ICSE English poem — Small Pain in My Chest

Small Pain in my Chest
By Michael Mack

Introduction .. Death follows a soldier at every step of the way in the battlefield. Yet, a valiant soldier lumbers on, braving the enemy bullets and the injuries to his body. Death often comes slowly inflicting excruciating pain on the wounded solitary soldier. As the Sun sets in his life, he finds no one to bring him succor or solace. Finally, he breathes his last.
But, the gutsy soldier dies for a cause – the call to defend his country. Some unflinching steadfast soldiers, the refusal of their limbs to continue fighting brings lament and remorse. In the present case, what hurt the dying soldier more is the fear his mother and wife could assume that he capitulated before the enemy before shedding the last drop of blood.
It is a hugely inspirational song that sings the praise of a fatally wounded soldier bemoaning not his death, but his inability to carry on fighting. He dies defying death. For generation to come, his story of valour and dedication will imbibe the never-say-die spirit in countless soldiers.
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Explanation …
Stanza 1 … “The soldier boy was ……… by morning’s light”.
The battle ground was the scene of intense fighting the day before. Dead bodies of fallen soldiers lay strewn all over the place. Drained of all his energy, a solitary soldier had slumped on the ground under a tree. The morning Sun had begun to shine.He had been grievously wounded. He saw another soldier nearby, and motioned him to come nearer.
Stanza 2.. “I wonder if you would help …… pain in my chest.”
Barely managing to smile, the soldier told the other person that he was very thirsty, and begged him to give him some water. He stated how grueling the fighting had been the night before. The non-stop fight had sapped his energy and had left a “small pain in his chest.” It was an understatement. The soldier had been grievously wounded in his chest, but he chose to play it down.
Stanza 3 … “As I looked at him …………….. pain in my chest”.
The second soldier (the author as narrator) looked at his comrade and discovered that his shirt was blood-stained and his uniform was soiled. All this pointed to the fact that the soldier had endured a savage fight. Quite stoically, the wounded soldier made light of his own injury, and declared that he has so luckily survived with a ‘small pain in the chest’, where as all his fellow soldiers had fallen dead. It was a remarkable show of defiance and grit. With astounding courage, he could conceal the excruciating pain to put up a brave face.
Stanza 4 … “Must be fatigue, ………… small pain in my chest”.
The young soldier was fast losing his vitality, but his mind was not ready to give up. He narrated how his 2–strong contingent had managed to climb atop a rock in the previous night. As they began to descend, the enemy rained bullets on them killing almost all of them instantly. It had been a very bloody encounter. Then the soldier looked within. He felt cold although the Sun shone brightly. His limbs had become numb and insipid. A creeping feeling of doom had overtaken his mind. He felt he was nearing his dotage. But, his spirit was as hardly scarred. He wanted to believe that it was the fatigue of the hard-fought battle that made him feel low then. Smiling wryly, he reiterated that his injury was minor.
Stanza 5 .. “I looked around to go ………. small pain in my chest.”
The young soldier shared some more details of the encounter. He stated how, in the aftermath of the encounter, he had looked around to get some help for his comrades. But it was all in vain. All that he saw was deep bomb crater and the corpses of his fellow soldiers. Undaunted by the catastrophe, he continued to fire at the enemy until the ‘small pain in his chest’ made him to sit down on the ground.
Stanza 6 … “I am grateful ………………………. pain in the chest”.
The second soldier (the author as narrator) handed over the water to the young soldier. The latter drank it, and smiled happily and very gratefully. His face reflected the deep joy within. Then he bemoaned the fact that a strong and stout soldier like him could be down on his knees amidst the fury of the battleground. He lamented the fact that a ‘small pain in the chest’ had done him in. It was show of Herculean courage to describe a fatal bullet wound as a ‘small pain in the chest.’
Stanza 7 … “What would my wife ………………. pain in my chest”.
Then the young soldier began to introspect how his near and dear ones would judge his reluctance to fight. His wife could assume that her large-framed husband was an indeed timid soul within. His mother, who reared him to manhood, would be ashamed to see her son capitulating to the enemy just because of a ‘small pain in the chest.” The young soldier obviously knew the regard and reverence with which his family and society looked at him. He was ashamed that their trust had been belied.
Stanza 8 … “Can it be getting dark so soon …………….. small pain in the chest”.
The young soldier saw darkness descending all around. He looked at the Sun and couldn’t figure out how dusk could fall so soon. Oblivious of the impending death, the young unflinching soldier had hoped to resume fighting after a brief rest. But, it was a vain day dream. He departed within moments.
Stanza 9 .. “I don’t recall …………………….. small one in his chest.”
For the second soldier (the author as narrator), it was a deeply moving experience to see a young soldier signing off from life with all guns blazing. He had defied death, lived the life of a real hero, and left a trail of inspiration and glory. Overwhelmed with emotions, the narrator put his arms around him, and pressed him to his bosom. The real wound in the heart of the deceased soldier had carved far bigger wound in the narrator’s heart. Sadness laced with pride, anguish mixed with admiration, and empathy lined with reverence gripped his ‘wounded’ heart.
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Questions .. a. How did the young soldier get wounded?

The young soldier was part of a 200-strong contingent that was climbing a rock in course of a battle somewhere in Asia. During the descent, they ran into unexpected and heavy bombardment by the enemy. The fight continued overnight. Suddenly, a huge explosion happened that caused all of his fellow soldiers to die instantly. He survived, but with a grievous wound in his chest.

b. What did he do soon after the explosion?

Like a well-trained disciplined soldier, he tried to come to the aid of his fellow soldiers, but could do little as all of them had died. There was a huge bomb crater. Undaunted by the savage attack, he continued to fire at the enemy until he became too weak to continue. He sat down under a tree.

c. Why was he so full of remorse?

He felt sad as he could not continue to fight. He thought about his wife and mother back home, and felt that they would take a dim view of his virtual ‘capitulation’. The soldier in him told him to press on, but he was too drained to do it. This made him remorseful.

d. What qualities of the soldier make him stand apart?

The soldier was stoic, courageous and very committed to his duty. He was defiant in the face of death and wanted to press on despite the excruciating pain he suffered due to the big wound in his chest. He ignored the suffering calling it ‘a small pain in my chest’. Such determination to fight even when death knocked on his door made him a truly astounding soldier.

e. How did the author-narrator feel when the soldier died?

The author-narrator was shattered to see the young wounded soldier dieing before him. His heart was filled with grief, admiration and love for the young fighter who died defying death. He fell in the battlefield like a true hero. He departed from this world with all guns blazing.

Symbolism in the poem …

1. The title ‘Small Pain in the Chest’ is a brilliant example of symbolism. The author has sung the praise of the young valiant soldier who, despite his fatal wound in the chest, defies death, and rues his inability to continue fighting. The author has succeeded in underlining his message quite effectively by describing the lament of the dying soldier not in groans and curses, but in words conveying stoicism, pride, and defiance.

2. “Can it be getting dark so soon?” He winced up at the sun.
“It’s growing dim and I thought that the day had just begun.
These lines are another example of the author resorting to ‘symbolism’. The wounded soldier stands on the throes of death. This why everything looks darker to him, although the Sun still shines bright. Yet, valour is still palpable in the soldier’s who would breathe his last soon. The lines juxtapose the gloom of the soldier’s life with his never-say-die spirit.

3. ‘And, as I held him to me, I could feel our wounds were pressed
The large one in my heart against the small one in his chest.’
Again, this is an exquisite example of ‘symbolism’. The second soldier was not physically wounded at all. But, the just-dead warrior’s last regretful words have flummoxed him. He is as moved as he is sad by the dead soldier’s words.

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Main events of ‘Small’ Pain in My Chest

  1. The raging battle took a heavy toll of life, and the young soldier got wounded, along with scores of others.
  2. The brave soldier narrated to his comrade how the ‘small’ pain in his chest had left him down on his knees. It was a rare show of defiance in the face of heavy odds.
  3. The wounded soldier bemoaned his fate not because he was grievously wounded, but because he could fight no longer. He remembered his wife and mother, and felt ashamed to think that they would react with disgust to learn about his abject capitulation.
  4. His limbs became insipid as death loomed over him. The day appeared dark, and the Sun appeared to be setting. His end had come.
  5. The two comrades embraced one another and the young one breathed his last with remorse that a ‘small’ pain in his chest had did him in. He wrote a new saga in gallantry and patriotism.

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53 thoughts on “ICSE English poem — Small Pain in My Chest

  1. It’s remarkable to see such an amazing site. No signing up etc. Which I would do if asked as I’m just appalled with how detailed well written etc everything is. Thank you. Pls keep doing this. It is one of a kind.

    • Thanks Aditya for your appreciation. Keep reading my posts. Soon, I will resume my writing on current affairs. I am sure you will like them.

  2. Thank you so much for this. It is very well explained and has been a great help. Looking forward to more of your posts.

  3. Thanks a ton for such a wonderful and subtle explaination! A small favour from you- can you please include the analysis of the poem Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening?
    Would deeply appreciate if you help me with this.

  4. Thank you so much for this site! A small favour from you could you please post on the important events in the poem small pain in my chest

  5. Thank you for the notes.
    Tiny favor: could you please post the themes of the poem since it’s not really clear in my book

  6. This really helped me
    P.S.Could you please do me a favour by summarising the whole poem in a few words?If you could it would be a great help.Thanks…

  7. Hi the matter is greater but can u even explain the relevance if the poem in today’s world? Please reply as soon as possible.

  8. hi, the above note helped a lot can u pls tell me that
    the narrator is talking about a soldier boy in the Asian dirt.Does it have any special significance?? please reply s soon s possible

    • America was involved in military conflicts in Asia during and after the WW2. Later,it fought a long and bloody war in Vietnam,and recently in Afghanistan. It is difficult to guess which ‘Asian soil’ the poet is alluding to. It could be Japan, Korea,the Philippines, Afghanistan or Vietnam.

  9. does dis line make sense ? when death knocked on his door, he ran out from the window, but not for too long due to the excruciating pain…….

  10. Could you please answer some of my questions ASAP

    Q1. Why do you think the poet used the phrase ‘soldier boy’?
    Q2. Do you think the poem is just about the pain of soldier or it is something more than that?
    Q3. What does the narrator mean when he says ‘ our wounds pressed against each other … the large one in my heart and a smaller one in his chest’?What does ‘large one’ refer to?
    Q4. Explain “the night exploded…”.
    Q5. what tells you that the soldier was losing his consciousness? Why was he confused about it being day or night?
    Q6. Do you think the narrator mourns the death of a soldier or the atrocities of war inflicted upon mankind?
    Q7. What is the message that the poet wants to convey through this poem?

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