From The Calls by Owen:

Stern bells annoy the rooks and doves at ten.
I watch the verger close the doors, and when
I hear the organ moan the first amen,
Sing my religion's---same as pigeons'.

Why isn't it then?

I'm not very sure what the meaning is with when.

"When I hear the organ moan the first amen, [I start to] sing my religion [is the same] as [the religion of the] pigeon"?

If it were then, the meaning would have been more clear: after the verger closes the door, the organ moans the amen that says "my religion is the same as that of the pigeon".

  • Do you take "religion's" to be "religion is"? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 20 '16 at 11:16
  • @TRomano - yes. Am I wrong? – CowperKettle Sep 20 '16 at 11:20
  • I don't know. I find the punctuation of the line rather cryptic. The dash is possibly to show ellipsis of the. That would comport with "religion is". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 20 '16 at 11:21
  • @TRomano - there must have been some popular ditty at that time with those words. Or maybe it was a saying, a by-word popular then – CowperKettle Sep 20 '16 at 11:40

It needs to be when, my singing is dependent upon the organ starting to play.

When I hear the organ [I] sing

this does not work with then

Then I hear the organ [I] sing

I'd also claim that immediate clarity is not always a poet's intent. To puzzle over the phrasing, to savour the choice of words, to untangle the meaning or meanings is part of the joy of reading poetry.

  • Thank you! I memorized the poem a couple of years ago, and always recalled it as then. I never thought that it is Owen himself who starts to sing. Probably there was a ditty with these words, "my religion's same as pigeon's", I'll try googling. – CowperKettle Sep 20 '16 at 6:17

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