Wilfred Owen

At a Calvary Near The Ancre

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.

Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ's denied.

The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.

[A "Calvary" is a statue of the crucified Christ; these crucifixes are erected at many crossroads in France.]

These notes are by Jon Stallworthy, the editor of The Poems of Wilfred Owen (1985), p. 111:

Written probably in late 19l7 or early 1918, Wilfred Owen having been involved in fighting near tbe river Ancre in January 19l7. As in "The Parable of the Old Man and the Young," WO adapts biblical detail to fit the war. In the Gospel story, the soldiers kept watch at the cross while Christ's disciples hid in fear of the authorities; priests and scribes passed by in scorn. The Church sends priests to the trenches, where they watch the common soldier being, as it were, crucified, and they take pride in minor wounds (flesh-marked, l. 7) as a sign of their opposition to Germany (the Beast). Flesh-marked, however, carries a further meaning: the Devil used to be believed to leave his finger-marks on the flesh of his followers (cf. Revelation 14: 9-10). Thus the Church's hatred of Germany (l. 12) puts it in the Devil's following, and the priests' wounds are signs not so much of opposition to the Devil Germany as of allegiance to the Devil War. Christ said "Love one another" and "Love your enemies"; despite the exhortations of Church and State, WO perceives that "pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism."

Calvary or Golgotha (both words meaning "the place of the skull") was the site of the Crucifixion.

Lines 11-12. John 15:l3: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."