A Soldier’s Voice

Vimy Ridge

Anthem for Doomed Youth

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 good-byes.

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.

 

Wilfred Owen is considered to be one of the greatest of all the First World War soldier-poets. His poetry does not romanticize conflict; rather, he spoke the truth.  War is not glorious.  He wrote about the hardships endured by the soldiers – trudging in cold, wet weather carrying enormous weights on their shoulder, struggling through trenches filled with water.

Wilfred Owen was killed in a machine gun fire one week before the Armistice, November 1918. His legacy has come down in the form of poetry, mostly written over a course of one year from August 1917 to September 1918.

J.R.R. Tolkien, who also served in WWI and suffered the loss of his closest friends, wrote,

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

 

14 thoughts on “A Soldier’s Voice

    • Thank you, Nigel. I just visited a Legion where all of the veterans were meeting to listen to bagpipes. Most of them are in their 80s so it was very difficult for them to come out. But their eyes were shining as they reminisced about time past and of lost comrades. It was a poignant time for me. My father was a veteran – he passed two years ago. Thank you so much for your visit.

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  1. Thank you for this great poem and the video, Rebecca! All new to me.

    Do you know the German writer and philosopher Ernst Jünger, a Jahrhundertmensch? In addition to his political essays, novels and diaries, I suppose he is most famous “Storm of Steel”, an account of his experience during World War I.

    Big hug to Vancouver!
    Dina x

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    • And big hugs back across the ocean. I found it – “Storm of Steel!!! At the local library and I have placed a hold – should be in my hands soon. Thank you so much for the recommendation. I learn something new everyday. By the way, there are several of Ernst Jünger’s books available at our library (I do love libraries) . Have a wonderful week – another adventure awaits!!!

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  2. My poetry book says this ” In Shrewsbury, the Armistice bells were ringing when the Owen’s door bell sounded its small chime, heralding the telegram that [they] had dreaded for two years” …written by Owen’s biographer Jon Stallworthy.

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    • That is one biography that I would love to read. I have an anthology of War Poems that was edited by Brian Busby. I always appreciate when there is a bit of history that goes along with the poem. What was especially interesting was how poetry linked the wars. For example, Rudyard Kipling was identified with the Boer Wars, John McCrae was identified with WWI. It seems that poetry is the way in which to express the deepest feelings about such horrific times.

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      • Indeed it is! As you probably know, Rudyard Kipling wrote “My Boy Jack,” after his beloved son John (called Jack) an 18 year old Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards went missing in September 1915 during the Battle of Loos. What grief comes through the lines.

        Have you news of my boy Jack?”
        Not this tide.
        “When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
        Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

        “Has any one else had word of him?”
        Not this tide.
        For what is sunk will hardly swim,
        Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

        “Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
        None this tide,
        Nor any tide,
        Except he did not shame his kind —
        Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

        Then hold your head up all the more,
        This tide,
        And every tide;
        Because he was the son you bore,
        And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

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    • Thank you! I remember the first time I read Dulce et Decorum Est! I cried!

      My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
      To children ardent for some desperate glory,
      The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
      Pro patria mori.

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