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How do Frost and Owen create a sense of pathos?

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Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Disabled’ concerns a young soldier who returns from the Great War suffering terrible injuries. The title of the poem is significant in creating a sense of pathos as it makes clear that the theme of loss will be explored throughout.

Robert Frost’s poem ‘Out, Out’ is about a young boy sawing wood in the Vermont mountains who accidentally cuts his hand off with the saw and dies. The title is an allusion to the Shakespearean tragedy where, on hearing of his wife’s death, Macbeth says “out, out brief candle”. The reader can deduce from the title that the poem will concern the brevity and fragility of life.

Owen and Frost use pathos as the focal point throughout these poems to portray the drastic emotional effects felt by both personas. By including linguistic and structural devices throughout both poems, the reader feels varying levels of pity and compassion for the tragedy in each poem which ensures a greater overall connection between reader and author.

Frost includes various forms of personification in his poem ‘Out, Out’ to induce pathos. The buzz saw is personified using animalistic imagery creating a deep sense of fear and a real awareness of the immense power which the saw yields. “Buzz saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled.” The reader feels pity for the boy as the repeated use of the verb “snarled” creates the image that the saw has a life of its own and the boy is not at fault when he loses his hand. Therefore, the use of personification emphasizes innocence.

Similarly, Owen uses personification in the poem ‘Disabled’ to convey the horrific injures the solider endured. In personifying blood as “Leap of purple spurted” and the use of a dynamic verb, a vivid image of a creature leaping from his war wound is created causing a sorrowful emotional response from the reader. Sleep is also cleverly personified as a mother gathering up her children using the metaphor of “till gathering sleep had mothered” the boys’ voices. This underlines a sense of pain and of physical isolation which helps the reader feel pity for the soldier who is cold and tired and yet unable to move until someone remembers that he needs putting to bed. In both poems, tonal shift is used to create pathos.

In ‘Disabled’ the author includes tonal shift to create two separate and distinct time periods. You can infer that the change in location reflects the general tone moving from the dark and lonely present in stanza one to the bright and light past of the town he lived in, in stanza two. The reader can appreciate the feelings of nostalgia which the person experiences of his once animated life which was full of opportunity and this generates a sense of pathos for how seriously the soldier’s life has been impacted by war. The vibrancy of his former life has bled away “down shell-holes” leaving his experience of life dark and worthless “in his ghastly shirt of grey”, waiting only for death. Before he went to war he was the person whom people looked up to and admired, now “only a solemn man thanked him and inquired about his soul”. The reader feels compassion for him as the war has exposed him to a huge collection of fears that end up engulfing him.

In ‘Out, Out’ Frost also includes a subtle tonal shift. He begins the poem with serene images of the landscape and the sensory stimulation “sweet scented stuff when the breeze drew across it” which symbolize the boy’s innocence. These contrast ironically with the horrific encounter between the boy and the saw when “neither refused the meeting.” The author uses a very understated tonal shift depicting the change in the evening from a blissful atmosphere, where the buzz saw is seen as quite insignificant, to a chaotic scene where a young boy is dying at the frenzied hands of the saw. The contrast generates pity as the reader longs for the boy to return to the tranquility of the moments preceding the horrors he endures.

Both poets use symbols to create pathos. The damaged soldier at the centre of ‘Disabled’ is a powerful symbol of the destruction and aftermath of war. Prior to enlisting, he “liked a blood smear down his leg” and “after football… drunk a peg” implying his naivety and that he was unaware of the true realities of war. The football game and the blood smear symbolize the way in which men saw war as a game to be won with honour and glory, but which ended in bloodshed and slaughter. The buzz saw in “Out, Out” symbolizes the mindless power of machinery which can destroy human life, when out of man’s control. It symbolizes the fragility of life and the danger of child labour. By using these symbols, both poets create a feeling of compassion for the personas, both of whom experience accidental amputation.

The structure of ‘Out Out’ has no stanzas. This creates an incessant experience giving the reader little time to absorb what is happening. The structure underlines the abruptness and unexpected nature of the boy’s death and the brevity of life both of which induce pathos. Whereas in ‘Disabled’ stanzas are used to provide a brief sketch of different phases of the man’s life. The contrast between the second stanza, comprising mainly happy times when he was a courageous, young boy and the final stanza, detailing the reality of his situation following the war, enables the reader to feel sorrow about the life the soldier now leads, as he is also just a boy. Although the authors use varying structures, they are both equally effective in creating pathos.

The poems use punctuation to invoke compassion. ‘Out, Out’ uses punctuation to convey the panicked and frightful nature of the events. The pause after the words “Then the boy saw all-” as the boy comprehends that death is imminent make the reader feel as if they are experiencing his chaotic thoughts and pain and there is the sense that his life is slowly slipping away and the reader is powerless to prevent it. As they then listen for his heart beat, more parenthetic dashes are used “Little-less-nothing! – and that ended it. ” The momentary pausing of the action infers the shock and confusion felt by both the boy and his family and creates a morbid realization for the reader, inducing pathos.

Rhetorical questions are used in the poem ‘Disabled’ to make the reader think about how to interpret the poem. He asks “And put him to bed? Why don’t they come?” Will anyone come or will this poor man be left alone? Alternatively, has the soldier anything else left to live for if all he is doing is waiting? All the readers’ feelings and thoughts induced by the questions create an overwhelming sense of pity towards the persona as the reader longs for someone to help him, knowing full well that they won’t.

Repetition is deployed in both poems. In ‘Out, Out’, the repetition of the conjunction “and” in the early part of the poem creates a sense of a normal routine being completed by the boy. The repetition of “snarled and rattled” foreshadows the imminent death of the child and the extremity of the pain that he will experience. This yields a more intense reaction from the reader, who feels a mixture of grief and sympathy as they realize that something terrible is about to occur whilst the boy, ironically, suspects nothing. The repetition of the word “boy” also emphasizes how young he is when he is killed. In ‘Disabled’ repetition of the question “why don’t they come?” makes the soldier seem desperate, as though he is asking the reader this question and this engages their sense of sorrow for him. The repetition in “and no fears of Fear came yet” suggests the consequences of his naïve decision which will follow for the soldier.

Vivid imagery is used as a device to enable the reader to relate to the suffering felt by the child in ‘Out, Out’. Frost describes the beautiful mountains of Vermont using sibilance “Sweet-scented stuff” which helps to create a mystical setting which is later contrasted with the painful, desperate commotion of the boy. Frost’s sensory overload in the words “The saw, as if to prove saws knew what supper meant, leapt out at the boy’s hand” enables the reader to fully grasp the varied emotions in the scene and feel deep sorrow as the boy dies in agony. The imagery in ‘Disabled’ constantly emphasizes body parts to show how the loss of the soldier’s limbs affects his view of reality. Images such as “legless, sewn short at elbow” and “before he threw away his knees” instill a sense of pity and sorrow for the soldier’s deformities. The young soldier had dreamt of “jeweled hilts for daggers in plaid socks” and of “smart salutes, and care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears.” However, he comes to realize that these are all illusions and the wonderful war images that he had formed as a child are changed by blunt reality where he will “spend a few sick years in Institutes, and do what the rules consider wise’”. This encourages the reader to feel sympathy for the disappointment the soldier feels.

In ‘Disabled’ iambic pentameter induces pathos by making the soldier’s life seem monotonous and conveying he has nothing left to live for. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CACA which gives the poem rhythm and creates a song like atmosphere which helps the reader to engage in the story. In ‘Out, Out” the poem is in free verse echoing natural speech with deviations from iambic pentameter. This creates a rhythm that produces tension as the narrative builds up to the unexpected death. The rhythm’s constant and repetitive style highlights the rapidity of the impending death placing the reader in shock.

In conclusion, the authors effectively create pathos by using contrasting linguistic devices which, although they are successful in different ways, both induce a similar reaction from a reader. In ‘Disabled’ the reader feels pathos due to the fact the soldier ages mentally and loses his limbs making his remaining life an endurance and alternatively in ‘Out, Out” because the boy loses life itself.

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