What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
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.
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.
- Wilfred Owen, 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'
Wilfred Owen was killed in battle on the fields of France on the 4th of November 1918 - one week before the War ended. He was 25 years old.
Owen remains, for me, the greatest of all the War poets. It's not just that his poems, drawing heavily on his own experiences in the War, paint a portrait of the war more realisitic, more, somehow, accurate, than any others. It's also that Owen (much more than Sassoon, for instance) is more than just a war poet - he is a poet in the truest sense of the term. Where Sassoon's (and others') poems are bitter and ironic, Owen's lines blend indignation with compassion; where Sassoon is clever, Owen is sublime. Even Owen's most bitter war poems are informed by a sense of beauty, of a search for the lyrical. Anthem for Doomed Youth is a good example of this, as is the exquisite Hospital Barge at Cerisy. Through these poems we catch a glimpse of a poetic mind slowly maturing to its craft, of an imagination beginning to look beyond the immediate horrors of its surroundings to search for a more dreamlike, more mythic vision. They are also, of course, poems of considerable verbal skill - filled with a gentle, undemanding music. What makes Owen's death so tragic is that reading his poems one can vividly imagine the voice he would have gone on to become.