'Smile , Smile, Smile' by Wilfred Owen

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Head to limp head, the sunk-eyed wounded scanned
Yesterday's Mail; the casualties (typed small)
And (large) Vast Booty from our Latest Haul.
Also, they read of Cheap Homes, not yet planned;
For, said the paper, "When this war is done
The men's first instinct will be making homes.
Meanwhile their foremost need is aerodromes,
It being certain war has just begun.
Peace would do wrong to our undying dead, --
The sons we offered might regret they died
If we got nothing lasting in their stead.
We must be solidly indemnified.
Though all be worthy Victory which all bought,
We rulers sitting in this ancient spot
Would wrong our very selves if we forgot
The greatest glory will be theirs who fought,
Who kept this nation in integrity."
Nation? --The half-limbed readers did not chafe
But smiled at one another curiously
Like secret men who know their secret safe.
This is the thing they know and never speak,
That England one by one had fled to France
(Not many elsewhere now save under France).
Pictures of these broad smiles appear each week,
And people in whose voice real feeling rings
Say:How they smile!They're happy now, poor things.

23rd September 1918.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Smile, Smile, Smile by Wilfred Owen: A Critique

Wilfred Owen is one of the most celebrated poets of the First World War. He is known for his poignant portrayal of the horrors of war and his use of vivid imagery. One of his most famous poems is "Smile, Smile, Smile," which was written in 1917. This poem is a critique of the way society glorifies war and its heroes. In this essay, I will offer a detailed literary criticism and interpretation of this poem.

Literary Analysis

"Smile, Smile, Smile" is a sonnet, which is a 14-line poem that follows a strict rhyme scheme. Owen uses the traditional sonnet form to explore the irony of war. The poem is divided into two quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a sestet (six-line stanza).

In the first quatrain, Owen describes the soldiers as "grimly gay" and "gay" as they march to war. This juxtaposition of two conflicting emotions is an effective way of highlighting the irony of the situation. The soldiers are marching to their death, yet they are cheerful and happy. This contrast is reinforced by the use of alliteration in "grimly gay." The repetition of the "g" sound emphasizes the soldiers' forced gaiety.

In the second quatrain, Owen describes the soldiers' reaction to the "smiling, lovely" women who wave at them as they pass by. The soldiers smile back, but their smiles are described as "smiles that die." This is another example of irony. The soldiers are smiling, but their smiles are not genuine. They are aware that they may never see these women again and that they are going to war. The use of the metaphor "smiles that die" is a powerful image that captures the fleeting nature of their happiness.

In the sestet, Owen turns his attention to the "proud fathers" who "smile as if some god" had blessed them. This is an ironic contrast to the soldiers' forced gaiety. The fathers are proud of their sons for fighting in the war, but they are not the ones who will be risking their lives. The use of the metaphor "smile as if some god" emphasizes the fathers' sense of superiority and their detachment from the reality of war.

The final two lines of the poem are particularly powerful. Owen writes, "For many a mother's breath has blown her son's hat / And coifed his eyes, but they will never press his mouth." This image of a mother coifing her son's eyes is a poignant one. It suggests that the mother is preparing her son for death. The fact that the son's mouth will never be pressed suggests that he will never be able to kiss his mother goodbye. This is a heartbreaking image that emphasizes the true cost of war.


"Smile, Smile, Smile" is a critique of the way society glorifies war and its heroes. Owen is specifically targeting the way that society encourages young men to go to war. He is critical of the way that soldiers are forced to put on a brave face and act as if war is a great adventure. This is reflected in the soldiers' forced gaiety and in the fathers' sense of superiority.

Owen is also critical of the way that society treats women. The women in the poem are described as "smiling, lovely" and as waving goodbye to the soldiers. They are presented as passive objects that exist solely to provide comfort to the soldiers. The fact that their smiles are not returned with genuine smiles highlights the soldiers' awareness of the danger they are facing.

Finally, Owen is critical of the way that society treats mothers. The image of a mother coifing her son's eyes suggests that she is preparing him for death. This is a powerful image that highlights the true cost of war. Owen is suggesting that society is willing to sacrifice young men and their mothers for the sake of a glorified concept of heroism.


"Smile, Smile, Smile" is an effective critique of the way that society glorifies war and its heroes. Owen uses vivid imagery and irony to highlight the true cost of war. The poem is a powerful reminder that war is not a game and that the cost is measured not only in lives lost but also in the grief of those left behind. Owen's message is as relevant today as it was when he wrote this poem over a century ago.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Smile, Smile, Smile: An Analysis of Wilfred Owen's Classic Poetry

Wilfred Owen is one of the most celebrated poets of the First World War. His works are known for their vivid imagery, powerful language, and poignant themes. Among his most famous poems is Smile, Smile, Smile, a piece that captures the irony and tragedy of war. In this article, we will delve into the meaning and significance of this classic poem.

The poem was written in 1917, during Owen's time as a soldier in the trenches of France. It was published posthumously in 1920, after Owen's death in action. The title of the poem, Smile, Smile, Smile, is a reference to the popular wartime song, Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, which includes the line "smile, boys, that's the style." The poem is structured in three stanzas, each with four lines, and follows a rhyme scheme of ABAB.

The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the piece. It describes a scene in which soldiers are returning from battle, "grimly gay," with "blood upon their breast." The phrase "grimly gay" is an oxymoron, which highlights the contrast between the soldiers' outward appearance and their inner emotions. The soldiers are trying to put on a brave face, to smile and act as if everything is fine, but the blood on their breast tells a different story. The use of the word "breast" is significant, as it suggests that the soldiers' wounds are not just physical, but emotional as well.

The second stanza of the poem introduces a new character, a "jolly" officer who greets the returning soldiers with a "smile." The officer is described as having a "scarlet grin," which is a metaphor for the bloodshed and violence of war. The use of the word "scarlet" also suggests that the officer's smile is not genuine, but rather a mask that he wears to hide his true feelings. The phrase "jolly" officer is also ironic, as it suggests that the officer is happy and carefree, when in reality he is just as affected by the horrors of war as the soldiers he commands.

The final stanza of the poem brings the themes of irony and tragedy to a climax. It describes how the soldiers and the officer "swear" and "laugh" together, as if they are all part of the same brotherhood. However, the final line of the poem reveals the true nature of their camaraderie: "God's our Father, we're his sons." This line is a reference to the Lord's Prayer, and suggests that the soldiers and the officer are united not by their love for each other, but by their shared faith in God. The use of the word "sons" is also significant, as it suggests that the soldiers and the officer are all children, vulnerable and helpless in the face of the war.

The poem Smile, Smile, Smile is a powerful commentary on the nature of war and the human condition. It highlights the irony and tragedy of soldiers who are forced to smile and act as if everything is fine, even when they are suffering from physical and emotional wounds. It also shows how the violence of war can affect even those who are supposed to be in charge, as the officer's scarlet grin suggests. Finally, the poem reveals the true nature of the soldiers' camaraderie, which is not based on love or friendship, but on their shared faith in God.

In conclusion, Smile, Smile, Smile is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of irony, tragedy, and camaraderie are universal, and its vivid imagery and powerful language make it a masterpiece of war poetry. Wilfred Owen's legacy as a poet of the First World War is secure, and his works continue to inspire and move readers around the world.

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