A military inspection. We could imagine that the Sergeant in the poem would be the man in black, while the officer is next to him and the soldier is one of those being inspected.

Read the full poem here, and listen to it here.


This poem was written in August and September, 1917, while Owen was at Craiglockhart.

This poem begins with a three-way dialogue between a Sergeant, an Officer and a Private Soldier while an inspection is occurring. Inspections were when the soldiers had to stand in rank and file and they would have their uniforms and equipment inspected by higher ranking officers. Here we can see the soldier being scolded and punished for having blood on his uniform, while he later talks with the Officer (the Sergeant is the highest rank of the three).


  • rapped: to speak bluntly, tersely, harshly.
  • ‘Old: colloquial for hold. It is mimicking the English accent where h’s are dropped.
  • ‘confined to camp’: a punishment whereby soldiers could not leave their camp
  • white-washed: Soldiers has to clean military installations and their own uniforms using white-wash. They resented this work and were sarcastic about it, as you can imagine. (does it matter how clean your uniform is if you’re facing machine guns?)(Stallworthy, p10).
  • damned spot: this is an allusion to Lady Macbeth, when she cannot wash the blood out from her clothes after helping her huband commit murder.
  • Field Marshal: this is the highest rank in the British Army.

Guiding Questions:

  • What comments on the nature of the army do you think Owen is making?
  • What comparisons is Owen making between inspection on the battle-field and being judged in heaven?

Important Features

  • Dialogue
  • Diction
  • Allusion
  • Metaphor