts. He notices helplessly how women’s eyes drift over him onto men that are “whole”. He is alone and cold, he wonders why no one has come to pick him up yet. The first line again juxtaposes his old self and his post-war condition, the cheers that he got after the war were not heartfelt and didn’t mean anything to him. The only heartfelt support was from the man that gave him fruits. The man’s question about the soul can be read in many ways. It could be in reference to PTSD that the veterans suffer from, or in a darker tone, it could be in reference to the lives the soldier might have taken and how it high have tainted his soul. The lines in the middle convey the utter helplessness he feels and the lack of freedom that his condition has brought upon him. The last line again compares how even the hospital staff has forgotten him as he is left to freeze in the cold. Also, the poem has severe reference to night and bed and sleep that can also be analysed as the man’s desire to die and he has lost every reason to be alive.