Inspection - Language, tone and structure

Language in Inspection


Owen makes the poem come alive through the voices of the three men and their characteristic patterns of speech. 

  • The officer, Owen himself (‘I’), is imperious and commanding. He does not address the soldier by name, merely a curt ‘You!’ followed up by the ‘You dare’ of the second line. With the onomatopoeic ‘rapped’ of line one this sets the aggressive tone of the first stanza. His language to the sergeant is more polite (‘Please’) but still impersonal. Only ‘afterwards’ when he speaks privately to the man do we see a slightly more approachable side to the officer, demonstrated by the man’s ability to explain himself more openly
  • Owen uses colloquialisms to distinguish the brisk, snapping sergeant from the other two characters: ‘ ’Old yer mouth’ l.3 (hold your mouth or be quiet) and ‘I takes ’is name’ l.4. The sergeant’s brutal, ungrammatical English is in contrast with the soldier’s educated and informed speech in the final stanza
  • The language Owen uses to reflect the soldier’s character is at first respectful: ‘Please, sir, it’s..’ is his attempt to reply to the officer’s rhetorical question and excuse himself. Although initially silenced by the overbearing sergeant, we discover his intelligence (quoting Shakespeare) and philosophical take on the situation in which the army finds itself, tinged with ironic bitterness at the sacrifices being demanded of the men.

Owen puts his own beliefs into the mouth of the private. The drama of the final stanza is carried by his simple but profound language in response to the officer’s statement: ‘Well, blood is dirt’ l.8. By repeating the statement in line nine Owen makes the phrase straddle the two stanzas, putting it at the centre of the poem. Where the office and the sergeant have ‘rapped’ and ‘snapped’ in stanza one, here the man ‘laughed, looking away’ line nine. This acts like a stage direction, with the reader as audience.


Part of the poem’s success lies in the range of moods which Owen introduces in such a short poem. Inspection opens with the imposed discipline of the officer and the sergeant interspersed with the polite ‘please sir’ of the man. The mood of the poem changes ‘afterwards’ when the officer and the man speak privately of the event. The tone is quite matter of fact until the man’s ironic laugh in line 9. His bitter views colour the rest of the poem.

Investigating language and tone in Inspection

  • Inspection can be described as a dramatic dialogue. Compare it with The Letter, which is a dramatic monologue, and with The Dead Beat, which is another dramatic dialogue.
    • Which of the three do you find most powerful and pitiful? Why?

Structure and versification in Inspection

The first two 4 line stanzas move from the inspection (in stanza one) through the identification of the ‘blood is dirt’ motif (in stanza two) to the longer third 8 line stanza in which the man reflects about war and sacrifice.


Owen uses punctuation and different metres to reflect the speech patterns of the three men which gives a natural, realistic sound to the poem. Although much of the poem is iambic, Inspection begins with the aggressive opening spondee of the barked ‘You! What’. That arresting double emphasis is found again when the man tries to reply (‘Please, sir’), at the start of stanza three with the soldier’s exclamation ‘Blood’s dirt’ and then the heavy symbolism of ‘Young blood[‘s]’ l.14. Whilst most of the poem alternates between pairs of tetrameters and pentameters, Owen jolts the reader by missing a final beat in l.14, then by giving an extra beat in the final line, both lines conveying the man’s concise and shocking conclusions.


Owen uses a very simple ab ab rhyme-scheme in the first two quatrains of Inspection, developing it into ab ab bc bc in the final octet. The officer’s onomatopoeic ‘rapped’ is echoed and supported by the sergeant’s ‘snapped’ which helps to set the aggressive tone of stanza one. The rhymes Owen uses for the soldier’s speech are much more pronounced than the ‘got’ and ‘spot’ and the pararhyme ‘parade’ and ‘said’ of the second stanza. The long vowel sounds of ‘away’, ‘clay’ give the sense of the ‘far off’ memory of where the man’s wound ‘bled’. Owen takes up the short explicit ‘ed’ sound of ‘bled’ and repeats in the ‘red’ of the boy’s cheeks and the ‘dead’ of the penultimate line. The final long rhymes in lines 14 and 16 of ‘objection’ and ‘inspection’ contrast with these short physical words both in sound and sense.

Investigating structure and versification in Inspection

  • Each stanza has its own story to tell as the characters shift in importance. Trace how Owen moves the narrative on throughout the verses, shifting the significance of the characters from the officer to the man.
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