Futility Analysis by Wilfred Owen

This article is an analysis of the poem Futility by Wilfred Owen.


The poem explores the meaning of existence and the pointlessness of war.


  1. Variation of a sonnet form in terms of structure
  2. Two stanzas with changing focus
  3. Can also be considered an elegy

  • The use of the sonnet structure may be a response to the patriotic nature of some war poetry. Sonnets are usually loved poems or dedications whereas Owen, here, is using the poem to reflect on the futility of conflict and even life.
  • The two stanzas show a change in focus; firstly there is the description of the dying soldier, the second stanza, however, shifts to a grander focus of the universe and philosophy of life.
  • An elegy is a poetic form which has been composed as a lament for the dead. Owen is writing the poem as a mournful reflection on the life of the soldier but also the passing of life in general.


  • Futility 
  • Simple and blunt language
  • Awoke/woke/rouse/woke/sleep 
  • Repeated references to waking/consciousness

The blunt language used in the poem is clear in the title. The voice is far removed from emotions
when describing the dying soldier and contemplating the meaning of existence. The war has hardened the speaker and they are unable to be emotive at this moment but, instead, reflect on the pointlessness of the war and life itself.

The repetition of ’woke’ and its variants further emphasize this contemplation of consciousness that defines being alive.


  • Move him into the sun
  • Kind old sun
  • Cold star
  • Fatuous sunbeams
  • Sun is a central image
  • Sun is presented in contrast  in the two stanzas
  • The cold star may describe
  • sun or the earth
In the first stanza, the sun is described in terms of a nurturing, life-giving force that has the ability to revive the soldiers from unconsciousness. The sun is personified as being ’kind’ and ’old’ whose 'touch’ will provide comfort for the soldier. This highlights the desperation of the men in their attempt to keep a comrade from dying.

In the second stanza, the sun is described as ’fatuous’ showing that the speaker has come to a realization that it cannot restore life and even questions why it should create life at all.

There are two readings of 'cold star’. One is that the speaker is referring to the sun as being without emotion and the other is that it is the earth being given life by the sun.


  • Move him into the sun—
  • Gently its touch awoke him once
  • France-once/star-stir
  • Snow-know/talI-all
  • No regular meter
  • Use of half-rhymes and
  • full rhymes
The poem is not written in a rhythmic meter consistent with sonnets or elegies. By deviating from these poetic forms, and through a more prominent use of half rather than full rhymes, Owen shows how life lacks formal structure and that it is pointless to try and find order in life.


Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—0 what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?
  • A sense of frustration
  • Sombre tone reflects the futility

The closing lines encapsulate the tone of the poem as a whole. The speaker is aware that it is pointless in believing that the sun will restore life and it is evident that they feel a sense of frustration that life is given only to be taken away.


The title reflects the speaker’s feelings not only about war and conflict but about the nature of life itself. The poem is existential and the voice questions the nature of one’s existence and argues that life is futile.

The sombre tone of the poem is indicative of the elegiac form chosen by Owen.


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