For What? – a poem by Paul Vincent Cannon

At dVerse Sarah is hosting Poetics with an invitation to share a poem that has called to us, affected us in some way, positively or otherwise, and to write a poem in response. dVerse Poets – Poetics – A Conversation

Photo: Ben Kerckx,

I have chosen Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ and riffed on that a little. I despise war and I see it as a failure of humanity to sit down together. Wilfred Owen fought in the British army in WW1 and died at the age of 25 in 1918 one week before war’s end. For a detailed biography see The Wilfred Owen Association

Anthem For Doomed Youth     by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- only 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 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.

“Men make war to get attention. All killing is an expression of self-hate.” Alice Walker

For What?

Passion flowered blue in the fields of sheets
set for their love of each other and,
soon enough, their fruit was ripe for picking,
the suckling ripped from breast to trench,
unprotected by the hollow words of those
faceless ones who send anyone but themselves,
valorised by suited cowards and coercive saints,
left alone in mud, and cold, diseased;
grief flowered red in the fields of France,
as life bled out for the shame of piety
voiced in cathedrals of death.

©Paul Vincent Cannon


Filed under death, Free Verse, grief, history, life, poem, quote, war

37 responses to “For What? – a poem by Paul Vincent Cannon

  1. hard truths and saddness delivered so well in your poem Paul. Thanks for referencing Wilfred Owen.. stay well ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Your poem was such a fitting response to Wilfred Owen’s poem. ❤ Powerfully written, justly condemning those who send young people as pawns in a political game to do their fighting for them! War is such a waste!

    Take care!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I can feel you anguish and anger, Paul. I love this poem by Owen and your poem is such a compelling response.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A very powerful poem – wonderfully paired up with the Wilfred Owen one.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What is particuarly powerful about Wilfred Owens’ poetry is the imagery of war. I first read “Dulce et Decorum Est” forty years ago, and those images are still seared on my brain. The answer to the question your poem asks in response to “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is the hardest truth to bear for the mother whose suckling was ripped from her breast. He died for nothing.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Very heartbreaking and so true. People destroy others because of their own self-hatred. And I’ve noticed that people who hate themselves are very egotistic. Hurt people hurt people.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh Paul, what a fitting and well-crafted response to one of my most-loved poems by my favourite war poet. War is such a dreadful waste.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. From flowering passion to “cathedrals of death” – really powerful Paul. It’s been 75 years since the end of the last world War, times are tense for those faceless ones sending children in to battle. My child was sent to Iraq in the heat of that one. She made it back, but I’m not sure if she is whole. Keep writing my friend

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I always loved Alice Walker, and that is one of my favorite quotes of hers.

    Liked by 1 person

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