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.
Sunday was the 100th anniversary of Wilfred Owen’s death. The insanity of World War I and the slaughter of young men on both sides of the war is hard to imagine today. Total casualties military and civilian is estimated at 40 million, 15 to 19 million deaths and 23 million wounded.
There is a large body of war poetry from WWI that is worth the time to seek out. The waste of brilliant lives makes these poems vibrant, tragic, sarcastic and human. Poets from different stripes and ages were just men desperately wanting nothing more than to go home. Owen denied that privilege and Blunden tortured for it.
Vlamertinghe: Passing the Chateau
by Edmund Blunden
‘And all her silken flanks with garlands drest’—
But we are coming to the sacrifice.
Must those flowers who are not yet gone West?
May those flowers who live with death and lice?
This must be the floweriest place
That earth allows; the queenly face
Of the proud mansion borrows grace for grace
Spite of those brute guns lowing at the skies.
Bold great daisies’ golden lights,
Bubbling roses’ pinks and whites—
Such a gay carpet! poppies by the million;
Such damask! such vermilion!
But if you ask me, mate, the choice of colour
Is scarcely right; this red should have been duller.