"The Show" by Wilfred Owen Wilfred Owen is the most famous of the British First World War poets. He took as his subject "war, and the pity of war", and it is clear from his poetry that he thought he had a duty to write to contradict British war propaganda, and shock people at home into realising what the war was really like. He uses powerful and disturbing imagery to get his messages across. The poem "The Show", is a perfect example of this. It describes a dead body infested with insects - an image of death which in the British newspapers was buried beneath statistics and tales of heroism. But it is in his use of this image that the shock of it is given meaning. It is not actually apparent that he is talking about a corpse until the point in the last verse where he talks about "it's feet... And the fresh severed head of it, my head". This empahsis of human features brings the reader to the realisation that Owen is seeing his own body as if in a dream.
He sets this scene for his reader by describing how he looks down from "a vague height" and is "unremembering of how I rose or why". It is a feature of dreams that they often put the dreamer in a position outside themselves, and seem to have no proper beginning. In this dream of Owen's, Death has taken his spirit above his lifeless body. Owen inverts the popular image of the spirit leaving the body to be at peace, by showing how in war, the soul's last sight would not be angels or paradise, but this horrific "show". The reader is led skillfully towards the full horror of the situation through the description of the corpse as a battlefield. This is the immediate imagery of the poem. Owen looks down, not at a body, but a "sad land", which is "like the moon". He blurs the line between the corpse and the battlefield so that his descriptions of both are real in themselves to the reader, with the battlefield being the primary focus. This allows him to comment on many aspects of the war that the subject of the corpse alone could not convey. The land is bleak and ruined, "Gray and cratered", a place where nothing can grow when it had once been green and alive. It is "pitted with pocks and scabs of plagues", conveying the atmosphere of disease, and the scarring of the land from constant shelling. The association with the moon also taps into the folkloric idea that the moon causes madness, which was what Owen clearly believed the war was.
The most surreal image of the poem is of lines of soldiers moving across the battlefield as caterpillars on the corpse. Remembering that his viewpoint is above the "fighting", this is what they would have looked like, so it is partly a physical description. However, there is no sense of the lines being made up of individuals, they are "long-strung creatures", and "they" clearly refers to the creatures and not the separate soldiers in them. They don't move in any disciplined way, as the blinkered British public might have expected them to - instead, we are told "they writhed and shrivelled", giving the impression of chaos. These creatures are also scavengers on the corpse/land. They are vicious and greedy, as if the soldiers in them are greedy for blood - "intent on mire". Owen portrays them as violent and unrestrained - "Those that were gray, of more abundant spawns/Ramped on the rest and ate them and were eaten." In the second of those lines, there is no punctuation to slow down the pace, impressing their unstoppability on the reader. They are so greedy, in fact that they are eating each other to death. The whole atmosphere around them is one of a kind of orgy of blood-lust.
The surrealism of the images in the poem emphasise that he is describing a dream, or rather a nightmare - but this is not a comfort to the reader. This is because it is never too weird to keep sight of what he is actually talking about, due to the fact that it is the way he describes things which is surreal, rather than the things themselves. This is effective in bringing home his anti-war message. It captures the true horror of what he sees more forcefully than any mere letter home from the Front could have done.