In "Arms and the Boy," Wilfred Owen contrasts personifications of weapons of war with lines showing the aberrant nature of war. Weapons must be given to young men—they are not a natural aspect of human life.
The poem's central relationship is identified in its title: "Arms and the Boy." "Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade," reads its first line, in which the speaker uses euphemistic language to urge that the boy be given weapons. The opening of the second stanza, similarly, implores, "Lend him"—an ironic suggestion, given the fact that no boy "lent" to war returns home whole. The speaker's tone seems deceitful—almost like the vicious whispering of a tempter—as disturbingly paradoxical imagery is used to describe weapons of war: "Lend him," comes the speaker's sibilant hiss, "to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-heads / Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads."
The poem's personifications of weapons of war simultaneously emphasize human and mechanical traits, pointing out that they are both unnatural and frighteningly human in their origin. The "cold steel" of a bayonet is emphasized alongside an image of the blade "keen with hunger of blood." Similarly, "blind, blunt bullet-heads" are "cartridges of fine zinc teeth." The frightening "famishing for flesh" felt by inanimate weapons reveals the hideous brutality of war and violence, which is so often concealed by euphemism and propaganda, like that expressed at the opening of each of the poem's first two stanzas.
Juxtaposed imagery of the mechanical and animate is combined with distinctly human emotion: the blade is "blue with all malice, like a madman's flash;" imbued with insane feeling that cannot but be human. War is insane, war is hateful. Bullets are "sharp with the sharpness of grief and death"—tools that serve only to cause pain that radiates out, not just into the wounded body, but that diffuses into the lives of every person in the world. The poem's negative imagery is all human: weapons, insane and "long[ing]" hunger, and painful emotion.
The final stanza thrusts home the poem's meaning, now presenting animal weapons: "antlers," "claws," and "talons"—weapons "God will [not] grow" on humans. Humans are not naturally armed, as are true predators, which kill only for food. We create our own evil, which is all the more corrupting to the "supple" fingers, "laughing" teeth, and thick curls of the innocent boy.