The Next War

The Next War Study Guide

"The Next War" is a 1917 poem by the British writer Wilfred Owen, in which a soldier narrates his experiences with a personified version of death in order to ultimately condemn the nationalistic forces behind war. Like many of Owen's poems, "The Next War" takes place during wartime and contains a strong antiwar message. It takes the form of a sonnet, written in fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. Its rhyme scheme, however, blends the traditional English and Italian sonnet forms to unexpected and even ironic effect.

"The Next War" specifically critiques and addresses the conditions of World War I, in which Owen fought: he wrote the poem during a period of treatment for shell shock (now known as post-traumatic stress disorder). Indeed, it was also during this course of treatment that Owen became acquainted with the writer Siegfried Sassoon, another frequent commentator on the war. An excerpt from Sassoon's poem "A Letter Home" forms the epigraph of "The Next War." Shell shock was a common ailment for soldiers during World War I, and Owen's poem addresses the psychological trauma commonly faced by soldiers in that period. It also addresses the effects of chemical weapons, which were first widely used during World War I. Despite the specificity of these references, the poem avoids explicit references to any particular war. Its language is deliberately broad, even archetypal.

"The Next War" is one of the few poems of Owen's published during his lifetime. It appeared in The Hydra, the magazine of Craiglockhart War Hospital, where Owen was in treatment. It is one of only five poems published before Owen's death. The remainder of his work was published posthumously, after he was killed in action in 1918.