Explore how the theme of war is presented in “Mametz Wood”

In the poem “Mametz Wood, Sheers uses a provocative and emotional narrative to convey the horrors and injustices of war. By immediately giving the reader a sense of place through the title he is able to set a graphic and emotional tone as this was the scene of a notoriously gruesome battle in World War I. This further creates an apprehensive mood for the reader as they anticipate a powerful and emotional poem portraying war as harrowing and disturbing.

In the first stanza, Sheers uses sensitive language to present the reader with the horrors of war. The phrase “wasted youth” clearly introduces the reader to the idea of the futility of war. The age of the soldiers exemplifies their naivety and innocence although it could be interpreted as a euphemism for the soldier’s deaths, implying that their deaths were so tragic and unnecessary that the subject cannot be expressed fully: their lives are “wasted”. This idea is emphasised through the opening “for years afterwards”, indicating the passing of time and the lasting effects of war. The fact that “the wasted youth” were “turning up under plough blades” creates another poignant and evocative image, highlighted through the noun “blades” arguably used to reflect the brutality and violence of war and the continual pain it causes.

Sheers continued use of language with connotations of fragility and vulnerability further highlights the soldiers’ youth. The evocative metaphor “china plate of a shoulder blade” demonstrates their delicate nature; like china they are easily broken and fragile. This image may also allude to the idea of the soldiers’ lives being priceless and irreplaceable, tying into the powerful image of loss and grief. Sheers also uses the harsh and emotional metaphor of a “broken bird’s egg” to evoke an emotional response from the reader, as it has connotations of inhumane destruction and the corruption of innocence. Here, it is evident that Sheers uses this image to convey the horrors of this unnecessary war.   

Sheers then moves the poem into the present day as the lasting effects of war are one again exhibited, and bones are found “this morning” despite the fact that the battle took place in 1916. He continues to describe the “broken mosaic of bone” which elicits the idea of a beautiful yet destructive scene. The fact that even beyond death, the corpses are still “broken” illuminating the devastating and violent nature of war. This is particularly haunting when we consider the propaganda of the day which promised glory and honour, yet Sheers presents us with an evocative image of a scarred and destroyed corpse, destroyed like pieces of broken glass. In addition to this, Sheers uses unnatural imagery to express the idea that war itself is unnatural. The image of heads being “tilted back at an angle” and jaws “dropped open” creates a visual image with strange and unsettling connotations – arguably promoting Sheers’ view that war itself is unjustified and disturbing.

Sheers uses structure to further explore his views on war. Firstly, all the stanzas are the same length, initially, giving the poem a relatively uniform and regimented feel, surely linking with marching and the strict regime in the military or perhaps reflecting the linear pattern of the ploughed fields. However, this sense of organisation is not echoed in the line length which is disrupted through longer lines and end-stopped lines perhaps used to give the poem a harsh and frustrated tone arguably linked to the futility of war and the loss of the 38th Welsh Division who were told to “walk not run”.