This poem is about soldiers, in war, waiting in the trenches. Even though the soldiers aren't fighting, they are still in danger because of the cold weather and the terrifying wait through the night. The title and reference to the poem suggests that exposure to the weather will kill these soldiers, not the war itself. The main theme is the sense of despair and of lost hope; the poet shows a sense of injustice about the way the soldiers are treated.
The eight stanzas are gripping because the speaker describes the trauma of living and struggling in such poor conditions. The immediate and repeated use of the pronouns ‘our’ and ‘we’ show that Owen is describing a situation he was part of. The individual is sharing in the collective suffering and horror of the war. The poem has a circular form, the 'iced winds' in line 1 are echoed in the 'eyes of ice' in the second to last line, and with 'But nothing happens' in stanzas 1,2,3,4 and 8. The war is a stalemate.
The first half of the poem describes the terrible conditons, the second describes the men's 'ghosts', as if they are already dead. The second to last paragraph attempts to explain and answer the question, 'What are we doing here?'. The poem uses ellipses and repitition to create an on-going sense of waiting and boredom. It consists of eight stanzas with a half-line to end; this the sense of nothing happening throughout the poem. Onomatopoeia and alliteration are alos used to emphasise the atmosphere, and the sound of the weather.
In this poem, personification is sued to suggest that even dawn can be an enemy; 'Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army'. The alliteration that is used highlights the sense of tedious repetition for example, in, 'wearied we keep awake' and, when assonance is used to drag words out; 'only know...soaks' the 'o' sounds are used to drag out how long the soldiers wait.
Attitude and tone
The poem can be described as bleak as suggested by the weather, and personification. The tone is mostly set by, 'merciless iced east winds'; the adjective 'merciless' makes the wind seem as If it is stabbing the soldiers. Also, in this poem, dawn isn't used to bring hope, instead it is used to bring 'misery'. It is personified as a 'melancholy army' whose 'shivering ranks of grey' attack the soldiers; however it is the soldiers who shiver. This poem is more about the conflict between man and nature; man created explosive shells to destroy the landscape but, nature can still do more harm than man can do through their own creations.
Themes, evidence and analysis
Interpretations of quotes in the poem