How do the poets present ideas about suffering in Remains and Exposure?
Both poets present conflict as having traumatic and often long-lasting effects on the psyche- a profound form of suffering. This is shown in Exposure in the repeated refrain ‘but nothing happens’. This reveals to the reader the unfathomable boredom that comes as a product of a conflict that is punctuated only by brief action. Especially the noun ‘nothing’ which connotes emptiness is indicative of the emptiness soldiers feel in war revealing that conflict strips soldiers of their agency and leaves them as hollow shells of their former selves. This perhaps reveals a truth about war: it causes the slow and inevitable decay of the psyche. This decay and suffering are further accentuated in the line ‘For the love of God seems dying’. This reveals to the reader that the overwhelming suffering of the soldiers has led them to feel abandoned by God, as on them ‘doors are closed’, including those of heaven and salvation thus suggesting that the suffering is so visceral that all emancipation from it becomes impossible- not even God can grant them salvation. Furthermore, Owen’s use of the noun ‘dying’ in three of the refrains creates a sense of decay which is indicative of Owen’s belief that the true nature of war is not a romantic masculine exploit, but rather an insidious force that actually corrupts and strips away masculinity rather than asserting it.
Similarly in Remains, Armitage also suggests that war causes profound suffering. For example, this is shown in the line ‘he’s here in my mind when I close my eyes.’ This reveals the traumatic flashbacks the speaker experiences about the death of the looter and moreover reveals these to be visceral as if the looter is ‘dug into’ his mind- the speaker is unable to escape the memory. In Freudian terms, this could be seen as an uncanny return to his ‘dreams’ and when he ‘closes his eyes’ it marks the return of that which has been repressed, showing the speaker’s futile attempts to repress the traumatic memory of the looter in the deepest, most inaccessible part of his psyche. This is further accentuated in the quote ‘his bloody life in my bloody hands’. Here, Armitage alludes to Macbeth, using Shakespeare’s motif of ‘blood’ as a symbol for guilt revealing to the reader the profound guilt the speaker feels about taking the life of the looter. He suffers as he can’t let go of the memory that is ‘dug into’ his mind.
Perhaps then, there is one universal message that unites the two poems: conflict is not a romanticised masculine exploit, but rather something that subverts masculinity, human dignity and even nature itself as the suffering it causes will always be ‘dug’ deep into the psyche of those humans unlucky enough to experience it.