Wilfred Owen is probably the best know of the WWI poets and his death, which occurred during the Allied attempt to retake the Sambre-Oise Canal just 8 days before the armistice was signed has come to symbolise the dreadful waste of war.
Owen wrote the majority of his poems between August 1917 and September 1918. One of the last, the first draft of which was found on the back of a letter to him dated 11 September 1918, is titled “Smile, Smile, Smile”. It is a bitter reference to the popular marching song “Pack up your Troubles” and the poem itself is satirical and feels more like the style of Siegfried Sassoon than Owen’s own. It is not as well known as Dulce et Decorum Est or Anthem for Doomed Youth but that does not diminish its importance nor limit how it might be applied today.
Smile, Smile, Smile
Head to limp head, the sunk-eyed wounded scanned
Yesterday’s Mail; the casualties (typed small)
And (large) Vast Booty from our Latest Haul.
Also, they read of Cheap Homes, not yet planned;
“For,” said the paper, “when this war is done
The men’s first instinct will be making homes.
Meanwhile their foremost need is aerodromes,
It being certain war has just begun.
Peace would do wrong to our undying dead,—
The sons we offered might regret they died
If we got nothing lasting in their stead.
We must be solidly indemnified.
Though all be worthy Victory which all bought.
We rulers sitting in this ancient spot
Would wrong our very selves if we forgot
The greatest glory will be theirs who fought,
Who kept this nation in integrity.”
Nation?—The half-limbed readers did not chafe
But smiled at one another curiously
Like secret men who know their secret safe.
(This is the thing they know and never speak,
That England one by one had fled to France
Not many elsewhere now save under France).
Pictures of these broad smiles appear each week,
And people in whose voice real feeling rings
Say: How they smile! They’re happy now, poor things.
An analysis of this poem can be found here on the Wilfred Owen Association website.