Click Here for Analysis of Lines 1-12
And witnessed exulatation–
Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul. (13-16)
This stanza uses the extended metaphor of a religious ceremony to show just how far these men have sunk. His fellow soldiers witness his spirits ascent with great exultation (rejoice or glory). “Face” is used as a synecdoche (using a part to express the whole, or vice versa) to describe the soldiers. “Scowl for scowl” refers to Owens displeasure of the soldier’s behavior when he first enlisted. He despised them and they despised him. An oblation is a sacrifice offered to God. Seraphic means ecstatic; so they were ecstatic for hour, which is generally how long a mass usually lasts. Even though these men appeared to be happy and rejoicing in church they still were detestable, foul-mouthed men.
I have made fellowships–
Untold of happy lovers in old song.
For love is not the binding of fair lips
With the soft silk of eyes that look and long, (17-20)
He has made relationships with both his fellow soldiers and women, which have not been told by lovers in old songs. War breaks the lovers’ hearts; both the time apart and the things that soldiers experience in the war tears the lovers apart. Owen points out that it isn’t fair to bind (perhaps in marriage) a young girl to a soldier, because they will only spend their time waiting and worrying for the soldier. “Soft” connotes a soft look as in a loving look. “Silk” probably refers to the glossiness of the silk, which when combined with the image of eyes indicates that the eyes are glossy with tears of sadness.
By joy, whose ribbon slips,–
But wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong;
Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
Knit in the webbing of the rifle-thong. (21-24)
This stanza begins with another usage of irony with the word joy; there is nothing joyous about war. “Ribbon” either refers to a medal or a bandage. “War’s hard wire” refers to the entanglement, and the “stakes” hold up the entanglement. The ribbon and the wire are knitted around the bleeding wound on the soldier’s arm, and he still has to use the rifle that hangs off of his shoulder. A “rifle-thong” is something that is used to clean a gun.
I have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that kept out courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate. (25-28)
He has realized the beauty in the hoarse (having a grating voice) oaths that the soldiers recite when they enlist. The fact that their voices were hoarse probably indicates that they were slightly unsure about what they were getting themselves into. These oaths are designed to make these men believe that they are serving the best interest of their country, and that gives them courage. Owen introduces two paradoxes in the final two lines of this stanza: first, hearing music when it’s silent and second, finding peace in the midst of a bombing. The “silentness of duty” is probably referring to the loneliness that soldiers feel when they are face-to-face with death. In silence, there can be no sound, so it is impossible to hear anything even music. The music that the speaker is referring to is the cacophony of gunfire and explosions, which is not what people think of as beautiful music; or the soldiers are singing to themselves either their national anthem or some military song they learned at boot camp. The speaker says that he found peace in the midst of these explosions that spouted (to eject or issue forth forcibly and freely) reddest (probably referring to blood) spate (a sudden outburst). These paradoxes are used to stress the distortion of patriotism that these men lived; they were fighting for their country, but sacrificing their souls for a government that viewed them as expendable tools.
Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but the trembling of a flare
And heaven but as the highway for a shell, (29-32)
Despite all of their differences the soldiers are all fighting the same war, which brings them together as one. Owen dreamed repeatedly about the concept of the “mouth of hell,” and for him the battlefield is this hell, and the soldiers fighting on the frontline are damned to hell. The battlefield is its own world with its own rules and regulations that are completely different than those found in civilized society. “Trembling” connotes that the soldiers were extremely scared. A “flare” is usually used to signal that help is needed, but using a flare on the battlefield would be futile. There is no one to rescue the soldiers, they have to either rescue themselves or die trying. Owen ends this stanza with a simile; heaven is idealized as the only place that the soldiers will find peace and happiness, but to get there they have to die first.
You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think of them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears. You are not worth their merriment. (33-36)
The last stanza of this poem seems to shift its focus; it seems like Owen had been starring off into space while he was reminiscing about the war, but now he turns and is looking directly at his audience and telling them how they should feel about war and the soldiers that fight them. He tells the audience that they will not hear the soldier’s mirth (gladness or gaiety accompanied with laughter). These men deserve to be revered and cried for, but they owe you nothing. Non-soldiers are ignorant about the true atrocities of war, but they are the ones who unjustly have the loudest opinions and the most power. Owen ends his poem with another word of irony, merriment.