The sentry

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THE SENTRY (January 1917) The Sentry’ is a poem which grows directly out of an isolated incident in the trenches. It is wholly characteristic of Owen in that it focuses on the fate of one private soldier, the eponymous ‘sentry’ who is blinded and maimed by a ‘whizz-bang’. It is an extremely moving poem, for the focus is not only on the sentry’s pitiful reaction to his injuries, but also on Owen’s own haunted recollection of them. The situation for the poem is ‘an old Boche dug-out’ which a party of English troops has taken, but not without being seen: consequently, it comes under enemy fire, ‘shell on frantic shell’ pounding its position. The co-opted dug-out is a ‘hell’ on earth, not only because of the artillery bombardment, but…show more content…
In this chaos, he observes ‘other wretches, how they bled and spewed’ and forgets about the poor sentry. The simple movement of this iambic pentameter - I try not to remember these things now - conveys the calm that comes from his selective amnesia; the steady rhythm of the line suggests that he has regained his composure. Respite, however, is only temporary. The blinded and shell-shocked sentry has the last ‘word’. His ‘moans and jumps’ - not to mention ‘the wild chattering’ of his teeth - resurface in Owen’s consciousness and reclaim his attention: Through the dense din, I say, we heard him shout, ‘I see your lights!’ - But ours had long gone out. His haunting recollection is of the sentry’s voice, shouting – through the cacophony caused by the exploding shells – that he can ‘see’. He is insisting that he can see in order to reassure both his fellow soldiers and himself. Once more, Owen combines a dialogue and a description to dramatic effect: in the final couplet, the pity for the sentry lies in the poetic juxtaposition of his optimistic speech (‘I see your lights’) with the plain description (‘But ours had long gone out’) by which it is embarrassed. The pity proceeds from the dramatic irony at the sentry’s expense: he, being blind, does not know – whereas his comrades do - that their lamps have ‘long gone out’. Because they can see for themselves, his bravado has an unintended consequence: it exposes his noble
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