Futility by Wilfred Owen
The title, Futility, is the key to unlocking the deeper meaning of this intensely personal poem by Wilfred Owen. Owen, a young soldier who served in the trenches of World War I, writes in these seemingly simple lines of coming across a recently-dead soldier in an open field. He writes of the illogical, but somehow also profoundly understandable, impulse to move the soldier, who is still warm, into the sun to wake him up.
Owen personifies the sun, initially referring to it as “whispering of fields half-sown” or as being “kind” and “gentle. However, as the poem progresses into its second verse, the realisation of the futility of his impulse starts to ‘dawn’ on the poet, and he begins to rail against the ineffectiveness of the sun, which he now considers “fatuous”; it being a force that “once woke the clays of a cold star” [earth].
Ultimately Owen asks the question “O what made fatuous sunbeams toil/To break earth’s sleep at all?”, which infers that the sun, which he has personified as a force capable of benevolent will and intention, may actually be symbolic for God who he would have believed to be the true source of life. If this is so, then the poem is indirectly questioning the point of God and all existence, if, as Owen expresses, this soldier should be allowed to die.
It seems important to this universal idea that the dead soldier is not named, nor even his allegiance nominated, as this leaves the poem (and the poet) questioning the point of all war.