Anthem For Doomed Youth Narrative Essay

Throughout this poem there is a theme of mourning and funeral. In the first stanza it is almost sarcastic with instruments of war conducting a service on the battlefield for their victims. The guns become ‘passing-bells’ and shells become ‘demented choirs’. The second stanza takes us back home where the true mourners are. The poet speaks of how ‘the holy glimmers of goodbyes’ will shine in the eyes of boys instead of their hands and how ‘the pallor of girls’ brows’ being the ‘pall’ of the dead. The last two lines, for me carry the greatest effect and meaning:

‘Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds’

The first is about the disappointment of people who have worried and waited for a long time and whose pain can only be expressed in small gestures or things such as flowers. The second could be interpreted in many different ways. It could be referring to the custom of drawing down of blinds but it could also be about the end of a life and hope leaving as reality settles. These two lines also delineate the pointlessness of hoping as the dead were ‘doomed’ and predestined for slaughter in the way that ‘cattle’ are in the first place.

‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ is structured like a sonnet and has a very strong rhyme which never appears to be forced and does not interrupt the meaning of the poetry. Indeed, most things about the structure and choice of language appear to be unforced as they are so well incorporated with one another and only after the second reading does one realise how carefully thought out they are.

In the first stanza, there is a large use of onomatopoeia: ‘stuttering’, ‘rattle’, ‘patter’, ‘wailing’. This has the effect of bringing the reader to the battlefield. Wilfred Owen has personified the warfare and made the rifles ‘stutter’ and the shells ‘wail’. He has also made them come to life; guns cannot be angry and neither can shells be ‘mourning’. This forms an image in the first stanza that is slightly ‘demented’ and disturbing. He often repeats vowel sounds and uses alliteration throughout the poem. In ‘the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle’ the ‘a’ sound is repeated along with the alliteration of the ‘t’s.

The words of the poem are cleverly chosen to heighten the expression of the poem in the way it is read. For instance, in the quotation about the rifles above, the alliteration he has chosen to make makes the sound interrupted and quickens the pace. This also reminds of the panic and rushing of war. In the final lines the words are not ones that can be said quickly: ‘flowers’, ‘patient’, ‘minds’, ‘slow’, ‘blinds’. This dramatically slows the pace of reading and makes them more expressive because it makes the reader think that the poem also dies with the soldiers or the hopes for the soldiers’ lives.

What is interesting is that there are no phrases that bind this poem to the First World War. Of course, it was written about it, but if given to a reader who did not know about Wilfred Owen or his works, they could think it was about any or all wars after the invention of the rifle. The poem does not mention trenches or gas. ‘These who die as cattle’ are not necessarily British, neither are they necessarily of any side in war; they are the collective dead. ‘The guns’ are not our guns or their guns.

In the preface for a book of poems he intended to publish, Wilfred Owen wrote ‘My Subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity.’ ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is unique in that the pity is not only for the soldiers of the First World War, but also for those who suffered the loss of people they loved. It can be raised to a universal level where it comments on the shame and futility of all wars. In his other poetry, there is often blame involved but in this poem he evokes an air of sadness and waste only. There is genius behind the phrasing of it, but it is almost hidden because of its perfection.

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