The Last Laugh
"Oh! Jesus Christ! I'm hit," he said; and died.
Owen made a point of choosing attention-grabbing opening lines, though few are as stark as this one. (THE LETTER has "Guh! Christ! I'm hit. Take 'old, Aye, bad." But that comes in the body of the poem.)
The earliest draft of THE LAST LAUGH dated February 1918 was titled LAST WORDS and Owen sent it to his mother whose religious susceptibilities may have received a jolt on her reading what was the first line:
"O Jesus Christ!" one fellow sighed
Perhaps she would have been mollified by his comment:
There is a point where blasphemy is indistinguishable from prayer.
As in this first verse.
Or perhaps not, for on 21st February he was writing to her:
That "Last Words" seems to have had rather a harrowing effect on you. I have shown it to no one else as it is not chastened yet. It baffles my critical spirit.
The poem having been chastened over several revisions and given a more penetrating title, it emerged with a regular stanza pattern but irregular metre, rhythm and rhyme: indeed pararhyme predominates. No soothing effects there and the same applies to mood and content. There seem to be six lines of what might be called "proper" poetry, while the rest could be extracts from children's nursery (un)rhymes. Children love onomatopoeia, and "chirped", "chuckled", "spat" "hissed" etc come in this category.
A typical Owen effect is his personifying of inanimate objects. Here the bullets, guns, bayonets and so on, all display human, or at least animal, characteristics, making the antagonism…