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?
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?
— 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.
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.
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.
— 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" is one of Wilfred Owen's more disturbing works. It describes war-torn men suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as shell shock. Owen based the poem on his experience of Craiglockhart Military Hospital, near Edinburgh, where he was invaldided in the summer of 1917, suffering from shell shock.
In the first Stanza it starts off with multiple questions. “Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?” Wilfred starts off with a querying tone emphasizing on the words who, why and wherefore. This could show how men would think after the war, while having a mental breakdown and trying to figure out what happened. The second stanza goes on to describe the soldiers sensations and how their memories are filled with people they have witnessed killed or people they killed themselves. It gives some visuals such as "Treading blood from lungs that had once loved laughter" and "Batter of guns, shatter of flying muscles" which creates powerful mental images of chaos and suffering.The third stanza describes how those who survived the war live now with shell shock, relating bloody images (Bloodsmear, blood-black, wound that bleeds afresh) to the common stages of a day (sunrise, night, dawn).
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