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Analysis of "Anthem For Doomed Youth" by Wilfred Owen


Anthem For Doomed Youth is a war poem Owen wrote whilst recovering from shell-shock in a Scottish hospital. The year was 1917. Less than a year later Owen was killed in battle.The sonnet form is usually associated with romance and love so the poet is being ironic by choosing it. Owen is also being controversial by focusing on the negative aspects of war, which some see as disrespect for the soldiers, who give their all for the cause. Owen doesn't back away from the deaths of the young men; he relates it to the mass slaughter of animals.
The poem throughout compares the deaths of the soldiers with traditional funeral rites and ceremonies
Others think that the poem is extra powerful because it raises the important questions often ignored when countries commit to war - Why should so many die in such a hideous way? How come we are blind to the inhumanity of war?

There's no doubt that Anthem For Doomed Youth explores the darker side of war, aspects that some would rather ignore or gloss over. The poem's success lies in the stark contrast between the furious, explosive reality of the battle and the calm holiness of the church ritual.

'' Anthem for Doomed Youth'' is an elegy, a lament for the dead, a judgement on Owen’s experience of war rather than an account of the experience itself. Doomed youth is right. These were young men, some very young.

Lines 1-8 (the octet) contain a catalogue of the sounds of war, the weapons of destruction - guns, rifles, shells - linked, ironically, to religious imagery, until in line 8 we switch from the fighting front to Britain’s "sad shires" where loved ones mourn. The tone now drops from bitter passion to rueful contemplation, the mood sombre, the pace slower, until by line 14 the poem quietly closes with "the drawing down of blinds".

In this octet the devilish clamour of trench warfare is carefully set against the subdued atmosphere of church. These religious images: passing bells, orisons (prayers), voice of mourning, choirs, candles, holy glimmers, symbolise the sanctity of life - and death - while suggesting also the inadequacy, the futility, even meaninglessness, of organised religion measured against such a cataclysm as war. To "patter out" is to intone mindlessly, an irrelevance. "Hasty" orisons are an irreverence. Prayers, bells, mockeries only. Despite Owen’s orthodox Christian upbringing, how his faith actually developed during the last years is far from clear, and it is hard not to think that he was not remembering in this poem those members of the clergy, and they were many, who were preaching not the gospel of peace but of war.

Right at the start the simile "die as cattle" jolts us with its image of the slaughterhouse and the idea of men being treated as less than human. "Anger of the guns" (line 2): were the men behind the guns angry? Probably not. Hatred of the enemy was more common among civilians than the troops. Onomatopoeia, alliteration and personification come together in line 3 in a brilliant sound image.

The juxtaposition of "choirs" and "wailing shells" is a startling metaphor, God’s world and the Devil’s both as one; after which line 8 leads into the sestet with the contrasted, muted sound of the Last Post.

Religious images and allusions dominate lines 9-14. Forget about altar boys and candle bearers, says Owen. These have nothing to do with the real rites. Look in their eyes and in the ashen faces of their womenfolk to learn the truth about war.

In line 12, "pallor" - "pall" (paleness-coffin cloth) is almost an example of Owen’s use of pararhyme (half rhyme), a poetic device which may give a downbeat, lowering effect or creates an impression of solemnity. "Flowers" (line 13) suggest beauty but also sadness, again a word that runs counter to the pandemonium of the first eight lines.

Aptly, dusk is falling in the last line and speaks of finality. The dusk is slow, for that is how time passes for those who mourn, and with the drawing down of blinds and the attendant sadness we may think of a house in Shrewsbury’s Monkmoor Road where at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month a telegram was delivered that informed Wilfred Owen’s parents of his death just a week earlier

Figures of Speech
1. The use of simile to compare the battlefield deaths of soldiers to the slaughter of cattle conveys both the inhumanity of these soldiers' deaths, and also that they just might be dying without really understanding why. They're headed off to slaughter, no questions asked.

2.Personification plays a serious role in this opening section. The guns are angry, shells wail and bugles call. It's interesting to note that while the soldiers are being dehumanized, the instruments of war are actually, in a strange and terrifying way, becoming more human.

3.The use of alliteration at the end of the line—"rifles' rapid rattle"—is another way of grabbing our attention and building the intensity. Ramping up the momentum and intensity is obviously very important here, since our speaker's throwing us into the middle of a war zone, and must get the sheer terror across to us through the language.

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