'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-cloudLeisurely 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 Haunting Reflection on War

It is impossible to read Wilfred Owen's "The Last Laugh" without feeling a sense of profound sadness and horror at the waste of life that war brings. This poem is a vivid reminder of the futility of war and the devastation it causes not just for the soldiers who fight it but for those who are left behind.

Owen was a British soldier who fought in World War I and was killed in action just one week before the armistice that ended the war was signed. His poetry is a testament to the horrors of war and the deep scars it leaves on those who experience it.

In "The Last Laugh," Owen uses dark and haunting imagery to show the brutality of war and the ultimate futility of violence. The poem is structured as a series of three stanzas, each one building on the last to create a powerful and unsettling narrative.

Stanza 1: The Soldiers' Laughter

The poem begins with a description of soldiers laughing as they march off to war. This laughter is described as "the joke" that they have shared among themselves, a joke that only they can understand. This laughter is meant to be a symbol of camaraderie and shared experience, but it is also a reminder of the terrible irony of war.

Owen writes:

Oh! 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.

Here, Owen shows us how quickly the laughter of the soldiers turns to despair and death. The soldiers' mocking laughter is contrasted with the sounds of bullets and machine guns, which are described as "chirping" and "chuckling." The big gun, meanwhile, "guffaws" - a cruel and mocking sound that underscores the senseless violence of war.

Stanza 2: The Dead Men's Eyes

In the second stanza, Owen turns his attention to the dead soldiers. He describes their bodies lying on the battlefield, their eyes open and staring at the sky. These eyes are described as "pale" and "sad," a haunting reminder of the lives that have been lost.

Owen writes:

Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces -
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.

Here, Owen shows us a scene of desolation and despair. The soldiers are hiding in holes, their dreams forgotten, while snow falls around them. They are surrounded by death and destruction, and their only solace is the sound of a blackbird flitting about in the grass.

Stanza 3: The Voices of the Dead

In the final stanza, Owen brings the poem to a haunting and powerful conclusion. He imagines the voices of the dead soldiers speaking to him from beyond the grave. These voices are described as a "chorus" that repeats the refrain "The Last Laugh." This refrain is a reference to the old saying "He who laughs last, laughs longest," but in this context, it takes on a much darker meaning.

Owen writes:

But hark! Joy - joy - strange joy.
Lo! Heights of night ringing with unseen larks:
Music showering on our upturned listening faces.
Death could drop from the dark
As easily as a song - 
But song only dropped,
Like a blind man's dreams on the sand
By dangerous tides;
Like a girl's kiss on her grandpa's cheek;
Like the tide's beat on the sand
So are our minutes sped.

Here, Owen shows us that even in death, the soldiers find some measure of joy and beauty. They hear the music of larks ringing out in the night, and they feel the soft touch of a kiss on their cheek. But even in this moment of beauty, there is a sense of danger - death could come at any moment, just as easily as a song can be dropped.


"The Last Laugh" is a powerful and haunting reflection on the horrors of war and the futility of violence. Owen uses vivid and unsettling imagery to show us the brutality of war and the toll it takes on those who fight it. The soldiers' laughter is a cruel reminder of the terrible irony of war, while the dead men's eyes are a haunting symbol of the lives that have been lost.

But even in the midst of all this horror and destruction, Owen finds moments of beauty and joy. The soldiers hear the music of larks and feel the touch of a kiss, even as they face the very real possibility of death. This juxtaposition of beauty and horror is what makes "The Last Laugh" such a powerful and thought-provoking poem.

In the end, "The Last Laugh" is a reminder that war is not just a political or military conflict, but a deeply personal one that affects the lives of everyone involved. The soldiers who fight in wars are not just faceless soldiers, but real people with hopes, dreams, and families. Owen's poem is a tribute to those who have lost their lives in war, and a warning to future generations about the terrible cost of violence and conflict.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is a powerful medium that can evoke a range of emotions in its readers. One such poem that has stood the test of time is "The Last Laugh" by Wilfred Owen. This poem is a poignant commentary on the futility of war and the devastating effects it has on those who fight it. In this analysis, we will delve deeper into the themes and literary devices used in this classic poem.

"The Last Laugh" is a poem that was written during World War I, a time when the world was embroiled in a brutal conflict that claimed the lives of millions of people. Owen himself was a soldier who fought in the war, and his experiences on the battlefield informed much of his poetry. In this poem, he uses the image of a dying soldier to illustrate the senselessness of war.

The poem begins with a description of a soldier who has been wounded in battle. The soldier is lying on the ground, bleeding and gasping for breath. Despite his injuries, he is still able to laugh, and this laughter is described as "mad." This laughter is significant because it represents the soldier's defiance in the face of death. He knows that he is dying, but he refuses to let the war defeat him. Instead, he laughs in the face of his enemies, and this laughter becomes his last act of rebellion.

The second stanza of the poem introduces a new character, a "smug-faced" officer who is watching the dying soldier. This officer is described as being "puzzled" by the soldier's laughter, and he cannot understand why the soldier is laughing when he is so close to death. This officer represents the establishment, the people who send soldiers to war without fully understanding the consequences of their actions. He is unable to comprehend the soldier's laughter because he has never been in the soldier's position. He has never faced death on the battlefield, and he cannot understand the soldier's defiance.

The third stanza of the poem is where the tone shifts. The dying soldier's laughter turns into a "gargling" sound, and he dies. The officer is left standing there, "staring at the air," unable to comprehend what has just happened. This moment is significant because it represents the futility of war. The soldier's laughter was his last act of rebellion, but in the end, it did not matter. He still died, and the officer was left standing there, unable to do anything to help him.

The final stanza of the poem is where the title comes from. The soldier's laughter is described as the "last laugh," and this is significant because it represents the soldier's victory over the war. Despite the fact that he died, he was still able to laugh in the face of his enemies. His laughter was a symbol of his defiance, and it was a reminder that the war could not defeat him. The soldier's laughter was the last act of rebellion, and it was a powerful one.

In terms of literary devices, Owen uses a number of techniques to convey his message. One of the most prominent is imagery. The image of the dying soldier is a powerful one, and it is used to illustrate the senselessness of war. The soldier's laughter is also a powerful image, and it is used to convey the soldier's defiance in the face of death. The image of the officer is also significant, as it represents the establishment that sends soldiers to war without fully understanding the consequences of their actions.

Another literary device that Owen uses is irony. The fact that the soldier is able to laugh in the face of death is ironic, as it is the last thing that one would expect from someone who is dying. The fact that the officer is unable to understand the soldier's laughter is also ironic, as it highlights the disconnect between those who send soldiers to war and those who fight it.

In conclusion, "The Last Laugh" is a powerful poem that explores the futility of war and the devastating effects it has on those who fight it. Through the use of imagery and irony, Owen is able to convey his message in a powerful and poignant way. The soldier's laughter is a symbol of his defiance, and it serves as a reminder that the war could not defeat him. This poem is a testament to the power of poetry, and it is a reminder of the importance of remembering the sacrifices that soldiers make in times of war.

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