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Mental Cases. Wilfred Owen. SUMMARY

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mental cases

Mental Cases

Wilfred Owen

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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
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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.

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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?

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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?

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- 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
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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.

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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.

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- 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
writing your response

Always Start with:

  • Then Poem #1 – lots of STEEL
  • Without Owen there would be no Poem SO we always stem everything from his purpose and passions.
  • Try to find a conceptual link between the poems! e.g. pity; wastefulness; horror of war; sacrifice, etc.

Consider starting your essay with a quote.


  • “Never fear: Thank Home, and Poetry, and the Force behind both.”
  • ”If I have got to be a soldier, I must be a good one, anything else is unthinkable.”
  • “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”
  • “All a poet can do today is warn.”

Writing Your Response