S.I.W. - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of S.I.W.

Owen’s use of the title S.I.W. for this poem refers to the military abbreviation for Self-Inflicted Wound. The poem is an account of how an ordinary young boy-soldier, Tim, joins up. He is seen off by his family. His father would rather his son was dead than a coward. His mother hopes he will get a Blighty one. Tim’s sisters wish they were able to fight and his brothers send him gifts of cigarettes. Their letters are always the same. Owen refers to Tim as ‘the lad’. His family have no idea about his circumstances thinking that he is safe in a Y.M. (Young Men’s Christian Association) hut because he told them so in order to stop them worrying. He is in fact under fire as he writes letters home. 

WWI trench attackUnder constant bombardment the boy’s nerves are worn down and he begins to lose his courage. Neither wounds, shell shock nor leave free him from the trap of the trenches. Even death avoids helping him to escape the torture of being under fire. The soldier has seen other men who have shot off their own hands. Their families are never told. Eventually the man can stand the pressure no longer. 

His body is found by a party of men out checking the barbed wire. The soldier is dead. At first they think his rifle may have gone off accidentally or he might have been shot by a German sniper. However, they later find an English bullet in his body and realise he has put his rifle to his teeth and shot himself in the head. The letter home to his family tells them that Tim died smiling.

Investigating S.I.W

Commentary on S.I.W.

Owen is thought to have made his initial draft of S.I.W. at Craiglockhart in September 1917 where he was sent immediately after being treated for shell shock at Cerisy-Gailly. Owen might well have seen S.I.W.s at this casualty clearing station.

S.I.W. begins with an epigraph from a play by W. B. Yeats: The King’s Threshold. This tells the story of a poet once expelled from a King’s court. The poet is determined to make the King aware of the need for poetry and poets. In order to do this the poet goes on hunger strike. He ‘has set his teeth to die’ just as the young soldier in S.I.W. kissed the muzzle with his teeth.

Investigating commentary of S.I.W

  • In S.I.W. Owen uses the first name of the soldier, which is the only time he does so in any of his poems. Re-read The Letter, where Owen uses names although not that of the protagonist. What is added to the poems by Owen’s use of the men’s first names?
    • In which of these two poems do you think most of Owen’s pity lies and why do you think this is?
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