At a Calvery near the Ancre - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of At a Calvary near the Ancre

Wayside shrineOwen describes a wayside shrine, known as a Calvary, which has been damaged by artillery fire. It is positioned at a road junction not far from the River Ancre. Calvaries were very common at crossroads in France. Owen points out that, in the image, the damaged Christ figure has been deserted by his disciples and left to the mercy of soldiers. 

Golgotha or Calvary was the name of the place where Christ was crucified; fittingly ‘Golgotha’ is the Aramaic term for ‘the place of the skull’. Here, Owen is using it as a metaphor for the location for the war. Owen observes priests ignoring suffering (because they are actually agents of the devil) and religious leaders enforcing beliefs in the rightness of the state. Owen says that those who, like Christ, truly love their fellow men, lay down their lives for them and are not fuelled by hatred.

Investigating At a Calvary near the Ancre

  • A famous teaching of Jesus is that: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends’ KJB John 15:13. Compare what Owen is saying about these words of Christ in At a Calvary near the Ancre to what he says in his poem Greater Love.

Commentary on At a Calvary near the Ancre

Owen wrote At a Calvary near the Ancre in late 1917 or early 1918. The Ancre is the name of the river which rises near Albert in France and flows into the River Somme. It was the scene of the last battle of the Somme. Owen was involved in action near the Ancre in January 1917, where he experienced the events he describes here, as well as in The Sentry and Futility.

The poem faces the paradox of Christ’s example of sacrificial love for the sake of those who did not love him (enemies) and the clergy’s injunction to fight and kill enemies for the sake of Britain. This contradiction leads Owen to conclude that the clergy is inspired not by Jesus but by his enemy, Satan (the Beast).

Investigating commentary on At a Calvary near the Ancre

  • Read the following three poems which came out of the action Owen experienced near The Ancre: The Sentry, an account of Owen’s experiences and feelings in the dug-out where the sentry is blinded; Futility, which relates to the way frost and snow affected Owen and his men; At a Calvary near the Ancre, which is a poem about the religious tensions surrounding war.
    • Examine Owen’s presentation of himself and his role in each poem.
    • Look for similarities in the way Owen writes about war in each poem.
    • How does Owen represent the fighting men in each poem?
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