What passing-bells for these who die as
- Only the monstruous 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
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.
there, we've walked quite friendly up to Death;
Sat down an eaten with him, cool and bland, -
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We've sniffed the green thick odour of his breath, -
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn't writhe.
He's spat at us with bullets and he's coughed
Shrapnel. We chorused when he sang aloft;
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.
Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier's paid to kick against his powers.
We laughed, knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars; when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death - for lives; not men - for flags.
A COMMENTARY ABOUT TWO POEMS BY WILFRED OWEN
Title of the poetic works: Anthem for doomed youth and The next war.
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) is “probably, together with Sassoon, the most important English War Poet (…). He may be considered a precursor of the generation of Auden and Spender. The popularity of Owen today can be explained by his condemnation of the horrors of the war, which remain so terribly actual, but also by his very premature and absurd death” (http://users.fulladsl.be/spb1667/cultural/owen.html,).
1917 was the most important
year in the life of Owen, when he had his most creative stage. He was injured
and sent to
Both poems are short (fourteen lines and two stanzas, one a bit longer than the other one, in each poem), Owen does not need to write long poems to express his feelings about the horrors of the war (maybe he had not time to write longer works because he was starting to write when he died at the age of 25). The poems have long lines but they can be read quickly. The vocabulary used by the author is not very complicated, but there are some words very difficult to understand if you are not a fluid speaker of English, such as stuttering (line 3), mockeries (line 4), schrill (line 7) and glimmer (line 11) in Anthem for doomed youth, or spilling (line 3), odour (line 4), schrapnel (line 7) and scythe (line 8) in The next war.
The rhyme is quite different in the two poems. While in Anthem for doomed youth the rhyme is a complex ABACDEDF and a more ordinary second stanza with ABBACC, in The next war we find a more easy rhyme with ABBACDDC in the first stanza and ABABCC in the second one.
As I have already said before, The next war and Anthem for doomed youth were written between 1917 and the beginnings of 1918, maybe the time in which in the First World War took place the most important and decisive events in the conflict, such as the entrance of the United States of America in the war, the Russian Revolution and some of the bloodiest battles in the war. Certainly the poetry has helped to understand and comprehend many things happened in the first Great War, a war that was forgotten and outshined by the Second World War, an event that took place two decades later and that has been used by the most influent art in the twentieth century, the cinema, to narrate a lot of stories, some of them unknown for the most of the people. Therefore, we know a very few things about the war lived by the humanity from 1914 to 1918.
Personally I prefer The next war to Anthem for doomed youth. Maybe this last one is better written and Owen shows its great capacity to write epic things, but my favourite lines are in The next war. Owen shows the Death as a man (he uses his and him a lot of times) and as a friend: Out there, we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death; (line 1), Oh, Death was never enemy of ours! (line 9). Maybe he shows the Death as a friend because the Death is actually the only and real friend that soldiers have while they are fighting in a war, and that the death is the best solution to their sufferings and injuries (in a war you can die in any moment, when you don’t expect you can be killed).
The three last lines are excellent to understand the opinion of Owen about war: We laughed knowing that better men would come/ And greater wars; when each proud fighter brags/ He wars on Death-for lives; not men-for flags. Owen thought that the war was a situation where men had to survive, not a place where defending a land, a country or a flag. Here Owen shows the ridiculous thing about the nonsense of the war. Every death in a war is an absurd death.
Anthem for doomed youth is about similar things, but in this case Owen focuses his criticism of the war on the young people. Youngs like him were sent to fight that they did not want to parcitipate (but Owen, who enlisted in the army voluntarily): they wanted to enjoy their youth and not being killed day by day (What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?) by people they did not meet, they weren’t enemies.
Owen shows too the indifference of the society of that time towards these absurd deaths: No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells/ Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs. (lines 5-6). Young men know it’s very possible that they get killed in the war, as Owen writes in line 11: Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.