war poetry

WestWords Perfect Pair 30.07.2014

Soldier and war poet Wilfred Owen was born in Shropshire in 1893. He is regarded by historians as the leading poet of the First World War, with poetry that is unsparing in its graphic depiction of life on the front lines. After a succession of traumatic events, including being blown high into the air by a trench mortar and becoming trapped for days in an old German dugout, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and sent to Craig Lockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. It was whilst recuperating here, that he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon,  who was hugely influential in Owens’ development as a poet. Owen was killed in action in France on 4 November 1918 exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice. Most of his best-known works, including this one, were published posthumously. The last in the series on War Poetry, this is:

By Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
– only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.