Owen saw the horror of World War I up close, fighting in it and losing his life in battle a week before the armistice. This poem is part of a series of anti-war poems he wrote near the end of his life in an attempt to communicate the horror of what the war really was like. In it, he uses imagery—description using the five senses of touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell—to undercut any notion of the fighting as a heroic endeavor.
Those who die, for example, do not get military funerals full of pomp and dignity. Instead, they "die as cattle" on the battlefield. No church bells ring for their deaths, and no prayers are said for them. They die without the civilized amenities that usually honor death. For example, the sounds that accompany their dying are barbarous. These include the "monstrous anger of the guns" and the "shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells."
Rather than having funerals, the many dead on the battlefield will only be remembered in the eyes and "pale brows" (indicating sadness) of the people left behind who loved them. Those at home will grieve for them, their grief symbolized in the poem by images of dusk and the "drawing-down of blinds." The poem punctures any idea that there is a noble sacrifice or purpose in the men's deaths. There is nothing elevating about this loss of life, no redemption to be wrested from it. It wasn't worth the price, and those at home can draw no comfort.
Owen, like many involved in the fighting, was angry that war was pictured as glorious and patriotic to the young recruits and to the people left back home. He wanted people to know what a pointless bloodbath it was in the hopes he could help end war for good.