The Ideas of Pain and Loss in Poems ‘Bright Lights of Sarajevo,’ and ‘Disabled’. The Concept of War Essay Example

  • Category: Literature, Poem,
  • Words: 1052 Pages: 4
  • Published: 07 April 2021
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“Disabled” is an anti-war poem which gives perspective on the tragedies of the war, and the extent to which pain and loss consumed people’s lives, using imagery of lost limbs, lost hope and loss of the will to live. Wilfred Owen gives impairment and disability an emblematic status after WW1, which still influences opinions and attitudes today. Tony Harrison also presents an unvarnished, detailed recount of the Bosnian War in the mid 1990s, portraying the massacre which claimed so many of the city’s innocent civilians with great depth in ‘Bright Lights of Sarajevo.’ Both poets use a variety of literary techniques, focusing largely on the juxtaposition of opposing ideas, language, and emotions to depict a more severe image of suffering. 


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In “Disabled,” Wilfred Owen compares the young man to a ghost, as a ‘ghastly suit of grey,’ showing his mental injuries have left him without life or hope. The suffocating feeling of loss is shown through the guttural alliteration repetition of ‘g’s, connoting gagging and the struggle to survive. As well as his comparison to a ghost connoting death, WIlfred Owen writes “Why don't they come And put him into bed? Why don't they come?” to reflect how the young man can no longer see a meaning to his life. Shown by a circular construction that reprises the beginning of the poem, Wilfred owen again uses this euphemism.

The repetition used exaggerates his eagerness for death, and depicts how his life is without hope. The idea of bed, which connotes warmth and rest, is juxtaposed with its euphemism for death, making it all the more painful. Contrastingly, in “The Bright lights of Sarajevo,” Tony Harrison lingers an image of death and destruction, interspersing them with an undercurrent of hope and blossoming love. The idea of hope for new beginnings is shown by these two characters, who could be argued to be the “bright lights'' as suggested in the title. Hope for life after war is shown in the second stanza as the personified ‘shells scars’ are now ‘full of water.’ The water acts as a purification rite and shows the washing away of massacre and new beginning.

Wilfred Owen uses alliteration to create a vivid image of lost identity. As used in a previous example, the onomatopoeic alliteration connoting gagging of ‘ghastly,’ and ‘grey,’ in “Disabled,” could also reflect on the suppression of his previous identity before the war changed him. Owen also uses the simile “all of them touched him like some queer disease,” to show that the young man isn’t viewed as a person anymore, but as a scar or display of the war. Owen juxtaposes ‘touch’ with ‘disease,’ to also emphasise the loss of sex the young man is also experienced, as he is merely touched in disgust now. In “The Bright lights of Sarajevo,” Harrison uses the metaphor ‘dark boy-shape,’ taking away the identity the citizens are trying so hard to cling to. The generality of the girl and boy reflects how each soldier was not individually recognised in the war, but rather as an unidentified crowd. Alliteration is again used to show lack of identity as Harrison writes ‘coffee in a candlelit cafe until curfew.’ The harsh textural sound shows that their attempt at a normal relationship is destroyed by the metaphorical and physical darkness they endure.

Just as Owen uses a circular structure to show a never ending mental pain, he also uses caesuras to exaggerate the physical pain of losing limbs. “Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park” the caesura shows the sudden loss the young man experienced, emphasising how his arm just stops suddenly at the elbow. Wilfred Owen also uses colour again to describe losing limbs: “Leap of purple spurted from his thigh,” constitutes a dramatic climax with its fast pace and assonant rhyme ‘spurt,’ and ‘purple.’ ‘Purple’ is significant as it symbolises energy and vigour and shows that this aspect of the young man is rapidly leaving him.

There are no obvious depictions of losing limbs in “Bright lights of Sarajevo,” however, Tony Harrison juxtaposes the image of colour and beauty with the deadly connotations of phrases like the ‘clouds have cleared away,’ leaving the contradiction of the beauty of a ‘star filled sky,’ which allows bombing runs to occur, replacing small scale death by sniper with potential mass destruction from the air. Despite the clearness of the sky, the night is suggested to be exciting and bring about a certain freedom, as at times the pace of the poem quickens, representing a quickening heart with 13 syllables in ‘but tonight in Sarajevo that's just not the case.’

These poems are both effective articulations of many forms of loss. It is clear that the young man in “Disabled” was profoundly affected by the tragedies of the war and struggled to accept how different life was after. Wilfred Owen depicts the young man as a ghostly apparition resulting in a strange ambiguity about the reality of his experience. In “Bright Lights of Sarajevo,” Tony Harrison depicts a ghostly lost city, but cleverly disperses a few subtle tones of hope and young love throughout. This element of hope and a future is not shown in “Disabled,” and therefore “Bright lights of Sarajevo,” depicts loss much more extensively. 


What first interested me to analyse Disabled, was the connection WIlfred Owen had with Siegfried Sassoon, a poet of the war who avoided the sentimentality and jingoism that many other war poets wrote about, and focused on the pure horror and brutality. This upfront approach intrigued me to her, and therefore to Wilfred Owen, as she imprinted many of her ideas and styles onto him. The Historical detail of the war, the individual lives and their significance, also drew me towards “Disabled,” as it focuses on one person. As Wilfred Owen’s poem was very much brutal, individual and upfront in his approach, I then decided to pick a poem which could be contrasted with this, such as ‘Bright lights of Sarajevo’ which also depicts bitter realities but isn’t fully transparent.

These two poems also have similar themes and linguistic techniques, making them relatable to each other. The repetition of ideas also gives both poems a structured, textual feel, making them more appealing, especially the use of alliteration and images of loss. I also feel I have an emotional connection with both these poems, as they display elements of loss, and my grandmother used to tell me stories of when my grandfather came back from the war and how he left a piece of him behind. She also talked about the extent to which it was a massacre, and I have seen what a large scale to which it was on the Battlefields trip, seeing thousands of names engraved on gravestones.



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