War and conflict are an inevitable part of human existence. The subject matter of war has been explored by poets and writers for centuries. People fight in wars for many reasons. They may join a war because they are patriots, or they may be forced by their governments to join. Both Wilfred Owen and Tony Harrison talk about war in their poems; however, they have different approaches and different perspectives about war. Disabled is one of the many poems written in by Wilfred Owen, a World War One soldier and poet, to show ordinary people the futility of war. He aims to tell his audience what it is truly like during war and how the soldiers suffer. His poems also show the effects of war on the soldiers. The Bright Lights of Sarajevo is a more recent poem. It is about how people live their lives in war-torn Yugoslavia. The themes are very different in both poems. Disabled talks about the loss of the human spirit. This is very different from The Bright Lights of Sarajevo, which it talks about the resilience of the human spirit in the face of war.
Disabled talks about a young man who joined the First World War. He returned after losing his legs and arms and is now in an institution. The poem uses third-person narration. This is to use a bird’s eye view of the impartial narrator to show that everyone who goes to war is suffering and not only the persona in this poem. He makes it seem universal to everyone who joins the war. The whole poem features an inconsistent rhyme scheme. For example, the first stanza is ABACBC; the second stanza is ABCBCDB: which implies that his life is topsy-turvy.
The first stanza uses many devices to show his solemn tone and the destruction of the human spirit. The words “wheeled chair” tells the reader that he needs to use a wheelchair to get around. He cannot help himself and always requires help as he is immobile. Not only does this affect him mentally, but it also affects him psychologically, as he is lonely and helpless. He then uses the phrase “ghastly suit of grey” to create a ghost-like image. The word “grey” suggests dullness and the lack of vibrancy and life. The next sentence “Legless, sewn short at elbow” introduces to the reader that he does not have legs and arms. The line uses short syllable words which are punctuated immediately. It gives the effect of a truncated suit to the reader. This highlights the shocking reality that he does not have any limbs or arms. “Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn” is a simile used to compare the children’s voices and the hymn singing in a funeral. This reminds him of his lost youth because he went to fight in the war. “Voices of play and pleasure after day” (contrast the past and the present) reminds the persona of his past life, and he can not have this again.
The first line in Stanza Two shows the reader his old times. “Used to Swing so gay” implies that people are really happy and they are enjoying their lives. The use of colour in the phrase “light blue trees” shows the reader that there was something to look forward to in the city. The words “budded” resembles him adding more light into trees, implying that his life is going to improve. This contrasts with the first stanza, where it was dark, grey and solemn. The juxtaposition is to emphasize the destruction of the person's spirit and morale. “And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim” shows that the persona used to interact with girls. This contrasts with the current situation, where women do not glance lovely at him anymore. This is more juxtaposition, reiterating the destruction of the human spirit. The next phrase “In the old times” remind the reader it was before he joined the war. The phrase “threw away his knees” shows that he chose to join the war and compares it to throwing away his knees, as if he does not want, need or like them. It was his thoughtlessness and his superficial thinking that made him throw it away. Now he realises that he needs them. The phrase “queer disease” in the second stanza is to indicate how people do not want to interact with him anymore. Instead of mentally supporting him, they are avoiding and distancing themselves from him, just as though he has leprosy or other queer diseases. Losing arms and limbs are not diseases. The comparison was used to emphasize his loneliness, which links back to the theme of the death of the human spirit.
When the persona talks about life before joining the war, he uses literary devices to emphasize the good life before joining the war. The phrase “younger than his youth” in stanza three emphasizes how young he is. The next phrase “last year” emphasizes the fact that he joined the war last year, and now he is old and disabled. “He’s lost his colour”, represents a loss of blood and implies that he lost his youth, hope and his exciting, colourful life. “Poured it down shell-holes” implies pouring his life away, “And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race” shows that he lost half of his life in the war. The phrase “hot race” implies how they were really excited to join the war, and thought it would be great to finish it. The word “hot” hints that war was hot, bloody, and not enjoyable. He lost ordinary senses when he thought about joining the war, and did not think through the consequences or the enemies. It seemed as if it was a spur-of-a-moment decision, and did not think rationally.
The fourth and fifth stanzas explain to the reader why he joined the war. Short words are used to make the pace quicker, showing excitement from the persona. He compared joining the war to being in a football match, as he thought it was the same.“He liked a blood-smear down his leg” shows that he enjoyed the little smear that he had when he got hurt playing football. He believed that if he could survive this, he can survive being in the war. He also assumed that it was as easy as scoring two goals in the football match. However, this is all different when you fight in the war. The smears and scratches represent the lost legs, lost arms and puddles of war. That is another reason to not join the war, linking to the destruction of the human soul.
“Someone said he’d look a god in kilts” made him feel like a hero before joining the war, contrasting to current day, where he is not one. It is naive and a superficial way to view war. He also joined the war to “please the giddy jilts”, which means that he joined the war to please the women. Short syllable words like “Aye, that was it” were used to make the rhythm quicker, showing enthusiasm for war. The word “Fear” in “And no fears / Of Fear came yet” has a capital letter, which symbolises When he joined up war, the people just wrote down his lie of him being nineteen years old. The people did not care how old he was, and just signed them up. This shows that the army really needed new recruits, and they allowed him to join the war, despite the fact that he was underage and was not trained. The persona also did not think about Austrians nor Germans, which indicates that he was thinking superficially, and the people going to war were not told everything.
The sixth stanza is the shortest stanza. It parallels the reality that there were only not a lot of people who visited him. The tone has suddenly changed, from being cheered away to being really lonely, depressing and heartbreaking. “Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal” This line shows that there were fewer people than how many people cheer him when he scored a goal. This juxtaposition was used to emphasize the number of people. This also shows the attitude of society during the war, and how people do not care much about the wounded soldiers. Only a “solemn man” thanked him and “inquired about his soul”. This implies only a religious person or a priest came, as they are the only ones who care about one’s soul. The word “thanked” was italicised, emphasizing how few people came and visited him. The phrase is also sarcastic, implying that it lacked sincerity and thought.
At the very end, the tone continues to be very depressing. “A few sick years” implies how he will only stay alive for a few years. “And take whatever pity they may dole” shows he will just take whatever is offered by the government, as nobody visits him. He now believes that he is a burden to the country, not valued, will never be remembered. He then talked about how the women were interested in men that were whole, showing the reader that the ones that he was trying to please is now gone, and moved on to other strong men, who is not him. The last phrase “Why don’t they come” is repeated, meaning that he really wants someone to just kill him, linking back to the theme of the death of the human spirit.
The Bright Lights of Sarajevo depicts a different attitude towards war. Whilst Disabled focused on the devastating and depressing side of war, the Bright Lights of Sarajevo shows that people can neglect fear during the war, and live life as nothing is happening, The poet tell the reader this through a couple who just met in a cafe.
The Bright Lights of Sarajevo starts with a dark and depressing tone. The phrase “Queuing for the precious meagre grams” uses an oxymoron. This shows that the people will queue up in danger even for the precious meagre grams of bread that they get. Another phrase “and often dodging snipers on the way” show how the people would be collecting food in danger just to survive the war. The use of oxymorons is to emphasize the people trying to survive during the war, connecting to the theme of resilience. The poem features a regular rhyme scheme, which shows that people’s lives are still going regularly. Enjambment is also used to imply that people’s lives are flowing. This links back to the theme of resilience.
“The young go walking at stroller’s pace” shows that even though people know it is in the war, at night, they would go out despite being in danger of being killed. They walk at a stroller’s pace, meaning that they walk slowly. This highlights the fact that they are just living their lives as if there is nothing that is affecting them. “in unlit streets you can’t distinguish who calls bread hjleb or Hleb or calls it kruh”. This shows how ordinary people do not care about different ethnicities, even though the war is fought because of racial and religious differences. The war does not concern the people living in Sarajevo in any way. They do not believe their thoughts of their “leaders”, and just carry on living their lives, linking back to the theme of resilience.
When the poem continues, it brings excitement through the words “but tonight in Sarajevo that’s just not the case”. The excitement is to bring out the theme of the resilience of the human spirit, as even though it is during the war, the people are not staying at home, and are excited when they leave home and walk on the streets.
The persona then talks about seeing a couple in a very dark cafe. “Tender radar” is to remind the reader that they are still fighting in the war. The juxtaposition is to emphasize the theme of resilience. This is used to show that even during the war, the couple would be here to be together, despite being in a war zone. As the cafe did not have bright lights, the man lit a candle to see if he made any progress in the relationship. This also links back to the theme of the resilience of his soul.
This is very different from Disabled, where it talks about how the soldier is dying and how the soldier hopes that he wants to die. This poem uses more structural elements to describe the current atmosphere, whilst Disabled uses more language techniques. The Bright Lights Of Sarajevo showed the reader that the people are living a normal life, and Disabled showed the reader that life is depressing after joining the war. The different types of introductions lead to the main points of the poem.
The next stanza is to remind the reader that they are still in a war. This is to emphasize and remind the reader that even though they seem like living a normal life, they are in danger as well. One example is the word “1992”, where the persona reminds the reader that the breadline shop was bombed, killing many people. The words “Blood-dunked crusts” emphasizes how bloody the war was, and how dangerous it is in Sarajevo. The vivid image created by the persona is to reiterate the horrification of war. Despite this, people are still living their lives normally. The persona then talks about water being in the shell-hole, and the stars “Pleiades” were reflected. This implies that there may be a better day in the future in Sarajevo.
The last stanza talks about how the couple is together in a cafe. They are having a romantic experience, as shown in the lines “The dark boy-shape leads dark girl-shape away / to share one coffee in a candlelit cafe”. However, the fact that they are in a curfew, and how there are aid packs behind him, makes it a very unromantic place. This emphasizes how Sarajevans are still living their regular lives. This type of juxtaposition repeats the theme of resilience.
Both texts are effective in their own way. Disabled used many different techniques and structural devices to convey the persona’s points. The Bright Lights of Sarajevo used more structural techniques to show that their lives are flowing, and nothing is happening to them. The poems give different thoughts to different people reading the poems. One could be that war is a very dangerous place, the other could be that people are living their lives as if nothing is happening.