“Disabled” By Wilfred Owen

Yesterday (20 July) I came across “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57285/disabled. As someone who is himself disabled (I am registered blind), I was interested to see how one of the great poets of World War I portrays disability.

In “Disabled, Owen describes a young man who enlists in the army while underage, is terribly wounded (he loses both legs and its implied his arms also). Returning to the UK he is institutionilised and (the poem implies) his former joys, including any prospect of a woman’s love are at an end:

“Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease”.

In the above lines, Owen falls into the trap of assuming that disabled people are sexless, an idea which still persists to this day amongst some people (including the so-called educated sections of the population). Throughout history disabled people have (to state the obvious) had sexual relations both within marriage and outside of that institution. Here Owen is projecting his own view of disability onto an unnamed and depersonalised individual who has been horribly injured in war.

Having said the above, it remains as true today (as it did in Owen’s time) that many people will not entertain the idea of entering into a relationship with a person who has a disability. However it is by no means unusual for someone who is disabled to have a non-disabled partner (as a visually impaired man most of my relationships have been with sighted women).

The poem ends on the same sad note, that of a man who has lost all joy in living, including the possibility of finding love:

“Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?”.

(For an interesting article on the poem please see this piece on Disability Arts Online, http://disabilityarts.online/magazine/opinion/war-poem-disabled-wilfred-owen/).


10 thoughts on ““Disabled” By Wilfred Owen

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Tori. I agree entirely with what you say. The assumption that people who are disabled are helpless is mirrored by the equally idiotic assumption that all (or some) disabled individuals have superpowers, for example that all blind persons haenjoy acute hearing!

  1. tidalscribe

    How true, though I hope it is much better with disability more visible and discussed. My friend’s father had no legs and his wife was fully able, but he was far stronger mentally. When I was a teenager at youth group with a hazy knowledge of the practicalities of sex, two of the older members who both had cerabal palsy got married. We were all totally astonished when they had a baby – assuming they were just good friends!

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Many thanks for your comment. Your mention of the group being “astonished” when 2 of it’s older members got married and had a baby made me smile! Yes, I think that, on the whole things are rather better today as regards people’s attitudes to people who have a disability. Best – Kevin

  2. JoHawkTheWriter

    The word “disabled” is very unfortunate. Individuals I know who require certain accommodations are very “able” at so many things. The assumptions others make can be maddening and I try to gently enlighten them. Thanks for addressing this.

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Many thanks for your comment Jo and for trying to gently enlighten those who have negative views of people who are disabled. You are right, people who are “disabled” can be very able in many other ways. Best – Kevin


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