At a Calvary near the Ancre - Language, tone and structure in At a Calvary near the Ancre

Contrasts in language in At a Calvary near the Ancre

Owen creates the tension in At a Calvary near the Ancre through his use of the contrasting semantic fields of war and religion:

  • War - words to do with the contemporary, physical effects of war such as ‘shelled roads’ l.1, ‘lost… limb’ l.2 and ‘flesh-marked’ l.7
  • Biblical references -
    • ‘hangs’ l.1 is a reminder of the iconography of Jesuscrucifixion (see Acts 10:39)
    • Disciples’ l.3, refer to Christ’s followers who ran away from him before his crucifixion
    • The capitalisation of ‘Soldiers’ l.4 may mean that Owen is not just referring to his contemporaries but also recalling the soldiers who were guarding Christ as he was being killed and who subsequently recognised his divinity (Mark 15:39)
    • Golgotha’, l.5 is the place of Jesus’ crucifixion (see John 19:17), which is also referred to as Calvary
    • ‘the mark of the beast’ l.7 is a reference to the identifying mark placed on agents of the devil (Revelation 19:20)
    • Referring to Christ as ‘gentle’ l.8 stresses his humility in the face of provocation (2 Corinthians 10:1
    • the religious leaders of Jesus’ time were known as the ‘scribes’ l.9 and the Pharisees, who persecuted Christ during his ministry and sought to have him destroyed
    • Owen’s reference to loving ‘the greater love’ may mean any of
      • Christianity in general
      • love for Christ
      • Jesus’ specific injunction that the greatest love involves self-sacrifice: ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ John 15:13 NIV.


The use of aggressive verbs such as ‘shove’ l.8 and ‘bawl’ l.9 are in direct contrast to the gently alliterative ‘Lay down their life’ l.12 and help to drive home Owen’s point about the incompatibility of Christ’s command to ‘love your enemies’ Matthew 5:44 with the inhumanity of the war.

Investigating language and tone in At a Calvary near the Ancre

  • Owen uses biblical language in this poem, as he does in The Parable of the Old Man and the Young. Compare the language in both poems.
  • How does Owen use biblical or religious detail to underline the horrors of the war?

Structure and versification in At a Calvary near the Ancre

At a Calvary near the Ancre is one of Owen’s shorter poems. It is made up of three stanzas each of 4 lines, with each verse containing a complete idea. The gentle witness of the wounded Christ figure in the first stanza is contrasted by the proud ease of his so-called representatives who in fact are serving the forces which led to his (and the contemporary soldiers’) death. However, the third stanza undermines the aggressive coercion of the state with the ‘higher calling’ of Christ’s followers to emulate him.

In this simple poem Owen uses straight-forward, full rhymes in a regular ab ab pattern and short regular lines of eight syllables. This apparent simplicity contributes to the immediacy of the poem.

Investigating structure and versification in At a Calvary near the Ancre

  • Look at Owen’s use of rhyme, identifying where rhymed words emphasise or contrast with each other.
  • Compare the way in which Owen uses simple rhymes in this poem and in the poem 1914.
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.