Soldier's Dream - Language, tone and structure

Language in Soldier’s Dream

In this poem Owen uses the sort of colloquial language a soldier might use. Jesus ‘fouled’ l.1 the gears in the sense that he ‘messed them up’ so that they wouldn’t work. The phrase ‘caused a permanent stoppage’ l.2 sounds like a technical term. Michael in the final line had ‘seen to’ the ‘repairs’. The names of the armaments Jesus immobilises are technical but would be well known to all the troops: ‘big-gun[s]’, ‘bombs’ and ‘bayonet[s]’.


Owen uses a first person narrator for the actions of the soldier. We can assume from other poems about dreams (e.g. Strange Meeting and Dulce et Decorum Est) that Owen may be sharing his own dream with the reader. The poem opens and closes with, ‘I dreamed’ and ‘I woke’, creating a simple frame. Between these two very human activities we have divine intervention. 

The actions of Jesus are straightforward. In stanza one he ‘fouled’, ‘caused damage’, ‘buckled’ and ‘rusted’ armaments. The results of his activity are seen in the second stanza when there ‘were no more bombs’. In the last two lines we see a change of action. God is ‘vexed’, a verb which suggests annoyance rather than anger. God delegates the task of restoring the weapons. He ‘gave all power’ l.9 to Michael, who ‘sees to’ the repairs, which means that war is able to continue.

Harsh consonants

The opening line ends with Owen’s use of an aggressively alliterative ‘g’ in the ‘gun gears’. Owen draws our attention to the weapons by alliterating a plosive ‘b’, in ‘big’ / ‘bolts’ / ‘buckled’ / ‘bayonet’ / ‘bombs’. We also hear a repeated plosive ‘p’ in ‘permanent stoppage’ / ‘pikel’ / ‘power’, all of which add to the destructive thrust of the weapons. The sounds ‘t’ and ‘k’ in ‘bolts’ / ‘Colts’ / ‘bayonet’ / ‘flint lock’ / ‘pikel’ l.6 give us a sense of their hardness and ability to hurt.


The tone of this poem is matter of fact. Owen describes Jesus at the start of his dream as being ‘kind’. His ‘smile’ in line 3 and his ‘tears’ in line 4 add to the humanity of tone which contrasts with the physical action of destroying the weapons of war in the first stanza. In the Christmas hymn Once in Royal David’s City, which would have been very familiar to Owen and his original readership, the author (C.F.Alexander) says of the child Jesus ‘tears and smiles like us he knew’. Here Owen emphasis the humanity of Jesus in the same way.

The opening of the second stanza the tone is peaceful. There are no more ‘bombs’ on either side. We are soothed by the repetition of ‘Not even’ in line 6 which emphasises how even old obsolete weapons have been destroyed. Owen changes the tone with the ‘but’ at the start of the penultimate line. God’s vexation and his use of power smash the dream of peace.

Investigating language and tone in Soldier's Dream

  • Owen’s choice of words is important in this poem. His diction when he writes about the war is very different from when he writes about the tension between God and Jesus. Make a list of the details of war.
    • How does the language work in the poem?
  • Make a list of the characteristics of God, Jesus and Michael.
    • How does Owen make us feel about each of them?

Structure in Soldier’s Dream

In two uncomplicated stanzas Owen shows how the soldier dreams of how peace might be achieved (verse 1), and has a vision of world peace that cannot be sustained as he wakes to the reality of war (verse 2). 

Dream of a new world

The opening of a new line and a new stanza with the conjunction ‘And’, which has already started three previous lines, may appear odd until we look at the biblical description of the New Heaven and the New Earth after the end of the final battle in Revelation (see Synopsis and commentary > Owen’s take on God, Jesus and Michael.). In the King James Bible version of Revelation:21 (Revelation 21:1-27), nearly every verse starts with ‘And’, giving the passage an almost breathless quality of excitement and amazement. This is the same effect Owen is creating with ‘And there were no more bombs’. Only the last two lines of the second stanza deal with the returning nightmare of war.



Owen varies the iambic pentameter of the first and last lines in each stanza (the word bayonet was usually slurred into ‘bay’net’) by introducing an additional stress in lines 2 and 7 (if ‘power’ is slurred to ‘pow’r’). In line 2 the disruption of the smooth flow echoes the intractability of the sabotaged guns, whilst in line 7 the longer line gives a sense of God going out of his way to overturn his son’s actions. The extra three syllables in line 6 may hint at the unwieldiness of old-fashioned weapons, as well as containing the amazements of the dreamer’s repeated ‘not even’. 


The simple rhyme scheme of both verses reinforces the overall simplicity of the poem. The abba, cddc pattern creates what is in effect a rhyming couplet at the heart of both stanzas. This creates a slightly humorous echo which detracts from the seriousness of the poem. Owen’s attempt to rhyme ‘pikel’ with ‘Michael’ may not convince some readers that this is a great poem. It is worth noting that Owen uses a capital letter for ‘Theirs’ at the end of line 5 when he makes it clear that Jesus has destroyed the weapons of both sides. ‘Theirs’ is a pararhyme with ‘gears’ and ‘tears’ and ‘repairs’. This draws both stanzas together and at the same time puts ‘Theirs’ at the heart of the poem, indicating Christ’s desire for peace to benefit both sides.

Investigating structure and versification in Soldier's Dream

  • Although Jesus destroys weapons both ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ there is a suggestion in the last line that Michael following God’s command has seen only to ‘our’ repairs. Is this significant?
    • If so, what was Owen saying about the war in the last line?
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