The poem “Spring Offensive” describes an attack which is made by a company of soldiers, against an enemy situated on a hill (a bad attacking position). As the poem says, the attack takes place in May, and this means the gentle surrounding countryside with its trees and flowers are completely contrasting to the dark situation that the soldiers are in, as many of them travel to their deaths.
The beginning of the poem shows a sense of great comradeship and ease between the men. They lean against each other, resting and each preparing in his own way for the ordeal ahead of them, but others of them are more solemn, knowing that the attack they make may well be their last. Owen describes the sunlight as “like an injected drug for their bodies’ pains”, which shows how strong an effect the glimpse of the sunlight has on the men, who may be seeing it for the last time. The way that Owen describes the surroundings, in the third stanza, where he uses the image of the buttercups and brambles clinging to the men’s boots as they head up the hill, shows the unspoken reluctance of the men, and nature’s sympathy with them.
Then, in the fourth stanza (quite late in the seven-stanza poem), the command to move forward in given. The “little word” which is the command to go forward shows that it is not only your body which has to be committed to what you are doing, you have to commit your heart and soul to your cause. When Owen says “no alarms of bugles, no high flags, no clamorous haste” it dispels many common misconceptions the civilians would have had of the war, and that were the reasons many men joined up in the first place. They felt that the war would be glorious, marching forwards alongside your friends for the sake of your country, but in fact the reality of war was different; darker and more traumatic than any of the young men could have imagined.
In the fifth stanza, the men go out of their dugouts, and over the top. The imagery used by Owen is extraordinarily moving, when he speaks of the earth “setting sudden cups in thousands for their blood”. Coupled with the previous image of the brambles clinging to the men and wanting to keep them with them, this almost symbolises that nature is on the side of the men who are sacrificing their lives for the honour of their countries.
When, in the sixth stanza, Owen says of the men who did not live past the attack that “some say God caught them even before they fell” this seems gravely symbolic. This could mean many things, but especially seems to symbolise the inevitability of their deaths. The image of God catching before they fell could mean that He knew that they were going to die, and he caught them and is keeping them safe with Him in the afterlife.
The final stanza takes on a darker, more psychological note when Owen writes in the last line “why speak not they of comrades that went under?” This gives a brief mention of the terrible trauma which resulting from the war in many men, some of such conditions which include the “shellshock” of the time, which we now know as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS). Many of the soldiers who fought in the trenches in the First World War suffered severe psychological trauma, and could not even speak of the experiences they went through. With the introduction of the Pal’s Battalions many men were fighting alongside men who they had known all their lives, and watching a childhood friend die at your side and being able to do nothing to help would have been an extraordinarily traumatic experience for them. If you look at the image that Owen uses in the beginning of the final stanza, he talks of some men sinking, and the survivors who floated back up to the surface not being able to talk about it.
In conclusion, I feel that in his poem “Spring Offensive”, Wilfred Owen vividly describes the experiences of battle, giving a more accurate, and perhaps brutal, picture of the so-called glorious war. As a soldier in the trenches in the First World War himself, Owen would have been familiar with the events he described, and this adds even more depth to the lines – it feels as though he is not telling a story, he is recounting something that really happened, which he himself would have experienced. As Owen was killed just before the end of war, he would most likely have had the experience of being both the soldier who slowly returned to the surface, and finally the solider who sunk into death, never to return.