At a Calvary near the Ancre - Imagery, symbolism and themes
Imagery in At a Calvary near the Ancre
Owen uses the plaster or wooden image of the crucified Christ as a metaphor for those injured and dying in the war and the implicit message of his love towards others as a contrast to that of his official representatives.
Christ at Calvary: The fact that the bombarded figure of Christ had also ‘lost a limb’ l.2 helps Owen’s identification of it with the suffering and sacrifice of men on the front line
The priest and the scribe: Owen uses the ‘priest’ and ‘scribe’ as symbols of authority. In the New Testament the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees hated Jesus and all he stood for. By implication the message of WWI churchmen (and the state which endorses them) is antithetical to true Christianity and therefore is evil.
Golgotha: The setting of Christ’s sacrificial death was Golgotha or Calvary. ‘Golgotha’ l.5 becomes a symbol for the sacrifices made by men in the war where ‘many a priest’ l.5 (Owen is not saying all), who are ’flesh-marked by the beast’ l.7 (that is they are on the side of evil not good), preach hatred.
Investigating imagery and symbolism in At a Calvary near the Ancre
- The imagery of the image of Christ is also used by Owen in Le Christianisme. Look at the way in which Owen uses the images of Christ, the saints and the Virgin in that poem
- Compare his use of symbolism in At a Calvary and Le Christianisme
Themes in At a Calvary near the Ancre
Patriotism vs Christianity
The salient theme in At a Calvary is the tension that exists between Christianity and patriotism. Owen wrote: ‘Pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.’
Owen explores a theme which recurs in much of his poetry - the insensitivity of those in authority to the sufferings of the ordinary man. To deny ‘the gentle Christ’, as did the priests in Christ's day, and as many were doing at the time, is indeed, Owen implies, doing the Devil's work.
Those in authority (like the scribes) are guilty of brushing aside ordinary people. The poem conveys Owen’s anger about the way in which politicians drip-feed the people patriotism and hatred. Owen maintains Christianity will not fit in with this approach.
Owen’s concluding theme in At a Calvary near the Ancre is of the ‘greater love’. Owen’s reference to the words of Christ:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13
demonstrates his belief that love should overcome hatred. By using the image of the crucified Christ near the Ancre as a reminder of what the soldiers are suffering, Owen implies that they sacrifice themselves out of love for their fellow man, rather than being motivated by hatred for the enemy.
Investigating themes in At a Calvary near the Ancre
- Owen’s belief in the love which motivated the men at the front, their camaraderie and sacrifice is an important theme in this poem. How does it compare with his treatment of this theme in Le Christianisme?
- Compare the themes of At a Calvary with the themes of Greater Love
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17These things I command you, so that you will love one another. 18If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: They hated me without a cause. 26But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
1I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. 9As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. 11These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. 12This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. 16Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. 17These things I command you, that ye love one another. 18If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. 23He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. 26But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: 27And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.
Executed by nailing or binding a person to a cross.
Title (eventually used as name) given to Jesus, refering to an anointed person set apart for a special task such as a king.
An image or form of comparison where one thing is said actually to be another - e.g. 'fleecy clouds'.
The forward position when the troops were nearest to the enemy.
A 'testament' is a covenant (binding agreement), a term used in the Bible of God's relationship with his people. The New Testament is the second part of the Christian Bible. Its name comes from the new covenant or relationship with God.
A collective term for the group of lawyers, rabbis and teachers who interpreted the Jewish Law in biblical times.
Party of highly religious Jews who imposed strict observance of all the Jewish laws.
The name given to the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded most fully in the Four Gospels.
The beliefs, doctrines and practices of Christians.
The opposite of goodness; thoughts and actions which are in opposition to God's will and result in wrongdoing and harm. That which opposes God.
Name for the place where Jesus was crucified, also called 'the place of the the skull'.
The location, just outside Jerusalem, where according to the New Testament, Jesus is said to have been put to death on a cross.
In the New Testament the term is used of all Christians but gradually came to describe an especially holy person.
Mary, the mother of Jesus and wife of Joseph. It is traditionally understood that Mary was, and remained, a virgin during both the conception and birth of Jesus.
Also known as Satan or Lucifer, the Bible depicts him as the chief of the fallen angels and demons, the arch enemy of God who mounts a significant, but ultimately futile, challenge to God's authority.
Executed by nailing or binding a person to a cross.