In soldiers when he refers to the saying as

In the war poem ‘Exposure’, Wilfred
Owen’s choice of words helps to describe the extremes to which he and his men
were exposed to during the war, and how the First World War affected soldiers
both mentally and physically.

Through his use of alliteration and
personification, Owen helps put emphasis on the conditions in which the men
suffered under and how the elements played a role in many soldiers’ demise. The
first line of the first stanza starts with ‘Our brains ache’, an oblique
reference to Owen’s literary hero, John Keats. The line reflects Keats’s poem
‘Ode to a Nightingale’  (‘Our hearts
ache…’) and helps convey the physical, mental pain the soldiers are
experiencing on the frontline. Owen use of sibilance helps to generate a
cutting and bitter edge to ‘the merciless iced east winds’ which ‘knive’ the
men, adding a predacious instinct to the elements. The line ‘Low, drooping
flares confuse our memory…’ helps convey how disordered and tired the soldiers
are, as they have no chance to rest due to the constant fighting.

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In the second stanza, Owen
personifies the bursts of wind as ‘mad gusts’, suggesting they are violent and
unforgiving. The ‘flickering gunnery rumbles, far off’ shows that the soldiers
are always getting a constant reminder that they are in a war, and how there is
no way to escape it and find peace. The second stanza ends with Owen asking the
question, ‘What are we doing here?’ This helps emphasise how the soldiers did
not want to fight in this war yet they were the ones sent in and used as the
cannon fodder in the war. This contrasts with the old saying and title of
Wilfred Owen’s satirical poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. The full Latin saying
translates to ‘It is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country’, which is
the opposite to how the second stanza ends in ‘Exposure’. Owen speaks for all
soldiers when he refers to the saying as ‘The old Lie’, conveying how these
young men were just thrown into a devastating and bloody war under a false
philosophy.

Typically, the coming of dawn
symbolises the arrival of hope however in the third stanza of ‘Exposure’,
‘dawn’ only brings another day of hell, another day of ‘poignant misery’.
‘massing her melancholy army’ describes the dawn as being sentient, whilst its
‘army’ of clouds is like the uniforms and tanks of the German army: ‘grey’,
‘stormy’ and lined up in ‘rank upon shivering rank’, ready to attack the
soldiers cowering in the trenches. ‘Clouds sag stormy’ perfectly conveys the
mood of the poem as the cloud is sagging due to being tired, just like how the
soldiers are described by Owen.

In the fifth stanza, the line ‘Pale
flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces’ suggests that the
snow-flakes can make conscious choices on whom they will attack as they ‘flock,
pause and renew’ (fourth stanza). The flakes have fingers which reach out for
the faces of the many soldiers; the snow and cold link with the idea of pain
and suffering. The word ‘pale’ connotes this further, as it symbolises the loss
of life. From this, we can infer how the wintry elements are as much an enemy
on the attack as are the Germans, as the elements are unforgiving and do not
care about who they harm. The significant role of the elements is seen in
another Wilfred Owen poem called ‘Futility’, which expresses Owen’s belief in
the worthlessness of God and the war. The ‘sun’ in the poem is a metaphor for
the Son of God, as the poem is about a soldier who has died who is trying to be
revived by the sun. ‘Futility’ was categorised by Owen under the title ‘Grief’,
as it deals with the intense sorrow felt after a person’s death.

The line ‘We cringe in holes’ reminds
the audience how the soldiers were just ordinary men, some only teenagers, who
were terrified and scared after being thrown on the frontline; the soldiers are
frightened like animals, shrinking in their trenches. The fifth stanza also
includes a dreamlike scenario where the soldiers scared in the trenches look
‘back on forgotten dreams’, possibly of peaceful times with no fear and not in
the harsh cold, as they are ‘snow-dazed’ in the trench. The soldiers ‘drowse,
sun-dozed, littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses’. The
blossoms in the dream juxtapose with the dirty and bleak conditions of war life
like how ‘sun-dozed’ juxtaposes with ‘snow-dazed’, as Owen has used snowing
imagery consistently in the poem. ‘Blossoms’ paints a pastoral scene for the
reader as it suggests the soldiers’ dreams are of a heavenly place, where they
are no longer fighting and seeing people they know die.

Owen uses half rhymes in ‘Exposure’
such as ‘silent/salient’, and ‘crisp/grasp’. This is similar to another Wilfred
Owen poem ‘Strange Meeting’, which also uses half rhymes like ‘escaped/scooped’
and ‘moon/mourn’. Owen does this deliberately to give a dreamlike quality to
the poem as the soldiers are severely tired due to all the fighting. This helps
emphasise the increasing fatigue amongst the soldiers on the frontline, a key
theme of many war poems by Owen.

The despair these soldiers fighting
in World War One are experiencing reaches its peak in the final two stanzas, as
they have no choice but to ‘lie out here’ on the battlefield. The soldiers die
alone in the cold, far away from home where the ‘kind fires burn’. Their bodies
are found by other members of the army who then wait for something to happen,
‘but nothing happens’. This conveys how there is no way out of this cold, dark,
miserable life in the war other than dying; only through dying will these
troubled soldiers find peace. The soldiers die and are not given proper
burials, which is something the poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ touches on. ‘No
mockeries for them now; no prayers nor bells’ emphasises how any religious
ritual for these soldiers dying in the mud and stench of the battlefield, would
undermine their death. The title of this Owens poem is ironic as anthems are
hymns for celebrations but there is nothing to praise in war, especially as the
soldiers ‘die as cattle’.

The poem has a structure of eight
stanzas with five lines, with the last lines of each stanza being much shorter
than the others: ‘But nothing happens’ (first, third, fourth and the final
stanza), ‘What are we doing here?’, ‘Is it that we are dying?’, ‘We turn back
to our dying’, and ‘For love of God seems dying’. Owen incorporates these short
lines to break the rhythmic structure of the poem, as the first four lines
consist of an enclosed (ABBA) rhythmic structure. The effect of this rhythmic
structure is to covey how tedious the trench life was for soldiers in the war.
‘But nothing happens’, ‘Is it that we are dying?’, and ‘What are we doing
here?’ are all rhetorical questions to emphasize the senselessness of the
soldiers being in this pointless war.

‘Exposure’ does what the title
suggests and exposes the reader to the harsh and dire conditions of what it was
like to be a soldier in World War One, and how war not only effects people
physically but also mentally. Owen delves into a soldier’s psyche and how the
increasing fatigue can but people in a hallucinatory state, leaving them left
empty for their want to leave this hell of earth. Therefore, I think ‘Exposure’
ranks highly in terms of significance in the Wilfred Owen: The War Poems, as it
truly shows how the war affected so many people in many ways.