Le Christianisme - Language, tone and structure

Language in Le Christianisme

Owen has chosen as his title a French phrase that sums up an entire faith - Le Christianisme. In a very short poem Owen is dealing with a huge topic.

Past, present and future:

The tenses in this poem are important. Using the past tense Owen describes the destruction of the church and the Christ figure. However the saints who once adorned the building have long ago being stowed away and are presently safe from ‘our trouble’ l.4. Although the figure of the Virgin at present is intact - she has been made a figure of fun by a passing soldier who has given her ‘an old tin hat’ which acts as a halo - Owen states that at some point in the future she too will be destroyed by a ‘piece of hell’.

Religious language

Owen uses words to do with religion and belief in almost every one of the eight lines which make up this poem

  • ‘church Christ .. buried’ l.1. According to the gospels, after he was crucified Jesus was buried in a tomb before rising to life on the third day (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
  • ‘packed-up saints’ l.3. The plaster figures of saints have been stacked in the cellar of the church for safe-keeping
  • ‘Virgin .. immaculate’ l.5. Catholics believe in the immaculate conception of Jesus’ mother, referred to as the Virgin Mary as, according to Matthew 1:18-25 her first son (Jesus) was conceived without sexual intercourse
  • ‘halo’d’ l.7 refers to the golden circle around the heads of certain figures in paintings or on statues, representing holiness
  • ‘hell’ l. 8 alludes to the place where, according to the New Testament, those who have rejected God will be assigned. Hell is thus associated with suffering and torment, which Owen compares to the Western front.

It is perhaps telling that these religious terms are cheek by jowl with images of destruction:

  • The Christ figure is ‘hit and buried’ l.1
  • The church has been reduced to ‘rubbish and rubble’ l.2
  • The saints can’t hear the ‘trouble’ l.4
  • The halo of ‘war’ l.6 is merely an ‘old tin hat’ l.7
  • The figure of the Virgin will be battered l.8.


Owen begins the poem Le Christianisme very laconically with a terse but ambiguous ‘So’. Is he saying ‘So what?’, not caring that the statue and building has been wrecked? Or is the ‘So’ a significant conclusion: ‘So’ Christ, albeit in the form of a plaster image, is destroyed by the war? Christ’s saints, like his disciples in Gethsemane, are lying asleep (Matthew 26:36-45), leaving him and his mother to suffer as they did in the crucifixion narrative. The tone of the poem is in tension between religious belief and indifference, perhaps reflecting the conflict in Owen’s own mind.

Investigating language and tone in Le Christianisme

  • The nature of the language used by Owen in Le Christianisme allows us to read this poem in two completely different ways. Look for evidence that Owen is being disrespectful of the plaster saints who have done nothing to prevent the destruction and death which surrounds Owen
    • Look for evidence that Owen is associating the figure of the crucified Christ with the sacrifice and suffering of the men at the front.

Structure and versification in Le Christianisme

The two quatrains are uncomplicated. Owen uses a simple ab ab rhyme scheme, where ‘rubble’ is a full rhyme with ‘trouble’, ‘serried’ with ‘buried’. There is an almost jokey effect in making such different words rhyme as ‘hat’ and ‘immaculate’. An image of unsullied purity and key Catholic doctrine is linked to a dispensable, common ‘tin hat’ . Coupled with the matching rhythms of alternate lines, this gives the poem a jaunty, almost mocking, tempo.

Investigating structure and versification in Le Christianisme

  • There is a sense of mockery in Le Christianisme. When you compare it to the ‘mockeries’ in line 5 of Anthem for Doomed Youth, how does that poem reflect Owen’s views in Le Christianisme?
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