Anthem for Doomed Youth

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As we saw in the film Regeneration, the redrafting of Anthem for Doomed Youth with the help and encouragement of Siegfried Sassoon, whom Owen met while convalescing in Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart Hospital in August 1917, marked a turning point in Owen’s life as a poet.

Go here to read notes on the poem and here to read notes on Dulce et Decorum Est.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Anthem for Doomed Youth

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 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.

Wilfred Owen

Not all Year 11 students have engaged as well as they may have with the poetry and in this post I will look at Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen. I would love students to look at Dawe and Achebe these holidays but for those who are staying with Owen here is some revision material.

As you know this is one of Owen’s most famous poems. In the sonnet Anthem for Doomed Youth Owen’s clear criticism of the slaughter of a generation of young men in World War 1 is arrestingly compressed.

One way to look at the contrasts and themes that the poem explores is to look at the title.  An anthem is usually a song of praise, but this poem, which is has the solemn style of an anthem, is about the death of the thousands of doomed young men in WW1. The use of the word youth in the title adds to Owen’s theme of the pity of war. There is an anger in the opening of the poem which turns to melancholy. The first 8 lines (the octave) lament the horror of the loss of these young men “who die as cattle”. The simile comparing the soldiers’ deaths to the slaughter of animals is one the reader can relate to. The first section asks the question about how can we most appropriately bury those who died in war? The answer is in the sounds of battle. Owen’s use of alliteration and onomatopoeia in this section clearly create the sounds of battle.

Owen has full rhyme for the poem and he uses alliteration and echoes (e.g. pallor and pall) and onomatopoeia, strikingly in the repeated use of ‘r’ and ‘t’ in “stuttering rifles rapid rattle … patter”. The octave contrasts harshly with the softness of the sestet in sound and images. Prayers, church bells, and the choirs of a funeral service are juxtaposed with the sounds of war which drown them. They would be a mockery given the scale and futility of the killing: the first line asserts that strongly.

The sestet (the next 6 lines) moves away from the sounds of war to the stillness of the home front, where the men are being mourned by their loved ones. These men, by the nature of war, have been left to lonely graves away from home and denied a burial service attended by their family and loved ones. This section acknowledges their grief and shows empathy for their loss.

The poem has bitterness, as it examines the brutality of war, and poignancy, as it examines the grief of the soldiers’ loved ones.

When you write about the poem comment on the language. Here are a few ideas to think about. Note the pungency of “cattle” after “passing bells”. Note how the rhyming “guns” with “orisons” and “bells” with “shells” helps to blend the religious images with images of war. Look at “wailing” – it is appropriate because it is bothe literal and ironically metaphorical. Note the poignancy of “shires” in line 8 as it connects the battlefield with home.

Example of a Poetry Essay

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If you studied the poetry of Wilfred Owen this year you may be interested in reading the following essay. It was written in an exam and it focuses on the poems Dulce et Decorum est, Disabled and Anthem for Doomed Youth. It would also be beneficial for those students who are studying Seamus Heaney to read this as it is an example of a strong poetry essay.

Write a detailed account of how your studied texts interested you by their choice and/or use of words and phrases.

In “Dulce et Decorum est”, Wilfred Owen uses graphic verbs and innovative descriptions to describe the absolute pity of war, to try and convince his original readers of wars futility.

Owen continues in this vein in “Disabled”, by using simple statements and blatant understatements to create an image of a young man, destroyed by war. In “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, Owen shares his philosophy on the blindness of his culture to the horrific deaths young men faced during the war by rhetorical questions, and bold controversial statements. All these features of Owen’s poetry fascinated me, because it showed just how Owen had put his mind, heart and soul into convincing his unbelieving country that the war was an evil, soul destroying scar on the history of man.

In Dulce et Decorum est, Owen begins by describing young soldiers who are “knock- kneed” and “coughing like hags”. Owen completely destroys the clichéd image of young sprightly soldiers representing the epitome of upright masculinity, and replaces them with a sorry image of prematurely aged young men who are now completely physically derelict.

Owen carrys on to attack any preconceptions of war being a “walk in the park”. The use of explicit verbs such as “guttering , choking, drowning” present the readers with an alternative reality of pain and suffering, only found in the blood stained pits of war. The reader now, after only the first stanza, is confronted with the forcefulness of Owen’s ideas and is taken aback, yet enthralled with these blood-chillingly, almost unreal, images. These descriptions made me realise just how oblivious “the people back home” must have been to the wars utter tragicness, if Owen felt so compelled to create such profound work.

In “Disabled”, Owen also uses “shock-tactics” to convey his urgent ideals. The phrase “legless, sewn short at elbow” uses a blantant understatement to describe the remains of a young man’s body, in a short, simple and abrupt sentence. The fact the Owen vividly described his whole body in one sentence, and leaves the reader with a pitiful, war-torn image as well, emphasises his skill and prowess at conveying his compelling ideals.

The line, “he lost his colour, far away from here”, shows Owen’s ability to give his message in a non conventional manner. The words “he lost his colour” immedietly bring an image to mind of blood slowly draining out from the young man, as he begins to pale, and then the words “far away from here”, place this deathly occurance into a muddy hole, and make the reader feel the man’s loneliness that he felt while suffering this fate. Owen’s ability to bring you into the poem and see and experience the horrors he unfolds, made me feel helpless, to just imagine, although his intended readers would have had more ability to act on this knowledge and would have been compelled to do so, if they felt the horror and disbelief I experienced.

In “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, I felt that Owen had a real sense of the events around him and that he had come to conclusions of his own concerning the war and how this affected those back home. The line, “No mockeries for them, no prayers nor bells” shows Owens philosophy on the reality of peoples attitude to the war. The fact that Owen calls the prayers and bells, that occur for those who die, a mockery, shows his belief that the conventional rituals for the dead of war, simply made death into something soft and sombre, when in fact it was likely that the soldier died a horrible and painful death, and Owen is not afraid to speak out his views. This made me realise that Owen disregarded conventional methods and beliefs, and simply write what he felt needed to be said about the unnecessary destructiveness of war and about how blind the public was to this.

In all three of these poems Owen has used various techniques and methods to make his message clear and I feel that if I had been in his time, my view would have been changed. His un-conventional descriptions made me realise how strongly he felt about the war and how much he was determined to inform the people of the “truth”.

Anthem for Doomed Youth Notes

Image by Chance.

Here are a few brief notes on Wilfred Owen’s poem Anthem for Doomed Youth for those of you who want to revise.

Anthem for Doomed Youth is one of Owen’s most famous poems.  It is often read aloud at Anzac Day services and the poem seems to silence the audience.  Is it the sound of the guns in the poem or the themes it explores or the images it conveys?

It  is a powerful poem that still has an effect on people today.

Examining the title of this poem is a way to look at the contrasts and themes which this poem explores.  An anthem is usually a song of praise, but this poem, which is has the solemn style of an anthem, is about the death of the thousands of doomed youth in war.  The use of the word youth in the title adds to the theme of the pity of war.  The poem is written in sonnet form.  The first 8 lines (the octet) lament the horror of the loss of these young men “who die as cattle”.  The simile comparing the soldiers’ deaths to the slaughter of animals is one the audience can relate to.  The first section poses the question of how do we most appropriately bury our war dead?  The answer is in the sounds of battle.  Owen’s use of alliteration and onomatopoeia in this section artfully create the sounds of battle.

The sestet (the next 6 lines) moves away from the sounds of war to the stillness of the home front, where the men are being mourned by their loved ones.  These men, by the nature of war, have been left to lonely graves away from home and denied a burial service attended by their family and loved ones.  This section acknowledges their grief and shows empathy for their loss.

The poem has bitterness, as it examines the brutality of war, and poignancy, as it examines the grief of the soldiers’ loved ones.