preview

Recalling War vs Mental Cases

Powerful Essays
Although the poems "Recalling War" by Robert Graves and "Mental Cases" by Wilfred Owen are both concerned with the damage that war does to the soldiers involved, they are different in almost every other respect. Owen's poem examines the physical and mental effects of war in a very personal and direct way - his voice is very much in evidence in this poem - he has clearly seen people like the 'mental cases' who are described. It is also evident that Owen's own experiences of the war are described: he challenges the reader with terrifying images, in order that the reader can begin to comprehend the causes of the madness. Graves on the other hand is far more detached. His argument is distant, using ancient images to explore the immediate and long-term effects of war on the soldier. The poem is a meditation on the title, Graves examining the developing experiences and memories of war with a progression of images and metaphors.
"Mental Cases" is a forceful poem, containing three substantial stanzas which focus on different aspects of Owen's subject. The first stanza is a detailed description of what the 'mental cases' look like. Their outward appearance is gruesome, "Baring teeth that leer like skulls'", preparing the reader for the even more horrifying second stanza. The second verse concentrates on the men's past experiences, the deaths they have witnessed and the unimaginable nightmares they have lived through: "Multitudinous murders they once witnessed." The last stanza concludes the poem, explaining how the men's lives are haunted by their experiences, they go mad because the past filters into every aspect of their present lives, the men retreat away from the memories and into madness. The form of Owen's poem is, therefore, built around three main points: the appearance of the men, their experiences, and the effect this has on their lives.
In Graves' poem the form is also key to understanding the poem, but perhaps in a less obvious way. "Recalling War" has five stanzas, in a form that corresponds to the psychological emotions and physical experience war provokes. The first stanza describes how Graves expects the war to be remembered twenty years after the event: the wounds have healed and the blind and handicapped men forget the injuries the war caused, as their memories are blurred by the distanc...

... middle of paper ...

...institution for soldiers called Craiglockhart, it is amazing that he is as detached as he is, considering he could well have been described as a 'mental case' himself, as he suffered from shell shock and nightmares.. Owen's portrayal is gruesome and shocking, finally concluding by laying the responsibility for the madness at the feet of the reader and poet. This poem, not only demonstrates Owen's view of the scars war leaves on people, it also serves as a useful insight into the way in which Owen was scarred by war. He clearly feels guilty at his survival, and he too is haunted by the images of the dead that he describes, how else could they be so vivid? This is perhaps the most interesting aspect revealed by Owen's poem, the scars left by war on a real human with the ability to express and communicate the damage in such a way that the reader is not only shocked, but greatly moved. The poem has its intensity because Owen was writing it while in direct contact with the 'mental cases' whereas Graves is more distant as well as describing the memories of war. A poem which describes an inability to remember is far less disturbing than a poem which describes not being able to forget.
Get Access