The study of Wilfred Owen’s poetry remains a popular choice for HSC Standard English Module B: Close Study of Text. As such, students are required to demonstrate their understanding of how Owen shares his ideas of war through different language features. Following our line-by-line discussion and annotation, students chose to collate information into table form before writing analytical paragraphs. Extended response writing requires students to make choices about
- which language features and examples best support their understanding of a particular poem
- how they might structure relevant paragraphs
and so we discussed possible topics that could inform each paragraph. We decided that paragraphs could focus on
- a sequential analysis – beginning with the title and working through the poem from opening line to end
- techniques with examples
- the imagery Owen relies on to make his perspective clear
- themes – the key ideas of each poem and how they are represented
As part of this discussion, we also considered the positives and negatives of each option, and agreed that a suitable way forward could also include a combination of approaches. For example, the option using ‘imagery’ as a unifying focus could also include a sequential analysis that includes the shifting energy levels of each stanza.
We also discussed how a table could be structured, with many opting for a simple Technique-Example-Explanation or TEE style. While working on our tables during class, some students admitted that they had begun writing paragraphs without completing the table. It seems that simply considering where information may be placed in a table helps to solidify choices about the most effective language features and examples to use. Here is part of my table, with sample sentences using some of these examples:
In Dulce et Decorum Est, Owen juxtaposes two distinct images of the soldiers who experience this gas attack. Beginning with a simile that compares servicemen to the worn and impoverished in ‘Bent double, like old beggars’, we are forced to consider the impact of battle. This is reinforced in the second simile of ‘coughing like hags’ where the fighters are belittled as ugly old women. Owen contrasts this representation in the final stanza by describing the soldiers as ‘innocent … children’, reminding us that the decision to participate in this war was often taken by naive young men who acted on impulse without fully appreciating the consequences. We are forced to consider the irony of the title, suggesting a sweet and fitting death, as Owen has effectively shared his realistic view of a painful and traumatic battlefield event.
*image from Youtube audio version – note: poem version differs from that studied in class