A reading of 'Exposure'

Wilfred Owen’s poem focuses on the misery felt by World War One soldiers waiting overnight in the trenches. Although nothing is happening and there is no fighting, there is still danger because they are exposed to the extreme cold and their wait through the night is terrifying. The eight stanzas are gripping because the speaker describes the trauma of living and struggling in such poor conditions. There is a sense of despair and of lost hope.

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 poet has a sense of injustice about the way the soldiers are being treated. If being ‘exposed’ to gunfire does not kill them, then exposure to the brutal weather conditions might do. Alongside the more obvious meanings of the title, there is also the idea that Owen has set out to expose the conditions the soldiers have experienced to the world.

By repeating the phrase ‘But nothing happens’, the poem emphasises the agony of waiting and that war is not all about action. By the end of the poem there is a sense of hopelessness and despair where the men see their deaths as inevitable. The poet’s tone is deliberately provoking and emotive language is used with the intention of involving and even upsetting the reader.

Read the poem here.