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.

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Who was Jessie Pope?

Jessie Pope was a journalist and poet who is now often linked to Wilfred Owen. As a writer Pope was mainly a humourist and writer of light verse, but her other works have been overshadowed by her pro-war poems. Poems like ‘Who’s for the Game?’ used cheerful lively rhythms that made the war seem like fun. These poems were published in The Daily Mirror and focused on encouraging recruitment. Pope’s treatment of the war is obviously in clear contrast to the anti-war stance of soldier poets such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. We do know that Dulce et Decorum Est was a direct response to her writing as it was originally dedicated “To Jessie Pope etc.” A later draft amended this to “To a certain Poetess”.

When we look at poems such as ‘Who’s for the Game’, they do seem inappropriate in tone and insensitive as we are now aware of the true horrors of World War One. When Pope’s work is used in schools today it is as a counterpoint to the work of the war poets such as Owen. We can see by reading the poem below that a comparison of her pro-war work with that of Owen’s shows that her poetry is weaker technically and politically.

Who’s for the Game ?

Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played,
The red crashing game of a fight?
Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid?
And who thinks he’d rather sit tight?
Who’ll toe the line for the signal to ‘Go!’?
Who’ll give his country a hand?
Who wants a turn to himself in the show?
And who wants a seat in the stand?
Who knows it won’t be a picnic – not much-
Yet eagerly shoulders a gun?
Who would much rather come back with a crutch
Than lie low and be out of the fun?
Come along, lads –
But you’ll come on all right –
For there’s only one course to pursue,
Your country is up to her neck in a fight,
And she’s looking and calling for you.

Last Post

In recent posts I have noted the deaths of World War One veterans Harry Patch and Henry Allingham. Poet Carol Anne Duffy marked the passing of Harry Patch with a poem called Last Post. As we know poetry and war have long gone side by side in  literature and many of you have studied one of the most famous war poets, Wilfred Owen. In Last Post Duffy recalls lines from Owen’s most famous poem Dulce et Decorum Est.

In an interview with The Daily Mirror, Duffy said: “These poets who were also soldiers did not glorify war but responded to it.

“In the 21st century, whether we are women or men, soldiers or non-soldiers, we should all contribute a voice to the tragedy that is war.” She added: “I felt I should also honour that great tradition of poets who were also soldiers. I had been thinking about Afghanistan and trying to enthuse new war poetry among contemporary poets.”

At its core, Last Post imagines what would have happened to those millions of soldiers if time was reversed. If they hadn’t been scythed down but got up, returned to the trenches, to the cafes of rural France and ultimately to homes and loved ones. In essence Duffy is saying that this is what would have happened if poets had been in charge not war-mongering empire-builders.

She said: “I imagined the dead of the First World War rewound.

“So, had they not been slaughtered, had a young man not been killed by shrapnel, my poem brings him back to life.

“It ends with the image of a poet putting away his notebook and smiling. In a way it’s an attempt at healing and being at one with the world.

“The poem is a tribute and blessing, even an apology, on behalf of poetry and all poets.”

Read more here.

The Last Post, by Carol Ann Duffy

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking drowning.

If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin

that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud…

but you get up amazed, watch bled bad blood

run upwards from the slime into its wounds;

see lines and lines of British boys rewind

back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home –

mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers

not entering the story now

to die and die and die

Dulce – No – Decorum – No – Pro patria mori

You walk away.

You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)

like all your mates do too –

Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Bert –

and light a cigarette.

There’s coffee in the square,

warm French bread

and all those thousands dead

are shaking dried mud from their hair

and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,

a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released

from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.

You lean against a wall,

your several million lives still possible

and crammed with love, work, children talent, English beer, good food.

You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.

If poetry could truly write it backwards,

then it would.

World War One Propaganda Posters

Last term we looked at the early stages of World War One and a poem by Jessie Pope that encouraged young men to join the army. Using poems like “Who’s for the Game?” was not the only way that men were encouraged to sign up. Each of the nations which participated in World War One from 1914-18 used propaganda posters not only as a means of justifying involvement to their own populace, but also as a means of procuring men, money and resources to sustain the military campaign. I have added some World War One propaganda posters below.

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”.

Futility and Anthem and Dulce Essay

Here is an essay on Wilfred Owen’s poetry from a student in Year 11. The essay was written in exam conditions. Any thoughts?

Discuss ideas, opinions or information in your studied texts that caused a strong reaction in you as a reader.

The poems “Dulce et Decorum est”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “Futility”, all written by Wilfred Owen, have a central theme of the pity of war. This idea, which is woven through the poems with the careful use of literal and figurative imagery, caused a strong reaction in the audience because of the revealing nature of the idea, as the true identity of war is explored.

The poem “Dulce et Decorum est” contains strong literal images that reveal the true nature of war. Owen draws on his own personal experience as a soldier in World War One, describing the death of a soldier through gas.

“Floundering like a man in fire or lime –

Dim through the misty panes and

thick green light

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.”

The literal images depict the horror of death in war, abolishing the romantic notions of war set up previously by jingoistic poets of the time, such as Jesse Pope. Owen goes on to further confront these patriotic views in the final four lines of the poem.

“My friend you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory

The Old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est

Pro patria mori.”

This sardonic address to the aggressive nationalist views of the era causes a strong reaction in readers as they realize the truth about war – how horrific and desolate the scene actually is. The poem caused a strong reaction in me as I realised what a risk Owen took to remove the blindfolds from his people’s eyes, to show them the true pity of war.

“Anthem for Doomed Youth” explores another aspect of a soldier’s life in World War One. Death is corrupt and vile, and the soldiers must suffer all by themselves. No one is around to comfort them, cry for them, and be their loved ones for them.

“No mockeries for them; no prayers or bells

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells.”

These lines depict how the soldiers will never have the rites of a proper funeral for their death, the only singing to farewell them will be the cries of shells, bringing more death to those around them. This imagery is horrific to viewers as they realise that, not only must the soldiers go through awful experiences, they must also die in loneliness, never seeing their loved faces again. Owen further demonstrates the pity of war in the opening line,

“What passing bells for these who die as cattle?”

This line, compares soldiers to beasts lining up for slaughter. The imagery is graphic, questioning the reader on the honour that these ‘beasts’ will receive for their courage. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” shocked me as I realised the hundreds of thousands of deaths in war, and the grim reality that most of these fatalities would be brutal and lonesome for the soldiers.

The poem “Futility” questions war on a larger scale. The purpose of life itself is pondered by Owen, best shown by the line.

“Was it for this the clay grew tall?”

The line’s figurative imagery, depicting men as clay, questions whether the only purpose for men to live has to destruct one another. Owen goes on to ask maybe the most dramatic idea of all in the following lines:

“O what made fatuous sunbeams tall

To break earth’s sleep at all?”

These words question a larger authority on the purpose of life itself. Why did God bother creating us, if we were only to die in such dramatic, inconceivable ways? I was amazed at the severity of this question to the maker himself, because at the time these statements would have been seen as extremely wrong in moral and social standards. Owen risks his position in society itself, risks his reputation to reveal to his audiences how war has changed him as a person. It is obvious that this belief in God has been shattered due to his personal experiences, and Owen wanted to show this to his viewers to make them realise the true pity of war.

The idea of the pity of war, brought up in these three poems through the literal and figurative imagery, is clearly portrayed to Owen’s readers. He effectively conveys to the readers his own personal experiences and opinions, all in the effort to make a corrupted society understand the true pity of war.