Critical Analysis of Small pain in my Chest




The poem records a dying soldier asking for aid from the narrator. He is injured and about to meet the horn of death. He finds himself lucky as his injury is not severe as he is alive in comparison to those who met their death already, yet doesn’t deserve this fate only for fulfilling the ill-desires of some warmongers.  

The young soldier was smiling at his best to hide his pain and asked for the narrator’s aid.The narrator saw a number of soldiers lying dead, who had fought a long and difficult battle throughout the night and had died in the battle.

The narrator finds a large reddish-brown stain of blood on the soldier’s shirt which is a mixture of his blood and the local Asian dirt. The soldier then describes his experience of the battle which took place at night, that he along with a troop of two hundred soldiers was climbing a hill and as they reached the top, there was an explosion and then he felt this small pain in his chest. The soldier then feels bad and tells the narrator that though he is an enthusiastic and big man, he was defeated and left with a small pain in his chest. It seemed that the soldier was injured in the explosion and the pain was of the injury that he went through, and was hiding the pain with his subtle yet brave smile. Finally,the soldier succumbs to the fatal pain, the world closed in on him.The narrator had put his arms around the dead soldier and as he pulled him towards himself, he could feel their wounds pressed against each other- the large one in the narrator’s heart due to the deep agony he was in after watching a soldier die for his country, against the small one in the soldier’s chest.  


This poem is based on the prolonged struggle of the Vietnam War between 1955 and 1975.  The word ‘HERE’ is written in capital letters to indicate the battlefield, which is of no use to humanity. 


“Small Pain in My Chest” is another addition to the ‘Anti-war’ poem group. This poem joins the crusade against the uselessness and negativity of war. 

Irony: The title of the poem Small Pain in My Chest is used ironically. The expression “small pain” is repeatedly used in the poem only to make sure we get the irony. The pain was not at all a small one, rather it was a fatal injury that the soldier boy succumbed to. But, the poet is hinting that the injury of the soldier boy was small compared to the destruction war can cause.

The narrator felt extremely sad at the futility of war which takes away so many great young lives. He saw the soldier boy, helped him respond to his call, talked to him, felt his concerns and saw him yield to the injury. So he can’t, but feel the evils of war at heart, which overwhelmed him to an extent that his pain seemed greater than the physical pain of the soldier boy. 

The pity of war is felt all over the poem. War cannot bring merriment; it always has a sad ending. The real pity is aroused when the soldier boy expresses his concern regarding what his mother and wife, who immensely depend on him, would think if they saw him in such helpless condition.War doesn’t have any productive potential; it only destroys. The soldier wouldn’t mind even dying for a noble cause, but to be sitting here without a good reason seems silly to him. 

Theme of sacrifice: The soldier boy has been used as an idol of Sacrifice to portray the sacrifice made by the soldiers while fighting for their country which comes out of a sense of duty and bravery without having any grudge against anyone on the opposite side of the battle.He says:

We fought all day and fought all night with scarcely any rest –

I kept firing at them, sir. I tried to do my best,

But we see he has no complaints against anyone, not even any demand. He fought bravely and tried to do his best just from his sense of giving service for his motherland. We see him covering up his fatal pain with a subtle smile that only imparts strength to think of it as a “small” pain. 

War takes away those lives for a wrong reason. All those lives are lost and spoiled. It’s a sacrifice more of a nation than for a nation. The love and spirit of sacrifice the soldier has within himself for his country does not consider his injury as fatal but just a small pain in his chest. He showed his bravery till which gives us the emotions of the poet on the sacrifice made by the soldier boy who died happily even after making such a huge sacrifice out of the sense of duty and responsibility. 


We find ‘Small Pain in My Chest’ to reflect strong condemnation against the war. This poem through the conversation between the two soldiers reflects that war brings pain, separation, agony, hatred and above all loss of all innocent lives.The death of the young soldier hints that warmongers do go in the battlefield and fight rather guileless young soldiers are sent to kill and to be killed. War does not bring any solution, it kills humans and humanity. Nothing influences a soldier on the battlefield than the fear of being killed and the task of killing the enemy.They have no space for emotion, feelings, sympathy or leisure. Food, rest, recreation etc. become baffling to them


“Small pain in my chest” is a ballad with a refrain. The poem has a musical tenet. The whole poem is of 36 lines and divided into nine four-line stanzas.It maintains the rhyme scheme of aa bb. It comprises stanzas that can be sung to musical instruments. We find the use of alliteration, inversion, enjambment, imagery, and refrain in the poem.

A Refrain is a repeated line or number of lines in a poem or in a song that comes typically at the end of each verse, which generally carries the main message of the poem. Here the refrain hints at the horrors of war, pain and suffering of a soldier in the war.



Alliteration is repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning of nearby words.

What would my Wife be thinking…


The poet has repeated the expression ‘a small pain in my chest’ at the end of each stanza beginning from the second one. 


Can it be getting dark so soon?…

I thought that the day had just begun.

These two lines are symbolic. Here, ‘getting dark’ signifies the approaching death of the young soldier. ‘The day’ indicates his life which he thought had just begun.

The ill-fated soldier boy can no longer withstand the fatal wound and the great pain. He is nearing his death. ‘The day’ here symbolises the life of the soldier, which had just begun, and he had a long future ahead. He could not believe that it was ending so soon. 


This is the use of good-sounding indirect words to substitute harsh and unpleasant ones.

They’re all gone while I feel this…

In the above example, ‘gone’ is used to mean ‘dead’ to make it sound milder.

Transferred Epithet

The night exploded and …

Here, the night didn’t really explode, rather the bombs that exploded at night. 


It is an exaggerated statement, generally to make an emphasis.

…the brightest that I’ve seen.

The speaker has described the soldier’s smile as the brightest smile he has ever seen. Clearly this is an exaggeration.

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