Mental Cases. Wilfred Owen. SUMMARY
The narrator in this three stanza poem observes men in a mental hospital who suffer from what at the time (World War I) was called shell shock and now might be labeled post-traumatic stress disorder. In any case, they are insane; they relive the "batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles."
For these tortured souls, "sunlight seems a bloodsmear" and "dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh." They cannot escape their hideous memories of the warfare. The narrator sees them as living in hell, and he accepts for all society the blame for what has happened to them--we, he says, have "dealt them war and madness."Mental Cases
In this poem he opens with a series of questions about who these mental cases are, why they rock back and forth in some kind of purgatory, why they are so tortured with panic and misery.
In the second stanza, he answers the opening questions: these are the men whose minds have been ruined by their war experiences, for whom the grotesque carnage of the war was "rucked too thick for these men's extrication."
In the final stanza, he explains why these men are so tortured by their memories. And, typical of Owen, he points out that everyone who supported the war contributed to the madness of these mental cases.Mental Cases
Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight? Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows, Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish, Baring teeth that leer like skulls' tongues wicked?Mental Cases
Stroke on stroke of pain, -- but what slow panic, Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets? Ever from their hair and through their hand palms Misery swelters. Surely we have perished Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?Mental Cases
- These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished. Memory fingers in their hair of murders, Multitudinous murders they once witnessed. Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander, Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.Mental Cases
Always they must see these things and hear them, Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles, Carnage incomparable and human squander Rucked too thick for these men's extrication.Mental Cases
Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented Back into their brains, because on their sense Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black; Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh - Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous, Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.Mental Cases
- Thus their hands are plucking at each other; Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging; Snatching after us who smote them, brother, Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.Mental Cases
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