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With regard to Wilfred Owen's poem, "Smile, Smile, Smile," it refers, as do all of his poems, to World War I.
There is an incongruity at the start of the poem: the newspapers are advertising new homes to be ready when the war is over.
For,' said the paper, 'when this war is done
The men's first instinct will be making homes.
This creates a conflict within the speaker, as he believes the war has only just begun. And if it should end so soon, he believes it would somehow rob the dead of the "integrity" of their sacrifice.
The speaker goes on to say that the greatest honor to show a fallen hero is to remember him.
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.'
Owen then writes that those wounded, who survive, share a special, private camaraderie with one another: the value of sacrifice, perhaps.
The half-limbed readers did not chafe
But smiled at one another curiously
Like secret men who know their secret safe.
The last several lines I find ambiguous:
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.
I assume the pictures appearing each week (in the same newspaper, perhaps, that advertises new homes...) are of those who have died in action. Readers of the newspaper, with sincerity in their voices, remark at the fallen soldiers' smiles—saying, "They're happy now," as if dying for one's country would validate the smile, somehow, of their sacrifice. However, the closing, "...poor things" might convey that the reader does not fully comprehend the satisfaction a hero would have in making the ultimate sacrifice, for the "sincere voices" can only sympathize with the soldier's passing.
I think, having read other poems by Owen, that the patriotic spirit of the solider lies at the forefront of his poems. War asks of its fighters the greatest sacrifice, and true heroes are only to glad to answer the call. They are most honored, then, in being remembered by a thankful nation for what they have given.
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