S. I. W.

S.I. W.

By Wilfred Owen

         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 good-bye, 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,
Because he said so, writing on his butt
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 sand-bags 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 more days of inescapable thrall,
Against infrangibly wired and blind trench wall
Curtained with fire, roofed in with creeping fire,
Slow grazing fire, that would not burn him whole
But kept him for death’s promises 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’.

Summary of S. I. W.

  • Popularity of “S. I. W.”: Written by Wilfred Owen, a great British war poet, “S.I.W” is a highly powerful poem that describes the brutal reality of warfare and the devastating toll it takes on soldiers. The poem first appeared in 1920 after his death when a collection of his poem edited by his friend and another war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, hit the markets. Despite its relatively late publication, “S.I.W.” won instant popularity. The thematic strands of war and its ravages brought it at the top of the list of the most read poems of its times. The poem is still popular among the readers and critics alike and is a testament to the poetic skill of Owen.
  • I. W.” As a Representative of Anti-War Poetry: “S.I.W.” is a representative work of anti-war poetry. It presents senseless violence, the futility of war, and the devastating impact it has on the soldiers forced to fight in battle. Owen uses appropriate devices to present the gruesome reality of the battlefield, painting a picture of a world where death is a serious threat and the only certainty is suffering. The poem is also a powerful critique against the political and military leaders who make young men victims of their ulterior motives. Through “S.I.W.” Owen captures the disillusionment and despair soldiers feel during the war and discloses the truth behind the rhetoric of heroism. This is how this poem negates false heroism and shows anti-war themes.
  • Major Themes in “S. I. W.”: “S.I.W.” explores major themes such as the devastating impact of war, the futility of war, senseless violence, and dehumanization. The central theme is the futility of war and the senseless violence it produces. Owen describes soldiers as “smashed like an eggshell” whose “death was never told” (lines 6-7), suggesting that the violence of war is so all-encompassing that it erases individuality and makes the soldiers’ sacrifices meaningless. Another theme is the dehumanizing effects of war, as soldiers are reduced to fighting individuals who lose their youthful period fighting for others. Owen also highlights this loss of individuality and humanity, which occurs when soldiers become instruments of war. The poem then explores the idea of sacrifice and the question of whether the sacrifices of the soldiers are truly worth it. Owen questions it, saying, “Was it for this the clay grew tall?” (line 24), and then answers that the deaths of soldiers are a waste of potential and a tragic loss for society as a whole.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in S. I. W.

Wilfred Owen employed a host of literary devices to enhance the intended effects of his poem. Several significant literary devices are examined as follows.

  1. Alliteration: It is the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of several words in a line. For example, “Sisters would wish girls too could shoot, charge, curse” shows the repeated use of the sound of /w/, creating music in verse.
  2. Assonance: It is the repetition of the same vowel sound in a line. For example, “brave man’s face” and “Each week, month after month, they wrote the same” show the repeated use of /a/ and /o/ sounds.
  3. Enjambment: It is the continuation of a sentence or thought from one line of poetry to the next without a pause. For example, “Because he said so, writing on his butt / Where once an hour a bullet missed its aim” shows the use of enjambment, bringing flow to the verses.
  4. Hyperbole: It is an exaggeration used to emphasize a point. For example, “His eyes grew old with wincing” shows the use of hyperbole that eyes cannot grow old only by wincing.
  5. Imagery: It means the use of vivid and descriptive language to create a mental picture in the reader’s mind. Here the lines “His eyes grew old with wincing, and his hand / Reckless with ague” show the use of images, creating pictures of the soldier’s suffering and physical deterioration.
  6. Irony: It means the use of language that is the opposite of what is expected or intended. Here “And truthfully wrote the Mother, ‘Tim died smiling’ shows the use of irony through a contrast between the reality of the soldier’s death and the hopeful message conveyed to the mother.
  7. Metaphor: It is a comparison between two, unlike things without using “like” or “as.” For example, “Curtained with fire, roofed in with creeping fire” shows this comparison of the trench wall to a curtain and roof made of fire, emphasizing the constant danger and destruction.
  8. Personification: It means to give human qualities to non-human things. For example, “Death seemed still withheld” shows the giving of human qualities to death, emphasizing its presence and power.
  9. Repetition: It is the repeated use of words or phrases for impact. For example, “Each week, month after month, they wrote the same” shows the repeated use of month to emphasize the impact of time.
  10. Symbolism: It means to use something to signify something else, such as the use of fire in “Curtained with fire, roofed in with creeping fire” which shows the use of fire as a symbol of the destruction of war.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “S. I. W.”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the use of words and sentences. The diction in Wilfred Owen’s poem “S. I. W.” is stark and direct, conveying a sense of rawness and intensity.
  2. End Rhyme: The repetition of the same sounds at the end of two or more lines of poetry. However, it is not a regular pattern as some verses show the use of end rhyme, such as face/disgrace, nurse/curse and hut/butt.
  3. Meter: It is the rhythm of a poem, determined by the number and pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line. “S. I. W.” shows the use of iambic pentameter, with occasional variations.
  4. Rhyme Scheme: It is the pattern of end rhymes in a poem, typically represented by letters to indicate which lines rhyme with each other. “S.I.W.” does not follow a consistent rhyming pattern.
  5. Poem Type: “S.I.W.” is a poem in free verse, which means it does not follow a specific structure or rhyme scheme.
  6. Stanza: The poem does not comprise stanzas but parts or sections. It comprises an epigraph, a prologue, the action, the poem that has 6 verses, and the epilogue has two verses.
  7. Tone: The attitude or emotion conveyed by the author in a poem. “S.I.W.” shows this tone as somber and mournful, emphasizing the tragedy and horror of war.

Quotes to be Used

This quote is suitable to incorporate in memorial ceremonies, military commemorations, Veterans Day events, or even written tributes or speeches dedicated to fallen soldiers and their families.

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