'Exposure' gives a view of the front line, based on Owen's experiences in the winter of 1917, and passive suffering is what it is all about. 'Nothing happens', as he says four times - nothing except little changes in the time of day, the weather and the progress of the war. Owen uses all his senses to describe the frosty atmosphere and sets a lamenting and descriptive tone. The rhyme scheme is ABBA and the stanzas are continuous, emphasizing the continuous suffering of the British. It is written in first person plural, which makes us feel with the soldiers and put ourselves into their position. The men appear trapped somewhere between life and death. When it ends, they are exactly where they were in the first verse. It starts by setting the scene of tired soldiers being ‘knived’ by the wind, too worried to sleep because of the unnatural silence. The poem examines the sensations of soldiers slowly freezing to death in the trenches of World War I in a poem of forty lines divided into eight stanzas. As the cold sets in, sentries and ordinary soldiers watch confusing flares in the frontline fortification from which they have withdrawn for the night.
'What are we doing here?' the poet asks in verse 2. The real cause of their suffering is that they are lying in the open under freezing conditions, with some psychological force forbidding them to get up and walk away. The parallel is with hanging on a cross, and verse 7 examines the possibility that they are suffering for others.
“Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
But nothing happens.”
The sibilance of the repeated ‘s’ sound creates the effect of whispering, an attempt to not draw the attention of the enemy, who are futilely using flares to see what is going on.
The trenches were protected by rolls of barbed wire, the barbs snagging the clothing and skin of any person trying to manoeuvre through it, delaying their passage and increasing the chances of being shot. Then allowing their comrades to witness their dying agony held up twitching on the wire. Owen uses a simile with naturally occurring brambles.
The war continues in the distance but the silence and inactivity in the bitter cold makes it all sound unreal, as dawn brings more snow laden clouds into view.
“Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.”
Has the battle started again? It is compared as less ‘deathly’ than the snow. Are the men staring so hard that they can no longer…