‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is a poem by Wilfred Owen written as an elegiac lament for the young soldiers who were slaughtered in battles that he too fought in. He delivers this message by shocking the reader in a variety of ways. The poem is almost written in sonnet form; Owen liked to misuse the sonnet form to show that he was anti-establishment and angry. Owen mixes the rhyme scheme of the Petrarchen and the Elizabethan sonnet by using “ababcdcd effegg” and uses a mix of half rhyme (“guns” & “orisons”) and full rhyme (“bells” “shells”). This misuse of the sonnet is a strong statement that would have shocked society, the sonnet was literally a poetic “anthem” (an anthem being a song to represent a nation) which the British society loved, by misusing it Owen expresses his raw emotion and hurt at the loss of life and the complacency of the public on the matter.
Owen asks why there are no funerals in Britain for the dead soldiers, why there are no “mockeries” or “passing-bells”. The passing bell was a bell that rung when someone died, and Owen uses this image to represent how nobody marked the deaths of some of these soldiers. The bell also provides us with a connotation with noise, especially with the idea of noise ringing in our ears, similar to the noise in the trenches. He also talks of how these “doomed youth” had no future; in the phrase “die as cattle” Owen uses connotations with the death of cattle and slaughter to evoke emotion in the reader. When the reader reads the word “cattle” immediately there are connotations with the slaughter of defenceless animals, thus Owen is suggesting that the soldiers going over the top of the trench may as well be “cattle” being slaughtered.
Owen uses onomatopoeic alliteration to create the noise of shells and bullets, especially in the line “the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle”. The next line is cleverly constructed, “Can patter out their hasty orisons”. When put in the whole sentence it simply states that the bullets cause the deaths of the praying soldiers however the word “patter” is the interesting word in this sentence. The word originates from ‘Paternoster’ (meaning ‘Our Father’, the most prominent Christian prayer) and came to mean repetitive noise, like how prayers are repeated in churches. Not only is this onomatopoeic and creates the idea of the repetitive sound of the shells but the idea of prayer continues as this “patter” of gunfire stops their own “hasty orisons”, literally translating as the repetitive prayer-like noise is cutting their hasty prayers short; thus linking religion and warfare, something that would have made Christians in society uncomfortable.
The poem contrasts the civilian life with the lives of the soldiers: for example he contrasts the “choirs” in funerals with the “demented choirs of wailing shells”. This personifies the shells and contrasts religious groups with the weapons that killed thousands of soldiers, once again upsetting society and defying the norm. Owen suggests that there is no “mourning” for the soldiers except for the “shrill” noise of the shells that reminded him of crazed choirs. He extends this idea by suggesting that the “candles” are no longer held in the “hands of boys” but in “their eyes”; they are no longer choirboys but soldiers fighting, and the candlelight is going out, “shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes”. Owen uses the burning light of the candles as a metaphor for their lives, however he also uses the last line “And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds” to represent the deaths of the soldiers. Some could argue that this last line links to the people back home, the “pallor of girls brows” is the only thing back home that shows the mass killing, there are no funerals, and it is these families who will remember their sons and husbands every “dusk”.
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