A Soldier’s Voice
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.”