Finally, we've got ten syllables again, so we're thinking this is a continuation of the first line's iambic pentameter. Albeit with a variation or two.Lines 3-4Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattleCan patter out their hasty orisons.Our speaker says that rifle fire is the only kind of prayer for the dying soldiers. ("Orison" is kind of a fancy word [from Latin] for prayer.)We've got some anaphoraaction here, what with that repetition of "Only." It's a nifty trick that Owen uses to build momentum and pacing. That word "hasty" makes us aware of the suddenness of death on the war front, and also underscores the haphazard and senseless nature of the killing that's going on there.These are not thoughtful deaths—they're quick, loud, and messy.The word "stuttering" helps bridge the gap between the rifles and the people back home who are saying prayers for these boys. Bypersonifyingthe rifles, it gives us a weird opposite of what happened when the soldiers were first compared to cattle. The soldiers become like animals, while the guns become like people. That does not sound like a good combo.In any case, there are some strange connections being made—between guns and prayer, between people and animals.Bonus: did you notice the rhymingaction? Yep, rattle rhymes with cattle and orisons rhymes (sort of) with guns. Neat, huh? Keep your eye out for more rhymes as you read, and see if you can spot a scheme or pattern while you're at it. And be sure to check out the "Form and Meter" section for more.Line 5No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;There are no prayers and no bells on the front to mock the dying men.Wait. What?Here our speaker's not pulling any punches. He sets us up with the word "mockeries" then, when we find out what those mockeries would be—prayers and bells. Those don't sound like mockeries to Shmoop. So what's going on here?This line strips the holy, solemn mask off those rituals and casts them as an outright sham. Those prayers? Those bells? They're a joke.Now why might this be?We're thinking the speaker feels this way because he thinks that those rituals totally miss the point. They ignore what's really happening. They glorify the deaths by pretending that the fighting is purposeful and noble, when really it's akin to slaughtering cattle.Lines 6-7
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,– The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;In fact, there's basically no mourning going on whatsoever on the battlefield, except for the wailing of shells, which our speaker compares to the sound of choirs.Once again, we've got a traditionally religious image (choirs) being used as a metaphorfor the rather unlovely reality of war (in this case, the sound of shelling). Now that's a terrifying contrast. This is a freaky sort of choir. It's "shrill" and "demented." Something is twisted here. This is not achoir you want singing at your funeral, or even your average Sunday mass.