'S. I. W.' by Wilfred Owen

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"I will to the King,
And offer him consolation in his trouble,
For that man there has set his teeth to die,
And being one that hates obedience,
Discipline, and orderliness of life,
I cannot mourn him."
W. B. Yeats.

Patting goodbye, doubtless they told the lad
He'd always show the Hun a brave man's face;
Father would sooner him dead than in disgrace, --
Was proud to see him going, aye, and glad.
Perhaps his Mother whimpered how she'd fret
Until he got a nice, safe wound to nurse.
Sisters would wish girls too could shoot, charge, curse, . . .
Brothers -- would send his favourite cigarette,
Each week, month after month, they wrote the same,
Thinking him sheltered in some Y.M. Hut,
Where once an hour a bullet missed its aim
And misses teased the hunger of his brain.
His eyes grew old with wincing, and his hand
Reckless with ague. Courage leaked, as sand
From the best sandbags after years of rain.
But never leave, wound, fever, trench-foot, shock,
Untrapped the wretch. And death seemed still withheld
For torture of lying machinally shelled,
At the pleasure of this world's Powers who'd run amok.

He'd seen men shoot their hands, on night patrol,
Their people never knew. Yet they were vile.
"Death sooner than dishonour, that's the style!"
So Father said.

One dawn, our wire patrol
Carried him. This time, Death had not missed.
We could do nothing, but wipe his bleeding cough.
Could it be accident? -- Rifles go off . . .
Not sniped? No. (Later they found the English ball.)

It was the reasoned crisis of his soul.
Against the fires that would not burn him whole
But kept him for death's perjury and scoff
And life's half-promising, and both their riling.

With him they buried the muzzle his teeth had kissed,
And truthfully wrote the Mother "Tim died smiling."

Editor 1 Interpretation

S. I. W.: A Literary Analysis and Interpretation

Wilfred Owen's poem "S. I. W." is a hauntingly beautiful and tragic portrayal of the senseless violence of war. Written during the First World War, the poem explores themes of sacrifice, heroism, and the futility of war. Owen was a soldier himself, and his firsthand experience of the horrors of war is reflected in his work. In this analysis, we will explore the poem's form, structure, language, and imagery, as well as its historical and cultural context, in order to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning and significance.

Form and Structure

The poem is written in the form of a sonnet, a traditional poetic form that was popularized by Shakespeare. It consists of 14 lines, with a strict rhyme scheme (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG) and a regular meter (iambic pentameter). The sonnet form is often associated with love poetry, but Owen uses it here to explore the themes of war and sacrifice. The strict form and structure of the poem serve to emphasize the sense of order and discipline that is demanded of soldiers in war.

The poem is divided into three quatrains and a final couplet. The first quatrain sets the scene and introduces the main character, a soldier who is about to go into battle. The second quatrain describes the soldier's death, and the third quatrain explores the aftermath of his death. The final couplet provides a commentary on the futility of the soldier's sacrifice. This structure serves to create a sense of progression and development, as the poem moves from the anticipation of battle to the aftermath of death.

Language and Imagery

The language and imagery of the poem are stark and powerful. Owen uses vivid, sensory language to create a sense of immediacy and realism. The opening lines of the poem, "He's left his wife and kids for you to mind. / What's that you say? You'll mind him? Yes, you will." create a sense of urgency and anxiety, as the soldier prepares for battle. The repetition of the word "mind" emphasizes the soldier's vulnerability and dependence on his comrades.

The imagery in the poem is also powerful and evocative. Owen uses metaphors and similes to create a sense of the soldier's physical and emotional state. The line "His face is trodden deeper than a tread" creates an image of the soldier's face being stamped into the ground, emphasizing the brutality of war. The line "He's all to make his neck receive the blow" uses a metaphor to describe the soldier's submission to death, highlighting the sense of futility and hopelessness that pervades the poem.

Historical and Cultural Context

The historical and cultural context of the poem is important for understanding its meaning and significance. The First World War was a brutal and devastating conflict that claimed the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. Owen himself was a soldier who fought in the war, and his firsthand experience of the horrors of battle is reflected in his poetry. The poem "S. I. W." is particularly significant because it was written during a time when the tide of public opinion was turning against the war. The senseless violence and loss of life had begun to make people question the purpose and morality of the conflict.


The poem "S. I. W." can be interpreted in many different ways, but one of the most obvious is as a commentary on the futility of war. Owen portrays the soldier's sacrifice as senseless and unnecessary, emphasizing the emotional and physical toll that war takes on those who fight in it. The repetition of the word "mind" in the opening lines of the poem creates a sense of dependence and vulnerability, highlighting the way in which soldiers are often forced to rely on each other for survival. The image of the soldier's face being trodden into the ground emphasizes the brutality and dehumanizing nature of war.

The final couplet of the poem, "Shall life renew these bodies? Of a truth / All Death will he annul, all tears assuage?" provides a commentary on the futility of the soldier's sacrifice. Owen is questioning the idea that the sacrifice of one individual can make a difference in the grand scheme of things. He is suggesting that death is ultimately meaningless, and that the tears shed for the dead will eventually be forgotten. This is a powerful and poignant message that resonates with the sense of disillusionment and despair that many people felt during the First World War.


In conclusion, Wilfred Owen's poem "S. I. W." is a powerful and evocative exploration of the horrors of war. Through its form, language, and imagery, the poem conveys a sense of the emotional and physical toll that war takes on those who fight in it. The historical and cultural context of the poem is also important for understanding its meaning and significance. Ultimately, the poem serves as a commentary on the futility of war, and the senseless sacrifice of those who are forced to fight in it. It is a haunting reminder of the human cost of conflict, and a testament to the power of poetry to convey the deepest emotions and insights of the human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

S. I. W. by Wilfred Owen: A Powerful Anti-War Poem

Wilfred Owen is one of the most celebrated war poets of the 20th century. His poems are known for their powerful imagery, vivid descriptions, and emotional intensity. Among his many works, S. I. W. stands out as a particularly poignant and thought-provoking piece. In this essay, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, symbols, and literary devices.

The title of the poem, S. I. W., stands for "Self-Inflicted Wound." This immediately sets the tone for the poem, as it suggests that the speaker is going to describe a soldier who has intentionally injured himself. The first stanza begins with a description of the soldier's wound:

"I will confess I'm grateful for that wire That's why my chum Jim's gone west."

The speaker is grateful for the wire that caused his friend Jim's death because it spared him from having to endure the horrors of war any longer. This is a stark reminder of the brutal reality of war, where death is often seen as a release from suffering. The use of the word "confess" also suggests that the speaker feels guilty for feeling grateful, as if he is betraying his friend's memory.

The second stanza continues the theme of guilt and betrayal:

"I'm blind, and three parts shell, Be careful can't you see my eyes are open wide Because I'm looking at the sky I'm singing 'The Hymn of Hate'"

The speaker is blind and wounded, but he is still able to see the sky and sing a hymn of hate. This is a powerful image that suggests that even in the midst of suffering, there is still a sense of anger and bitterness towards the enemy. The use of the word "hate" is particularly striking, as it suggests that the speaker has been consumed by a deep-seated animosity towards the enemy.

The third stanza introduces the theme of sacrifice:

"I've got a brother at Kitchener's, Pressed to his rifle's side, They can't put him in a strait-jacket When he's got his rifle to his eye."

The speaker's brother is also a soldier, and he is depicted as being so devoted to his duty that he cannot be restrained even when he is mentally unstable. This is a powerful image that suggests that soldiers are willing to make great sacrifices for their country, even at the cost of their own mental health.

The fourth stanza continues the theme of sacrifice:

"Let him not boast who puts his armor on As he who takes it off, The battle done But hollow is the laughter at victory Who wears a tainted ribbon."

The speaker is suggesting that those who have not experienced the horrors of war should not boast about their bravery, as they have not truly earned it. The use of the word "tainted" to describe the ribbon suggests that even victory is not without its costs, and that the soldiers who have fought and died for their country have paid a heavy price.

The fifth and final stanza brings the poem to a powerful conclusion:

"I, too, saw God through mud The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled. War brought more glory to their eyes than blood, And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child."

The speaker is suggesting that even in the midst of the horrors of war, there is still a sense of joy and glory that can be found. This is a powerful image that suggests that even in the darkest of times, there is still hope and beauty to be found. The use of the word "God" also suggests that there is a spiritual dimension to the poem, and that even in the midst of suffering, there is still a sense of divine presence.

In conclusion, S. I. W. is a powerful anti-war poem that explores themes of sacrifice, guilt, and betrayal. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Wilfred Owen creates a haunting portrait of the horrors of war, and the toll it takes on those who fight it. The poem is a powerful reminder of the human cost of war, and the need for peace and understanding in our world.

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