'The Last Laugh' by Wilfred Owen

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'O Jesus Christ! I'm hit,' he said; and died.
Whether he vainly cursed, or prayed indeed,
The Bullets chirped - 'In vain! vain! vain!'
Machine-guns chuckled, 'Tut-tut! Tut-tut!'
And the Big Gun guffawed.

Another sighed, - 'O Mother, Mother! Dad!'
Then smiled, at nothing, childlike, being dead.
And the lofty Shrapnel-cloud
Leisurely gestured, - 'Fool!'
And the falling splinters tittered.

'My Love!' one moaned. Love-languid seemed his mood,
Till, slowly lowered, his whole face kissed the mud.
And the Bayonets' long teeth grinned;
Rabbles of Shells hooted and groaned;
And the Gas hissed.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Last Laugh by Wilfred Owen: A Poetic Masterpiece

As a literary critic and interpreter, I have encountered countless poems that move me to tears, inspire me to greatness, or simply leave me numb. But few have had the profound impact on me as The Last Laugh by Wilfred Owen. This classic poem, written during World War I, is a testament to the horrors and futility of war, and a powerful commentary on the human condition. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the themes, imagery, and structure of The Last Laugh, and attempt to shed light on its enduring relevance.

A Brief Overview

The Last Laugh is a sonnet, with fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. It was written in 1918, during Owen's service in the war, and was published posthumously in 1920. The poem is divided into two stanzas, with an octave (eight lines) followed by a sestet (six lines). The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

Themes and Imagery

At its core, The Last Laugh is a critique of war and its impact on humanity. The poem's title refers to the idea that laughter, traditionally associated with joy and happiness, is transformed into a grotesque, bitter mockery of life and death on the battlefield. The poem is full of vivid imagery, including images of soldiers drowning in poisonous gas, of rats scurrying over dead bodies, and of blood-soaked mud.

One of the most striking images in the poem is that of the "grinning" faces of the dead soldiers, who seem to be mocking the living. This image is repeated several times throughout the poem, and serves to emphasize the sense of futility and despair that permeates the work. The use of the word "grinning" is particularly effective, as it suggests that the dead soldiers are not just passive victims, but active agents who are complicit in their own demise.

Another key theme of the poem is the idea of sacrifice. Owen contrasts the traditional view of sacrifice as noble and heroic with the brutal reality of war. He suggests that the soldiers who are sacrificing their lives are not doing so willingly, but are instead victims of a cruel and senseless conflict. This theme is brought out most clearly in the second stanza of the poem, where Owen describes the "shrill, demented choirs" of shells that "choir the only hymn / That shall be theirs".


The structure of The Last Laugh is carefully crafted to reinforce its themes and imagery. The use of the sonnet form, with its strict rhyme scheme and meter, gives the poem a sense of order and control that serves as a counterpoint to the chaos and destruction of war. The octave and sestet are also used to great effect, with the octave setting up the poem's central conflict and the sestet providing a resolution.

The rhyme scheme is also significant, as it creates a sense of closure and finality that is appropriate for a poem about death and sacrifice. The use of slant rhymes (e.g. "grave" and "give", "blood" and "mud") also adds to the sense of unease and dislocation that permeates the work.


There are many possible interpretations of The Last Laugh, depending on one's political, social, and historical context. However, some of the most common interpretations include:


In conclusion, The Last Laugh by Wilfred Owen is a powerful and deeply moving poem that speaks to the human condition in a profound and enduring way. Its themes of war, sacrifice, and existential despair continue to resonate with readers today, and its vivid imagery and carefully crafted structure make it a classic of English literature. As a literary critic and interpreter, I am awed by the power and beauty of this masterpiece, and I can only hope that it will continue to inspire and enlighten generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Last Laugh by Wilfred Owen is a powerful and poignant poem that explores the futility of war and the devastating impact it has on those who are forced to fight in it. Written during World War I, the poem is a scathing critique of the glorification of war and the false promises of glory and honor that are used to lure young men into battle.

The poem is structured in three stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of the theme of war. The first stanza sets the scene, describing the soldiers as they march towards the front lines. The second stanza focuses on the horror and brutality of war, while the third and final stanza offers a bitter and ironic twist to the poem's title.

The opening lines of the poem immediately set the tone for what is to come. "Oh! Jesus Christ! I'm hit," the speaker exclaims, as he is struck by a bullet. The use of the exclamation mark and the repetition of the word "hit" create a sense of urgency and panic, conveying the chaos and confusion of battle. The speaker then goes on to describe the scene around him, as his fellow soldiers continue to march forward, oblivious to his plight.

The second stanza is perhaps the most powerful and visceral of the three. Here, Owen vividly describes the horrors of war, from the deafening sound of artillery fire to the sight of dead bodies strewn across the battlefield. The use of vivid imagery and sensory language creates a sense of immediacy and realism, making the reader feel as though they are right there in the midst of the fighting.

One of the most striking images in this stanza is the description of a soldier drowning in a gas attack. "Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling, / Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time," Owen writes. The use of the word "ecstasy" is particularly striking, as it suggests that even in the midst of such horror, there is a sense of excitement and adrenaline that comes with the fighting. However, this is quickly followed by the grim reality of the situation, as the soldier is unable to fit his helmet in time and is left to die a slow and painful death.

The final stanza of the poem offers a bitter and ironic twist to the title. Here, Owen describes how the soldiers who were once so eager to fight and die for their country are now reduced to nothing more than "a few sick huddled men." The use of the word "sick" is particularly poignant, as it suggests that these men have been broken not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

However, despite their suffering, the soldiers are still able to find a sense of dark humor in their situation. "If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs," Owen writes, "Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud / Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, / My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / To children ardent for some desperate glory, / The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori."

The final lines of the poem are perhaps the most powerful of all. Here, Owen directly challenges the idea that it is sweet and honorable to die for one's country. Instead, he argues that war is a lie, a false promise of glory and honor that only leads to death and suffering. The use of the Latin phrase "Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori" (It is sweet and honorable to die for one's country) is particularly striking, as it is a common phrase used to glorify war and encourage young men to fight.

In conclusion, The Last Laugh by Wilfred Owen is a powerful and poignant poem that offers a scathing critique of war and the false promises of glory and honor that are used to lure young men into battle. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Owen conveys the horror and futility of war, while also offering a bitter and ironic twist to the poem's title. Ultimately, the poem is a powerful reminder of the devastating impact that war can have on those who are forced to fight in it, and a call to reject the glorification of war and work towards a more peaceful and just world.

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