The Send-Off - Language, tone and structure

Language in The Send-Off

The journey of The Send-Off

The Send-Off significantly sets the reader, as well as the soldiers, off on a journey. The very first word of the poem is a preposition (a word describing a position or direction). ‘Down’ can mean simply the opposite of ‘up’ as in the case of ‘down the lane.’ However, as in the poem, it can also carry negative connotations as in: being down-hearted, on the way down, where the idea of descent is negative. Clearly the soldiers are physically moving ‘down’ from their ‘upland camp’ to the sidings, to the train, to the front. ’Down’ the lanes they all go; ‘too few’ will come back ‘up’.

Road ways and movement are integral parts of the poem and determine the structure of the verse. The poem opens with a reference to ‘lanes’ and ends with ’roads’. The men sing their ‘way’ to the railway sidings (line 1-2) yet ‘creep back’ in the final lines.

Owen’s diction in The Send-Off

Owen chooses to employ an almost stark diction in this poem. The uncomplicated words effectively communicate the poem’s message. 

Owen paints a clear picture of the ‘close, darkening lanes’ and ‘the siding-shed’ where soon the faces of the troops will stare out of each window down the length of the train, as it waits to take them on their journey. He depicts the flowers they wear and the individuals (‘Dull porters’ and ‘a casual tramp’) who are the last to see them go. The lamp winks, the front awaits. 

The language of the final lines, depicting the future, echoes that of the opening lines. Although there is mention of flowers, trains and roadways, now there is no equivalent to ‘The Send-Off’ to meet the return of the ‘few’.

Alliteration and oxymoron 

We are drawn into the events at the start of the poem by Owen’s use of alliteration

The soldiers ‘sang’ their way to the ‘siding-shed’, their faces ‘grimly gay’. The latter alliterative phrase draws our attention to the oxymoron which illustrates the conflict and tension these men feel as they leave England for an unknown front.

Owen continues with his alliteration in lines four and seven with a harsh staccato: ‘stuck .. Stood staring’, which emphasises the lack of real compassion for the men. This contrasts with the sibilance of ‘Sorry to miss .. signals .. So secretly’, conveying how the steam train slides quietly (and ominously) away down the track. ‘Mock’ and ‘meant’ in line 14 both start softly yet end harshly, perhaps portraying Owen’s anger at the bitter reality of war which belies the valour the women are celebrating. But even this energy gives way to the wistful repetition of the word ‘few’ with its pitiful implications.


At their send-off the troops ‘sang’. Yet their leaving was ‘hushed up’ to become ‘never heard’ news from wherever they were sent. Those who survive and return are ‘silent’, a powerful contrast to the onomatopoeic sounds of anticipated ‘beatings’, ‘bells’, ‘drums’ and ‘yells’, which never materialise.


The overall tone of the poem is sombre and ironic. On first reading there appears to be very little anger, only regret and sadness. However, in his biography of Owen, Jon Stallworthy says that this poem makes a bitter statement with brilliant economy, its ‘calm surface mined with ironies.’ 

Owen’s bitterness shows through in his description of the bravery of those ‘grimly gay’ faces in line three; the insensitivity, in l. 4, of those who decorate the living who will soon be the dead; the cynicism of the ‘unmoved’ signal; and the ‘hushed-up’ manner of their departure. 

The resigned way in which Owen describes the events heightens the irony. Perhaps hoping for glory, the soldiers sing on their way to death, yet the celebrations which accompany their journey to face the horrors of war will not be there for the few who survive. Instead, the white flowers stuck in their breasts foreshadow their death (‘white’ and ‘wreath’ being associated with funerals). The signal and lamp are inanimate objects unmoved by the fate of the men, yet they are personified as colluding with the slaughter, nodding and winking in conspiratorial fashion (l. 9 and 10). Owen’s rhetorical question in l.16-17 is deeply ironic. He knows the answer.

Investigating language and tone in The Send-Off

  • To help you appreciate the simple power of the language, make a grammatical analysis of the words used by Owen. First list the nouns (names of things) and the verbs (the words that describe actions).
    • Next spot which adjectives Owen uses to describe the nouns and which adverbs he chooses to tell us more about the verbs.
    • What impact do Owen’s choices of adjectives and adverbs have on you?

Structure of The Send-Off


Each set of three lines, followed by two lines, should be considered as a single stanza, united by the rhyme-scheme abaab cdccd etc. Each stanza depicts a different stage of the journey: leaving camp, departing by train, disappearing from sight, then finally the anticipation of the very ‘few’ who ‘may creep back’. 

Enjambement in The Send-Off

It is possible to see the whole structure of the poem in terms of travelling. Set out on the page it appears less dense than other poems, for example, Strange Meeting. Here words are strung out across the page in long and short lines. The languorous ten syllable lines stretch and fade only to be pounded by the spare words of the short lines. White space following the short lines serves to truncate them and leaves the mind space to dwell on what has just passed, whilst the contrasting wordiness of the longer lines is emphasised in many cases by the use of enjambement. Like the soldiers, readers are propelled forwards. 

Rhyme in The Send-Off

The rhymes, which are simple yet strong, force the reader to connect ideas. ‘Went’ l.11 rhymes with ‘sent’ l.13, suggesting the soldiers’ going but emphasising their lack of choice. Owen questions the outcome: ’Shall they return?’ (l.16)

The initial ‘way’, ‘gay’, ‘spray’ rhyme sounds open and up-beat. It ill prepares us for the shock of stopping ‘dead’ at the end of line five, a harsher variant of the brief ‘shed’ (l.2). 

‘Camp’, ‘tramp’, ‘lamp’ are again gentler words than ‘hard’ and ‘guard’, yet in stanza three this pattern seems to be inverted. ‘Went’, ‘sent’, ‘meant’ are short and peremptory compared to the drawn out vowels of ‘ours’ and ‘flowers’, words which convey community. 

Finally Owen completes the reversal of rhymes with short sounds - we have sudden ‘bells’ and ‘yells’ and the gentler sound of ‘wells’ preparing us for the lingering ‘loads’ to lead us to the final, half-known ‘roads’. The poem finishes. We are left with the final word, the plural ‘roads’ leading us back to where we began, lingering on both aurally and emotionally.

Rhythm in The Send-Off

In many lines of The Send-Off, Owen uses iambic pentameter or iambic dimeter, which means we notice the disruption of this smooth, conversational rhythm when it occurs. The caesura in l.5 marks a startling break in the flow, particularly after movement has been suggested by the dactyl and anapaest of ‘darkening’ and ‘To the sid(ing)’. 

Owen often uses double stresses (spondees) to focus attention, as with ‘Dull porters .. Stood staring’ (l.6 & 7). He also uses rhythm to convey physical motion. In l.9 the switch between iambs and trochees conveys the jolting of the train as it starts to move. In l.19 the three stressed syllables of ‘creep back silent’ and spondee ‘still village’ depict the halting motion of wounded servicemen.

Investigating structure and versification in The Send-Off

  • Poems are designed to be read aloud. Read it to yourself or find a friend and read it to each other. What happens when one of you reads the ‘long’ line and the other the ‘short’?
    • What is added to your understanding of the verse and structure? Explore how the long and short lines are tied up with the long and short rhymes.
    • See if you are able to memorise some of the lines. It isn’t hard as the patterns in rhyme and rhythm lend themselves to being learnt off by heart.
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.