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.
Passing bells would usually be the sound of
churchbells ringing for a funeral. Owen points
out that on the battlefield there are no bells.
These – a very subtle word choice but these
brings us a lot closer to the soldiers than “those”.
Owen has a habit of writing from within the
scene of the poem.
Cattle – a dehumanising simile. Also,
cattle is a herd indicating the number of
deaths. Rhetorical Q answered in next
line Metaphor – angry guns suggests
aggression and lack of patience.
What are the guns angry about?
Alliteration – sounds like gunfire
Owen creates a picture of a world
without mourning or sympathy for the
soldiers – there are no prayers or bells.
The only choir singing for them is
the metaphor of the bombs
dropping singing their explosions.
The reality was the soldiers didn’t
have time to mourn.
Families will mourn them at home. Battle isn’t the
The prayers are said quickly
Owen refers to religious ceremonies
(prayers and bells) as mockeries. Why
might this be? Is he disillusioned with
religion and the idea of god (like
Exposure) or does think that a religious
ceremony wouldn’t be fitting for such a
horrible death? Glorifying death ignores
what is really happening.
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.
A possible suggestion is that the poem takes the reader on a journey to
the soldier’s forgotten families at home. It is a harder stanza to
understand – not for the faint hearted – and full of metaphors.
Again Owen asks a question –
where will the candles be to mark
their deaths, and in the second
line we learn that there won’t be
any – “not in the hands of boys”.
Boys – young and innocent
children who will never see their
fathers again. Alternatively boys
could be the soldiers themselves –
echoing Dulce (Children ardent for
some desperate glory).
Shine and glimmer are words which symbolise
the candle that was asked for in line 1. They
sound holy. They make the deaths sounds less
horrific. Shine and glimmer sound more
ceremonious (like he funeral they should be
having). They represent the tears of the
soldiers and of their children. Goodbyes
therefore represent death. It is not based in
reality – Owen hasn’t forgotten though the
emotional aspects of grief and death.
This final metaphor gives the sense of closure…of
death. The curtains are closing. The eagle-eyed
amongst you might also recognise this metaphor for
death used in Conscious. This might inform your
reading of that poem!
STRUCTURE AND FORM
• Anthem is a sonnet. Sonnets are usually love poems showing strong
emotions. This sonnet conveys strong emotions but they are those of fear
• It generally follows an ABAB rhyme scheme, and generally has 10 syllables
per line. There are moments it breaks this…you could explore why.
• The tone is significantly different in both stanzas – in the first it is angry
using onomatopoeia etc. to convey the horror of the situation. In the
second stanza it is gentle, conveying the tone of grief.
Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us...
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent...
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient...
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
But nothing happens.
Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
What are we doing here?
Owen tells the poem
from his perspective
and that of his fellow
Shows the extreme exhaustion from the soldiers. The verb ‘wearied’
emphasises this. Links to ‘drunk with fatigue’ in Dulce.
The weather is personified here. ‘Merciless’ suggests it is never-ending,
and the violent imagery of the knife shows us that the weather is as much
of a threat to life as the battling.
The use of silence
expect fighting – in
actual fact, a lot of
war time was
But nothing happens
is a very harrowing
line. The mental
anguish of waiting for
battle was intense.
Brambles grow on thorny vines –
creates an image of barbed wire.
This links to the idea that the
weather is hostile.
They feel detached, like they are not
fully conscious. Link to conscious.
The rhetorical question emphasises
the pointlessness of war. It also, again,
suggests that they aren’t fully aware.SSM
The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow...
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey,
But nothing happens.
Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind's nonchalance,
But nothing happens.
We usually associate dawn with hope but in this situation the dawn is
bringing misery with it. The tone of this is very pessimistic. Also dawn is
described using a metaphor and natural imagery, suggesting it grows like a
plant. This reinforces the unforgiving side of nature and its devastating
impact on the soldiers.
Owen gives the impression
that the only feeling the
soldiers have of war is that it
is lasting a long time.
There is a use of pathetic
fallacy in these lines -
reflecting the feelings of the
Melancholy = unhappy/miserable
Link with monochrome colour
(grey) to create atmosphere and
Repetition of this line to emphasise
emptiness/pointlessness and the
sound of rapid
The snowflakes are personified. They
sound unenthusiastic. It suggests that
even their fluttering, being carried on
wind that is not aggressive (nonchalant)
is still too much to bear.
RepetitionAgain, the weather
is presented as the
biggest threat to
Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces -
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
Is it that we are dying?
Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires glozed
With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
Shutters and doors all closed: on us the doors are closed -
We turn back to our dying.
Stealth = secretively/ surreptitiously
It gives the impressive that the threats are hidden and can’t be
countered. The threat here, again is the ‘pale flakes’ – the
weather! Explore pathetic fallacy – weather reflecting feelings.
Distressing imagery – soldiers in fear and pain in
disgusting surroundings. In the trenches, dreams
are forgotten. Link to ‘the trench is narrower’ –
Soldiers have forgotten
their dreams. They are
no longer optimistic.
Again, the idea of
forgetting yourself can
be seen in conscious.
Is the imagination here
blackbirds be grenades?
Rhetorical question –
forgotten why they
are there. Sad tone.
Link to conscious.
Very deathly imagery – possibly the ghosts are a
metaphor (spiritually they are imagining
themselves at home). Likely, it is creating an image
that the soldiers have died.
The house is empty
without them. The mice
are happy scurrying
around. The imagery
here is intended to
suggest the trenches.
Mice and rats littered
the bottoms of
Isolation – life goes on
Back to the business of
dying – return to
Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God's invincible spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
For love of God seems dying.
To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp.
The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
But nothing happens
This very odd, jarring and complicated phrase forces the reader to
notice is. He is saying that they cannot believe anything else – all that
they have imagined is true: their homes are closed to them, their
dreams are fading, they are dying.
The men are becoming
afraid of God’s love – how
could a kind, loving God
send them into such
bloody battles? Owen’s
questioning of God here
would be shocking to
many, but also echo the
thoughts many would
secretly have felt.
Peoples’ faith in religion is disappearing.
Personification of the
harsh, hostile frost
taking over them and
Images of disfiguration
– links to Dulce (Bent
double)The fact that the faces of the soldiers are
‘half-known’ suggests that the damage has
made them unrecognisable, or the conflict is
full of lonely men who didn’t really know
each other– links to Dulce (Bent double)
Owen lingers on this idea of nothing happening.
Nothing is happening because they are still waiting and
war is a never ending cycle. Or that those who could
stop the war choose not to and this hell continues.SSM
STRUCTURE AND FORM
• 5 line stanzas
• Owen uses of half rhymes (words that don’t fully rhyme but sound a bit like
they do) to form an ABBAC rhyme scheme.
• The first stanza and last stanza end with the same line – ‘But nothing
happens’ – you might want to consider why Owen has created this circular
ABOUT THE UNUSUAL, SHORT FIFTH LINE IN EACH STANZA
• The final fifth line doesn’t seem to fit. It is abrupt and stands out on its own.
Owen uses this disjointed line to ask his questions or repeat the idea of
waiting (nothing happens). This emphasises the drawn out and
unpredictable nature of war.
• The line makes the stanza feel like it has been cut short – can you think of
any reasons why this might be important?
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
an image of
Creates an image that the soldiers are under a
weight – perhaps physical (their rucksacks) or a
metaphorical weight (the wright of the war)
Old hags – a cultural reference to
Shakespeare. The hags are the witches.
Connects the war with evil. Also
suggests they are extremely unhealthy.
Sludge – the weather turned the
ground to marsh. Sludge connotes
exhaustion but also that the
weather was a big threat – link to
Ghostly image created by bombs. Maybe
he can’t remember clearly – link to
Metaphors for extreme exhaustion
A phrase that Owen has created. Suggests wounds and loss of life.
The capitalisation, repetition and exclamation
marks are used to convey to tone of panic. They
increase the pace to emphasise the panic.
An aggressive verb linked with the agony and
panic of the situation.
Fire and lime both are
substances that burn the skin.
Horrific image - inhaling the gas
would burn on the inside.
Metaphor for suffocating. Also not that green should
be a natural colour but here it is used to represent
something that kills. Link to natural world being a
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The war haunts his
dreams – it has left
him with mental
Helpless sight implies that he saw what was happening but could do
nothing to help. Has the tone of guilt or sorrow.
The repetition of 3 present participle (‘ing’)
verbs implies that the action is happening in
front of them. The verbs add to the pace and
emphasis the very immediate danger that the
soldiers were in. It also shows how quickly the
gassed soldiers were dying.
Smothering = suffocating. He find that his dreams
and memories of the war choke him. Can’t cope.
Disrespectful image of bodies
being disregarded and simply
throw into a wagon. Links to
disrespectful way death is
handled in Anthem for Doomed
Youth and Exposure.
Images of extreme pain. Horrific image because
the soldiers’ deaths are neither quick nor
The devil is the
worst sinner and
even he is sick of
the sins in the
Children = young.
them and they died.
Gives us the impression he is being honest.
Wants people to listen. A direct address.
Owen hated propaganda
and believed people were
lied to about the reality of
It is sweet and honourable to die for your
STRUCTURE AND FORM
• There is no obvious or clearly defined structure – think about why you think
this might be.
• Owen does use an alternative ABAB rhyme scheme to maintain pace.
• The stanzas are used to create different scenes, therefore it is structured in
a way which shows many different aspects/horrors of the war:
disfigurement and trench life, a gas attack, the graphic description of the
effects of the attack, and the message at the end (the old lie).
• The structure of the poem is also supported by the language: at the
beginning the language is that of extreme exhaustion and fatigue, the pace
then increases due to language (especially verbs) used to create panic, and
ending with a more elevated and moralistic style of language.
Semi-colon disjoints the
sentence emphasising the lack
His fingers wake, and flutter; up the bed.
His eyes come open with a pull of will,
Helped by the yellow may-flowers by his head.
The blind-cord drawls across the window-sill . . .
What a smooth floor the ward has! What a rug!
Who is that talking somewhere out of sight?
Three flies are creeping round the shiny jug . . .
‘Nurse! Doctor!’— ‘Yes, all right, all right.’
The poem was written whilst Owen was in hospital suffering from Shellshock. Consider the title ‘conscious’
– it raises the question about how alter and conscious the speaker in the poem is. He goes through various
stages of consciousness.
Personification – suggestions
he is coming around from
The metaphor could suggest he is
determined to wake up. Also has
the tone of reluctance - is this
because he is struggling to wake
up, or because staying in a dream
is far better than returning to
The description here is very precise. Is it real
or it is imagined? The rapid change of things
suggests a tone of madness. There is a
sense of urgency.
The blind is used in Anthem to
signal death/closure. Is this the
reality, linking to
the title of the
An uncaring tone. It was officers that
were sent to hospital with shellshock
– perhaps the nurse knows that the
soldiers still on the front line are
But sudden evening blurs and fogs the air.
There seems no time to want a drink of water.
Nurse looks so far away. And here and there
Music and roses burst through crimson slaughter.
He can’t remember where he saw blue sky.
The trench is narrower. Cold, he’s cold; yet hot –
And there’s no light to see the voices by . . .
There is no time to ask—he knows not what.
Note the metaphor and use of pathetic fallacy here. Owen has created an
image of the soldier’s loss of consciousness. The blurring and fog means he is
no longer thinking clearly. War is clearly creating mental trauma and leaving
mental scars. Worse, perhaps he is dying?
Why wouldn’t there be time to want a
drink of water? A drink of water is a
necessity but he doesn’t have time – the
tone is one of anxiousness and urgency.
This leads into his confused memories in
the next few lines.
It is important to recognise the juxtaposition
here of music and roses with the idea of
slaughter. These are contradictory and links
to the idea of losing consciousness/being
confused. His memory might be failing him. it
could be claimed that the mind disguising
traumatic memories – therefore Owen might
be using symbolism here. Music – bombs;
roses = blood.
Blue sky is a symbol of hope
but he cant remember the
last time he felt optimistic.
His mind is
returning him to
his cramped and
Can you SEE voices? Of course
not, he is becoming confused.
No light also suggests that he is
falling into darkness…perhaps
becoming unconscious or dying.
The poem ends with the sense of urgency
and confusion. It repeats the phrase ‘no
time’ but also suggests a lack of clarity ‘he
knows not what’.SSM
STRUCTURE AND FORM
• There is a clear speaker in the poem, though he drifts between
consciousness/life and death
• 4 quatrains divided into 2 stanzas
• Owen uses a regular rhyme scheme, only disjointed in a few places
• The use of punctuation is important at creating discord in the poem – a key
example of this is the disjointed flow created by the semi-colon in the first
line. This might link to the idea that the speakers thoughts are broken.