At a Calvary Near the Ancre




In this paper we are going to analyse a poem by Wilfred Owen in order to know how life was in World War One times and how people felt about it, especially those who fought and were in the trenches laying down his life. We are going to analyse this period with a religious point of view to observe the evolution of the religious ideas in these difficult moments, when perhaps was easy to loose faith.



World War One also known as the Great War, was a global military conflict that took place between 1914 and 1918.

In that time, there were lots of battles and of course lots of deaths of soldiers, who went there to defend their country and lived the horrors of war and lots of difficult situations, which weren’t easy.

One of these soldiers was the poet Wilfred Owen, who is one of the most famous poets of the First World War. Inspired by his experiences on the front lines in France where he suffered a shell-shock attack, he wrote poems like the poem below “At a Calvary Near the Ancre” which talks about the horrors of war and in which we can also perceive the religious influences of his education.1




At a Calvary Near The Ancre

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.

Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ's denied.

The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate



Before we analyse this poem it is important to provide some information about the location which inspired it in order to understand the poem better.

The Ancre was a valley where the last phase of the Battle of the Somme3 took place. Wilfred Owen was involved in that hard battle in 1917 where he was surrounded by shell attacks and the horrors of war, so he had a direct experience of the battle, which inspired the poem we are going to comment.1



The poem compares the situation in the Ancre with the biblical passage of the New Testament, which told the detention and Calvary of Christ. Owen created a parallelism between his experience of the battle and his religious ideas to criticise the pure patriotism.2 He compares the suffering of Christ when he was going to be crucified and the suffering of the soldiers at the battlefield, which was something terrible and an extremely hard experience.

According to Kenneth Simcox, the biblical influence could be not only his religious education but the fact, that in France where this battle took place, it is usual to find a model of Christ on the Cross at a crossroads and seeing this Owen got inspired to relate the war events with the Crucifixion, adapting them as a metaphor.4


In the first stanza, the poem starts describing the situation of the battle, where as we have said before, lots of shell-attacks took place and destroyed everything they touched, not only environment but the soldiers, this is a representation of the terrible experience that Owen as a soldier had to live at this battle.

In the second verse, he compares Christ with the soldiers, as if he were one of them, telling us that even He lost a part of his body in these extremely dangerous shell-attacks:

In this war He too lost a limb

In the next verse, we found a clear relation with the Biblical passages we have mentioned before:

But His disciples hide apart

and now the Soldiers bare with Him

When Jesus was arrested, his disciples abandoned him so he was alone in his own “battle” of suffering (Mt 26, 56  “Then all the disciples abandoned Him and ran away”) 5. The Soldiers feel the same as Jesus because they have been abandoned by the priests and the politicians, those people who have power but prefer to be far from the conflict because it is easy that others go to battlefields. The only ones who are there giving their lives are the soldiers who are with Him.


In the second stanza, he speaks again of the priests who are sinners because of their pride and because they have felt to temptation with the Beast who could represent the Devil in a Biblical context.

Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride

That they were flesh-marked by the Beast

In the Biblical context, that means that the priests, who were seeing the Calvary of Christ made anything because they were frightened of the authorities. In the war context the Beast are the Germans, who were the enemies the soldiers should be opposed to in order to save the honour of their country.5


In the last stanza, he speaks about the politicians. They manipulated the soldiers to defend their country, convincing them of how bad the enemy was and telling them they should have allegiance to the state, but they have forgotten Christ, because:

But they who love the greater love

 Lay down their life; they do not hate.

 The soldiers fight because of the love they feel to this country, because they are supposed to do it, but not because they hate others. As well as Jesus died for us, the soldiers died for their love to their countries. That could sound very patriotic, but the real Christian is not a pure patriotic person, because Christianity and hate are not the same thing.


In relation to the rhyme, the poem presents a cross rhyme, as we can observe:

 One ever hangs where shelled roads part.           A
In this war He too lost a limb,                              
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.


The language he uses is quiet easy and simple to understand and the metaphor between war and Calvary is a good weapon to make people understand and feel, what his feelings in battle moments were.








We have studied the evolution of religious ideas through different periods founding different reactions. The reaction of this time of war could be a reaction against religion but we found that Owen, instead of loosing his faith in the face of so difficult moments plenty of horror, death and fears, he tried to tell people that the way the authorities had taken was a wrong one, one way apart from Christianity and His universal love message.

This perfect combination relating a battle with the Calvary of Christ, tries to reflect that nobody wins a war, and that patriotism tarnish the mind, because a war such as WWI with hard battles and lots of deaths, is a Calvary for everyone, for every country.

A good example of that, are literary pieces from German writers and poets, which also speak about the atrocity of wars. One good example could be “Im Western nichts Neues” (All quiet on the Western Front) from Erich Maria Remarque which relates the difficult and horrible moments that the German soldiers have to live in the trenches during a battle, thinking how senseless the war was and trying to return alive.

That makes us understand that British or German soldiers both were people, both had feelings, both felt fear.

Perhaps, that was the message that Owen tried to express with this poem, bringing back Jesus, because Jesus loved all men not only the British or the Germans, His message of eternal love was of course universal.



















1.      Biography Wilfred Owen”. HTML Markup Paul Groves. 19th March 2007 <>

2.      “Wilfred Owen, At a Calvary Near the Ancre”. English Department, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322. 18th March 2007 <>

3.      Battle of the SommeWorld War One. 25th March 2007 <>

4.      “At a Calvary Near the Ancre” Analysis by Kenneth Simcox. Copyright: Kenneth Simcox, 2001. 24th March 2007. <>

5.      La Santa Biblia (Ediciones Paulinas) 1988