“Asleep” was written when Owen left hospital and is written through the eyes of a third person. His poem is directed at someone who is watching another soldier whilst he is dying and takes place when the soldier is dead and even a little after his death. Throughout the poem, the tone stays consistently calm despite the fact that he is writing about the death of a soldier. The calm tone that Owen uses can be used to emphasise that this soldier was asleep when he died as dying in your sleep is said to be calmer than when you are alive.
Owen uses lots of imagery to convey his ideas about war and the situation that this soldier is currently in. One example of this imagery is seen in the line “Death took him by the heart” (line 5). This is abstract imagery because you cannot possible imagine death in your head, this could represent that the love that this soldier once had is all gone, and there is nothing that he can do about it. Not only can this but if death took all of his love away, it could show how war can make soldiers lose their sense of morality, as if these men became empty shells.
“After the many days of work and waking”(line 2), Owen clearly is showing how hard and strenuous that war can be on a soldier and finally, after all of this constant “work and waking”, his time has come to an end, this could show to us how futile Owen thought that war was. Despite this man putting all of his effort and love into protecting his country he just seems to be taken. It all seems very pointless. Futile. Owen uses the metaphor “Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back”(line 3), to emphasise the exhaustion that these soldiers felt as well as how gentle death can be. He personifies sleep in this metaphor as someone who truly cares about the well being of these soldiers. Perhaps Owen uses sleep as a way of representing the nurses that looked after the soldiers and nursed them back to life. However once again, these attempts were futile. This idea of it being someone who cares is especially evident in the phrase “happy no-time”(line 4) as it is like someone tending to a child. Later we find that this idea of personal concern is one of the main strands of this poem, though the words also remind us in passing of the unusual vulnerability of the soldiers on the battlefield, and of the officer-poets feelings for those in charge.
The rhythm and structure are suited to the meaning of the poem. The first three lines are not necessarily about fatigue and exhaustion but about its practical consequence, and their swift syllables, together with end-stopping and sharply conclusive rhyming, suggest a single-minded promptness- This can bring us back to this idea of the soldiers being empty shells as they haven’t got the capability of being open minded- yet the movement is flexible; the first line wastes no more time than the soldier does once he is released from duty; the second, however, refers back to a long exhausting effort, and this is delicately reflected in the drawn-out rhythm of “days of work and waking”. When we return to the subject of lying down and falling asleep the quicker movement is resumed; but here again there is a subtle rubato effect- a pause on “brow”, and then a slight retardation on “laid”, as though the head were being supported a little to ease its descent.
“Death took him by the heart”, Owen uses ‘him’ to identify the soldier who is currently on his death bed, however ‘him’ could also have been used to represent the mass of soldiers that were dying and that this one particular case is insignificant in amongst this mass of death. Furthermore, this idea of insignificance can be further interpretated to show that when men went to war they were stripped of their personalities and individualities and became a soldier, hiding under his ‘helmet’.
Owen uses many different language devices to convey his ideas, thoughts and feelings about war; one example of…