Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)
The Last Laugh
'O Jesus Christ! I'm hit,' he said; and died.
Whether he vainly cursed, or prayed indeed,
The Bullets chirped - In vain! vain! vain!
Machine-guns chuckled, - Tut-tut! Tut-tut!
And the Big Gun guffawed.

Another sighed, - 'O Mother, mother! Dad!'
Then smiled, at nothing, childlike, being dead.
And the lofty Shrapnel-cloud
Leisurely gestured, - Fool!
And the falling splinters tittered.

'My Love!' one moaned. Love-languid seemed his mood,
Till, slowly lowered, his whole face kissed the mud.
And the Bayonets' long teeth grinned;
Rabbles of Shells hooted and groaned;
And the Gas hissed.


Breakdown of “The Last Laugh”, by Wilfred Owen.
Structure = layout of lines/ contrast of ideas or images
= language patterning – personification and onomatopoeia
Theme – the shock and waste of youth to the machinery of war. The machinery of war is the “master” of the soldiers. This is a similar theme to “Lament” by F.S Flint. In “Lament” Flint reminds us that “they are no longer the masters of fire: Fire is their master…” and that “the genius of the air has contrived a new terror that rends them into pieces”. Here Flint refers to the introduction of planes with machine-gunners firing down onto their open trenches. In “The Last Laugh” Owen literally silences the last thoughts or last cries to God, family or lovers, with the reply of the weaponry. He uses personification to turn the weapons into living, scorning, beings and onomatopoeia to tell us what these beings have to say to silence the human soldiers, once and for all.

'O Jesus Christ! I'm hit,' he said; and died. – This is either an expletive (swearing) or actually crying out to God
Whether he vainly cursed, or prayed indeed,
The Bullets chirped - In vain! vain! vain! – Owen uses repetition of “vain” to emphasise the point that anything the soldiers try to do to defend themselves will be “in vain” which means won’t work/come to nothing.

Owens used personification by giving the bullets voices which are happy – chirpy. He does this to create the idea that the guns/weaponry of war has taken on an entity all their own. They have to be contended with as any difficult opponent has to be.
Machine-guns chuckled, - Tut-tut! Tut-tut! – The repetition, personification and onomatopoeia continues – this time the machine guns are telling the soldiers off for even trying to stay alive in front of them. Tut Tut, who do you think you are? You are certainly no match for us!


And the Big Gun guffawed. – The repetition, personification and onomatopoeia continues – this time the Big Guns are just laughing flat out at the humans’ pitiful stand against them.

Another sighed, - 'O Mother, mother! Dad!' – The structure of the first verse continues. The soldiers cry out and this cry is shut/shot down by the machinery of war which has taken on a personality, strength and mind of its own through Owen’s use of personification.
Then smiled, at nothing, childlike, being dead. – This is an example of stark, plain modernist language: nothing in this line is “lofty” or romantic – this soldier is just left looking “childlike” and “dead”!
And the lofty Shrapnel-cloud
Leisurely gestured, - Fool!
And the falling splinters tittered. – Here Owen uses metaphor to compare the barrage of shrapnel from an exploding bomb to a cloud. He then adds personification as the cloud leisurely spreads itself across the battlefield. He continues with this personification by giving the cloud a “voice” that laughs or “titters” at the soldiers’ attempts to stay alive or face them. Owen uses onomatopoeia to describe the sound to the reader/ so that the reader can experience the sound “titters”.


The tone of all the weapons utterances is very derisive WHICH MEANS TEASING OR DISSING EG. titters, guffaws, tut tuts

'My Love!' one moaned. Love-languid seemed his mood,
Till, slowly lowered, his whole face kissed the mud. – Again Owen uses the stark modernist plain diction where the images are not wrapped in polite conversation but the full impact of the bullet through the soldier is felt by the reader as his “whole faced kissed the mud” instead of kissing the girlfriend he was crying out to at the beginning of the verse.
And the Bayonets' long teeth grinned;
Rabbles of Shells hooted and groaned;
And the Gas hissed. – Owen continues with his structure, where the soldier cries out and then has his cries cut down by his grim opponent – the weaponry of war - . This weaponry has a mouth of long teeth thanks to Owen’s use of personification. The mouth continues to tease or deride the humans’ attempts to stay alive with “hoots” “groans” and a “hiss” of gas. These are all onomatopoeic words which help the reader to experience the sounds coming from the mouth at first hand.