“The Providence Singers ... opening entrance in the final movement was breathtaking”
Channing Gray
Providence Journal
6 May 2013
(Mahler Symphony No. 2)


Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893–1918)
One of the leading poets of World War I, Owen wrote the nine poems that are the core of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.

Benjamin Britten  |  War Requiem

Nine poems by Wilfred Owen
set with the Latin Mass for the Dead

Though he lived only 25 years, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (March 18, 1893 – November 4, 1918) was among the greatest of Britain’s World War I poets. His poetry, reflecting two tours of active service in the war, was stark, descriptive, and faithfully grim for the time, in contrast to more common themes of patriotism, bravery, and military honor.

Owen saw himself as a poet early on — as a boy of 10, he said — and was heavily influenced by his reading and study of the Romantic poets, especially Keats and Shelley. As a university student of limited means, he worked as a tutor and was a lay assistant in Dunsford parish near Reading, a position that left him somewhat disillusioned with the church. Until the war broke out, he worked as a private tutor in English and French at the Berlitz School in Bordeaux.

In October 1915, he enlisted in an officer training corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant the following June. He experienced trench warfare, witnessed the effects of mustard gas, and was himself blown into the air by a trench mortar, landing on the remains of a fellow officer. He was sent to Edinburgh for treatment of “shell shock.”

As part of his therapy, his doctor encouraged Owen to make poetry out of the war experiences that were haunting him. His meeting and continuing friendship with Siegfried Sassoon, a poet who was exploring the possibilities of realism and writing from experience, helped Owen further develop his voice. He produced many of his better-known poems during his convalescence, including “Strange Meeting,” which forms most of the final movement in Britten’s War Requiem. Only five of Owen’s poems were published in his lifetime.

He returned to light duty in March 1918 and was sent again to the front in July. He was killed in action as his unit was fighting its way across the Sambre–Oise Canal. His death on November 4, 1918, came one week almost to the hour before the armistice that ended hostilities. Owen is one of the 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet’s Corner on November 11, 1985.

I. Requiem aeternam

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Lord, grant them eternal rest and let perpetual light shine on them.

Te decet hymnus, Deus in Sion: et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem; exaudi orationem meam, ad te omnis caro veniet.

Thou shalt be praised in Zion, O God, and homage shall be paid thee in Jerusalem. Hear my prayer; all flesh shall come before Thee.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Lord, grant them eternal rest and let perpetual light shine on them.

Anthem for Doomed Youth
Wilfred Owen
September–October, 1917

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
   — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
   Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
   Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
   And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
   Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
   The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy,
Lord, have mercy.

II. Dies irae

Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus, quando Judex est venturus, cuncta stricte discussurus!
Tuba mirum spargens sonum per sepulchra regionum coget omnes ante thronum.
Mors stupebit et natura, cum resurget creatura,
Judicanti responsura.

That day, that day of wrath shall consume the world in ashes, as foretold by David and Sibyl.
What trembling there shall be when the judge shall come to weigh everything strictly.
The trumpet, scattering its awful sound across the graves of all lands, summons all before the throne.
Death and nature shall be stunned when mankind arises To render account before the judge.

But I Was Looking at the Permanent Stars
Wilfred Owen
Late August 1917

Bugles sang, saddening the evening air;
And bugles answered, sorrowful to hear.
Voices of boys were by the river-side.
Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.
The shadow of the morrow weighed on men.
Voices of old despondency resigned,
Bowed by the shadow of the morrow, slept.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.
Judex ergo cum sedebit
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.

The written book shall be presented, having all by which the world shall be judged.

When the judge is seated, all that is hidden shall appear; nothing will remain unavenged.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus, cum vix justus sit securus?

What shall I, wretch, say? To what guardian shall I appeal if even a just man is barely safe?

Soprano and Chorus
Rex tremendae majestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.

King of awful majesty, freely saving those worthy of salvation, save me, fount of piety.

The Next War
Wilfred Owen

Tenor and Baritone
Out there, we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death;
   Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland, –
   Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We’ve sniffed the green thick odour of his breath, –
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn’t writhe.
   He’s spat at us with bullets and he’s coughed
   Shrapnel. We chorused when he sang aloft;
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
   We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier’s paid to kick against his powers.
   We laughed, knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars; when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death – for lives; not men – for flags.

Recordare, Jesu pie, quod sum causa tuae viae:
Ne me perdas illa die.
Quarens me, sedisti lassus: Redemisti crucem passus.
Tantus labor non sit cassus:
Ingemisco, tamquam reus: Culpa rubet vultus meus.
Supplicanti parce Deus.
Qui Mariam absolvisti, et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Inter oves locum praesta, et ab haedis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.
Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis,
Voca me cum benedictis.
Oro supplex et acclinis, cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.

Remember, gentle Jesus, I am why thou camest to earth. Do not cast me out on that day. Seeking me, thou didst sink down wearily. Thou hast saved me by the cross; such travail must not be in vain. I groan, sinner that I am; guilt reddens my face. O God, spare the supplicant. Thou, who pardoned Mary and heeded the thief, hast given me hope also. Give me a place among the sheep and away from the goats. Let me stand at thy right hand. When the damned are cast away and sent to the searing flames, call me to be with the blessed. Bowed down in supplication, I beg thee, my heart as though ground to ashes: Help me in my last hour.

On Seeing a Piece of Our Artillery Brought into Action
Wilfred Owen

Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,
Great gun towering toward Heaven, about to curse;
Reach at that arrogance which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse;
But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,
May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!

Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus, quando judex est venturus, cuncta stricte discussurus!

That day, that day of wrath shall consume the world in ashes, as foretold by David and Sibyl. What trembling when the judge shall come to weigh everything strictly!

Soprano and Chorus
Lacrimosa dies illa, qua resurget ex favilla judicandus homo reus: Huic ergo parce Deus.

Soprano and Chorus
Oh that day full of tears, when from the ashes guilty man arises to be judged: Oh Lord, have mercy upon him.

Wilfred Owen
May 1918

Move him into the sun –
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Soprano and Chorus
Lacrimosa dies illa ...

Soprano and Chorus
Oh this day of tears ...

Think how it wakes the seeds –
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved – still warm – too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?

Soprano and Chorus
Qua resurget ex favilla ...

Soprano and Chorus
When from the ashes arises ...

Was it for this the clay grew tall?

Soprano and Chorus
Judicandus homo reus.

Soprano and Chorus
Guilty man, to be judged.

– O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen.

Gentle Lord Jesus, grant them rest. Amen.

III. Offertorium

Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae, libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum de poenis inferni, et de profundo lacu: Libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum.

Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of the faithful departed from the pains of hell, and the bottomless pit: Deliver them from the jaw of the lion, lest hell engulf them, lest they be plunged into darkness.

Sed signifer sanctus Michael repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam: Quam olim Abrahae promisisti, et semini ejus.

But let the holy standard-bearer Michael lead them into the holy light as Thou didst promise Abraham and his seed.

Parable of the Old Men and the Young
Wilfred Owen

Tenor and Baritone
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And strechèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son, –
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Hostias et preces tibi Domine laudis offerimus. Tu suscipe pro animabus illis, quarum hodie memoriam facimus: Fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam, quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.

Lord, in praise we offer to Thee sacrifices and prayers. Receive them for the souls of those whom we remember this day: Lord, make them pass from death to life, as Thou didst promise Abraham and his seed.

Quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.

As Thou didst promise Abraham and his seed.

IV. Sanctus

Soprano and Chorus
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis. Sanctus. Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis. Sanctus.

Soprano and Chorus
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. Holy. Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Holy.

The End
Wilfred Owen
Late 1916–January 1918

After the blast of lightning from the east,
The flourish of loud clouds, the Chariot throne;
After the drums of time have rolled and ceased
And by the bronze west long retreat is blown,

Shall Life renew these bodies? Of a truth
All death will he annul, all tears assuage? –
Or fill these void veins full again with youth,
And wash with an immortal water age?

When I do ask white Age, he saith not so –
“My head hangs weighed with snow.”
And when I hearken to the Earth she saith:
“My fiery heart shrinks, aching. It is death.

Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified
Nor my titanic tears, the seas, be dried.”

V. Agnus dei

At a Calvary Near the Ancre
Wilfred Owen
Late 1917–Early 1918

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.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.

Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

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.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.

Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi ...

Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world ...

But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.

... dona eis requiem.

... grant them rest.

Dona nobis pacem.

Grant us peace

VI. Libera me

Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda: Quando coeli movendi sunt et terra: Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.

Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death in that awful day when the heavens and earth shall be shaken, when Thou shalt come to judge by fire.

Soprano and Chorus
Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira. Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna. Quando coeli movendi sunt i terra. Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis et miseriae, dies magna et amara valde. Libera me, Domine.

Soprano and Chorus
I am seized with fear and trembling, until the trial shall be at hand and the wrath to come. Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death, when heaven and earth shall be shaken. That day, that day of wrath, of calamity and misery, a great day and exceeding bitter. Deliver me, O Lord.

Strange Meeting
Wilfred Owen
January–March 1918

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
[And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
By his dead smile, I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,]*
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.”

“None”, said the other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil boldly, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Miss we the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even from wells we sunk too deep for war,
Even from the sweetest wells that ever were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now ...”

Children, Chorus, Soprano
In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem.

Children, Chorus, Soprano
Into Paradise may the Angels lead thee: at thy coming may the Martyrs receive thee, and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem. May the Choir of Angels receive thee and with Lazarus, once poor, may thou have eternal rest.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Lord, grant them eternal rest, and let the perpetual light shine upon them.

In paradisum deducant etc.

Into Paradise, etc.

Chorus Angelorum, te suscipiat etc.

May the Choir of Angels, etc.

Tenor and Baritone
Let us sleep now.

Requiescant in pace. Amen.

Let them rest in peace. Amen.

*  These four lines are omitted in the War Requiem.