Inspection - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of Inspection

A private soldier is reprimanded by his commanding officer for appearing on parade in a dirty uniform. The sergeant puts him on a charge. Although the man explains afterwards that the mark on his uniform is blood seeping from a wound, the officer says that the blood is ‘dirt’. The man uses the comparison to talk about the war and the final inspection of all the dead by Field Marshal God (see Big Ideas from the Bible > Judgement). 

Commentary on Inspection

The army context 

Owen presents the event as a piece of dramatic dialogue between three ranks and the poem is underpinned by the hierarchy and discipline of the British Army. The ‘he’ of the poem is a private, the ‘I’ (Owen himself) an officer inspecting his men, supported by a sergeant, a non commissioned officer (NCO) who enforced discipline. The Field Marshal was the top rank in the army. In the poem Owen ironically equates God at the final judgement with a Field Marshal.

WWI platoon paradeInspections (when the men stood to attention on ‘parade’) took place regularly in the trenches and men were punished if they did not come up to expectation. In Inspection the soldier is ‘confined to camp’ l.5 which meant that he would not be allowed to go to the local villages to have any free time until he had served the number of days required as punishment.

Literary context

The soldier being inspected refers to the blood-stain on his uniform as a ‘damnèd spot’. This quotation was originally uttered by the murderess Lady Macbeth, in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, about her inability to wash away the taint of blood and the guilt associated with it. The soldier indicates that he is marked forever by the actions he has undertaken for the sake of war.

Investigating commentary of Inspection

  • Inspection is a poem for voices and part of its power lies in the drama of the dialogue. Read the poem aloud with a few friends taking turns in reading each part.
    • Discuss how you felt in each role and make a note of your findings
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