Wilfred Owen (1893–1918)
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.
- Siegfried Sassoon helped Owen with the revision of this poem and suggested the word "anthem" for the title. ↵
- Jon Stallworthy notes in his edition of Owen’s poetry, “WO was probably responding to the anonymous Prefatory Note to Poems of Today: an Anthology (1916), of which he possessed the December 1916 reprint: 'This book has been compiled in order that boys and girls, ...may also know something of the newer poetry of their own day. Most of the writers are living...while one of the youngest...has gone singing to lay down his life for his country’s cause....there is no arbitrary isolation of one theme from another; they mingle and interpenetrate throughout, to the music of Pan’s flute, and of Love’s viol, and the bugle-call of Endeavour, and the passing-bells of Death.’” ↵
- Stallworthy reminds the reader that “the drawing down of blinds, now an almost-forgotten custom, indicated either that a funeral procession was passing or that there had been a death in the house. It was customary to keep the coffin in the house until taking it to church; it would be placed in the darkened parlour, with a pall and flowers on it and lighted candles nearby. Relatives and friends would enter the room to pay their last respects. The sestet of the poem, in fact, refers to a household in mourning.” ↵