Poem introduction

This is one of the first poems by Owen in which he found his authentic voice as a poet, and the drafts – which contain revisions by Siegfried Sasson –demonstrate how much he was helped in this by Sassoon when they were recuperating together in Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. The combination of pathos, and the beautiful last line, realism, the wailing shells, and Keatsianly rich language is Owen's true note.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

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.