A Concise Commentary on Anthem for Doomed Youth
“Anthem for Doomed Youth” is an elegy in which Wilfred Owen conveys his heart felt sadness and disgust for the loss of life in World War I. This poem shatters the fantasized images of war by juxtaposing the opposite worlds of reality and the romanticized rhetoric that distorts it. He writes about the true experience of military death, and effectively expresses these powerful sentiments in only fourteen lines by use of a somewhat violent imagery that is compounded by the constant comparison of reality to myth. Through irony, imagery, personification, metaphor, and other literary devices, Owen brings the sonnet to life by paralleling the experience of war with a funeral.
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.
In both of these poems Anthem For Doomed Youth and MCMXIV talking about war, Wilfred Owen and Philip Larkin try in different ways to engrave in ... glorify love and romance whereas Anthem For Doomed Youth focuses on the First World War. We can assume that Wilfred Owen surely wanted to contrast ...
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.
In the first lines, we have the images of these young soldiers being sent off to slaughter like cattle. Here, war is not glorious, wonderful, or heroic. It is simply one large funeral where the usual death rituals are replaced with war’s own. The church bells that ring when someone dies, has transformed into gunfire. One of the most important lines is the middle verse, “No mockeries now for them; no prayers, nor bells.” Here, Owen seems to be saying that the traditional rites for death are mockeries. The beautiful peal of bells and choirs is not, indeed what death it about. They only mock a miserable ending. Wilfred believes that the choirs of shells and rifles seem more appropriate to eulogize these lost ones in their inevitable death.
The second stanza is even more haunting as he shows how there will be no real candles to mourn the dead, but only the candles of their blazed life seen in the glimmer of their eyes. He claims, this is their true good-byes, as the last light of consciousness extinguishes. Everywhere it seems, there is no time to mourn for the dead. This is the funeral scene; there is mourning and flowers, all of which the soldier did not receive out on the battle field. The girl’s pall is so great that it could be used to cover the soldier’s coffin. The “drawing-down of blinds” signifies both death and grief .
The poem, Anthem for the doomed youth is an attempt to disillusion the glory of war and show the futility behind it. The poem has bitterness, as it examines the brutality of war, and poignancy, as it examines the grief of the soldiers’ loved ones. The poem’s overall tone indicates that Owen resents promoters of war who do not consider the full magnitude of war and pities the soldiers who know not what may happen to them.