"Irony", is an expression of one's meaning by saying the direct opposite of one's thoughts in order to be emphatic, amusing, and sarcastic. It can also be in a situation, event, etc that is desirable in itself but so unexpected or ill-timed that it appears to be deliberately perverse. In Literature, there are three common types of irony; verbal irony, situational irony and also dramatic irony. Verbal irony happens when someone or the character in the text says something that has an opposite meaning. In situational irony, the said situation is different from what common sense indicates it to be. It is usually used to show injustice, or even hypocrisy. On the other hand, dramatic irony happens when the fictional character in the story says something or does something that he/she believes to be true but readers, with the benefit of hindsight, know that this is not so. In this essay, I am going to highlight and discuss the ironic dimensions in the two poems recently discussed in class, namely Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth" (1917) and Margaret Atwood's "Siren Song" (1976).
Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth"
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"Anthem" talks about how young people die grotesquely at war and the also the consequence, on how family and friends react to their death. War is depicted in the poem with scenes of ruthless killing and mass destruction. In addition, scenes of the soldier's home are show how sad the living, having to know that the people they know are dying at war.
In Owen's "Anthem", this particular rhetorical figure has been used several times to exemplify the ruthlessness and aftermath of war. The presence of irony can be found right at the start of the poem, which is the title itself. "Anthem" means a rousing or an uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause. This is an irony when the word "anthem" is used to represent death and grieve as anthems are songs of praise, celebratory and devotion. In this poem, death and grieve is illustrated by the pain and sufferings caused by war and the mourning of relatives and close ones to the deceased. The word "Anthem" motivates us to think deeper and it gives food for thought, on anthem is used instead of another word which can correctly describe the true meaning of the poem? It also gives a sense of absurdness that war is just nothing but a foolish and selfish act towards mankind. In fact, "Requiem" should be a more suitable word used to portray the central theme of this poem
The phrase "doomed youth" seems to suggest irony as the word "doomed" is often associated with destruction and this is exemplified in this poem, by the death of lives lost in battle to protect their country. The word "youth" however, is a symbol of life and often related to a bright future. It is ironic that youths are doomed. It magnifies the horrifying idea of innocent lives lost in battle for the sake of their country. The combination of the words "anthem", "doomed" and "youth" further enhances the message that the poem is trying to relay - a lament for the innocent young ones perishing at war and also the ones mourning for their death back at home. When the three words - "anthem", "doomed" and "youth" are phrased up, it conjures a distinct image of how ridiculous war is, in that its sole purpose is to destroy mankind.
The other irony found in this poem is the form of the poem. This poem is written in a sonnet form. "Anthem" consists of fourteen lines, and two movements showing two scenes, the battlefield in the first stanza and the situation back at home, where the soldiers came from in the second stanza. As we all know, the traditional function of a sonnet is to write about love. It is ironic that the poem is written in a sonnet form when it is touching on war. Maybe there is a hint of love because young men had love for their country and without hesitation or reservation are willing to sacrifice their lives and youth in order to protect their country from invasion. However, in the light of this context, this is more about love that has gone wrong as war is ridiculous. Though they gave their all, they were only rewarded with death and suffering, leaving families, close ones to face sorrow and grieve. There is also a sense of injustice or irony shown in the poem whereby the soldiers who perished in the battlefield were not given proper funerals with prayers and blessings in the church. Instead, "prayers" and "songs" are the rifles taking greedily snatching their lives away and the explosives that probably resulted in them being incapacitated before dying. The families and close ones of the departed soldiers can only mourn; but can never see or pay their last respects as the lost soldiers are left to rot at the battlefield.
Margaret Atwood's "Siren Song"
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Sirens are mythical creatures from the Greek mythology. They are in half bird and half human form. The myth about sirens is when they sing and play music, usually by the shore, sailors who come along will be enchanted by their irresistible voices, luring them. When the sailors try to follow the song to see these mythical creatures, they end up dying because they jump overboard and crash on jagged rocks.
In Atwood's "Siren Song", irony can be found in line four to six, telling us that the songs (were so enchanting) that (it) forces men to leap overboard in squadrons (just to draw close to the sirens) even though they see the beached skulls. They know that it's a risk to jump overboard by just looking at the skulls on the beach which indicating danger. They might just die for listening to the sirens but they couldn't care less because their songs were so alluring. They know they are going to die, but they still did it, conveying the main theme of this poem: the folly of men. We can see that men pictured in this poem who succumb to temptation and desires fall to death and doom.
The siren laments that she is not enjoying herself squatting on the island and singing her lungs out to men. She wants to get out of her "bird suit". However, at line twenty-one, she entices the sailors to come closer by crying for help. Her cry for "help" is just a lie to attract the sailors' attention so that she can kill them because in the last stanza she admitted that her song works all the time - no men can flee from her deadly "pleas" and escape death. Even if they do, they will not remember the song. It is an irony when the siren is calling for "help" because her cries are to fool men so that they jump over their ships to meet their maker. In truth, the sirens do enjoy singing by the beach and watch men die in mockery.
The next irony is in line twenty-three and twenty-four, the siren tells a particular sailor that he is the only one that can save her as he is unique to increase temptation so that the sailor feels that he is the only one that the siren needs. On the contrary, she tells that to every sailor she tries to kill. Not to mention in line five, it is mentioned that men leap overboard in squadrons tells us that the sailors are so enticed that they don't even know that the siren is telling each one of them that they are unique in unison. It gives an image of the ship's crew jumping together in unison after they are captivated by the music and voice. In reality, women are always pictured as damsels in distress, therefore men, being the capable ones are required to save them. In my opinion, the sailors heard the cries from the sirens and rushed to help them not only because they are enticed, but also to satisfy their pride that they are able to save the maiden (siren) with a lovely voice. At the end of the poem, the sirens reveal that even though it's a boring song, it works every time. In my opinion, I think the sirens probably got bored singing the same old song to lure men, but foolish men still ran to them because of temptation.
In conclusion the irony element used in both of the poems has developed deeper levels of meaning in the text. Irony is usually used to engage and involve a reader in the text so that readers have to delve further into the text, provoking them to think deeper. In a way, it builds up curiosity in a reader to want to know more and be interested in the text.
Note: Please refer to the Appendices for both poems discussed in this essay.