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4. Grief: Wilfred Owen, ‘Futility’
About this Lecture
This module is the third and final in which we consider how some of the poetry written during the First World War might be seen to align with one or more stages of the Five Stages of Grief. Here, we turn to Wilfred Owen’s ‘Futility’, focusing in particular on the sonnet form (or is it?), the use of half-rhymes (e.g. sun/sown, once/France), the influence of Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’ (“O life as futile, then, as frail!”), and the powerful and unanswerable rhetorical question that ends the poem: “What made fatuous sunbeams toil | To break earth's sleep at all?”
In this course, Dr Peter Howarth (Queen Mary University of London) explores the poetry of the First World War. We begin in the first module by providing a broad introduction to war poetry, thinking in particular about the basic conflict between war and poetry. In the following three modules, we consider the idea that some of the poetry written during the First World War might be seen as a means of processing grief, and we look in turn at three poems in relation to three of the five stages of grief – bargaining (Margaret Cole’s ‘The Leaves are Falling’), denial (Rupert Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’), and depression (Wilfred Owen’s ‘Futility’). In the fifth module, we consider two satires on the war – Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘The Hero’ and E. E. Cummings’ ‘Next to of course god america i’ – before turning in the sixth and seventh modules to two poems that stand as public protests to the war: Wilfrid Wilson Gibson’s ‘The Conscript’ and Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. In the eighth module, we think about the ‘conflict’ between the poets of the First World War with some the great poets of the past – looking in particular at the poetry of Wilfred Owen (‘Exposure’) and John Keats – before turning in the ninth and final module to consider the theme of guilt in one of Wilfred Owen’s most famous poems, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’.
Dr Peter Howarth came to Queen Mary in 2007, after lecturing at the University of Nottingham (2000-2007) and completing a PhD at Cambridge in 2000. His first book, British Poetry in the Age of Modernism (CUP, 2006) explored the poetics of non-modernism in the twentieth century, and his teaching and writing have continued to explore the relation of form, social setting and historical time ever since.
Cite this Lecture
Howarth, P. (2019, February 04). The Poetry of the First World War - Grief: Wilfred Owen, ‘Futility’ [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/the-poetry-of-the-first-world-war/grief-wilfred-owen-futility
Howarth, Peter. "The Poetry of the First World War – Grief: Wilfred Owen, ‘Futility’." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 04 Feb 2019, https://www.massolit.io/courses/the-poetry-of-the-first-world-war/grief-wilfred-owen-futility