Anthem for Doomed Youth was probably written in 1917. When Wilfred Owen was a patient Craig Lockhart hospital recovering from shell shock.
There he met the poet secret Sassoon who helped edit some of the early drafts.
It was Sassoon, for example, who turned Owens’s original title for the poem from anthem for dead youth to Anthem for Doomed Youth.
The essence is this repetition of the vowel sound, elongating the word and giving the title a really sad and mournful tone.
The poem is an elegy, which means that it’s a sad poem written to express sorrow for someone’s death.
But it’s also written in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, which means the rhymes are organized into three groups of four, like this with a rhyming couplet to finish.
The poem is about the rituals that might take place at someone’s funeral.
You know, things like church bells and choir’s prayers, candles, flowers and that sense of saying goodbye to a loved one.
But I mean, this point in this poem is that the soldiers on the battlefield of World War One would be denied all of this.
They died in such large numbers and with such violence and brutality that many of the dead were never even recovered, let alone identified and buried in a respectful way.
Anthem for Doomed Youth Analysis
The poem begins by asking a question of what passing-bells for these who die is capital? passing-bells are bells rung to announce that someone has died?
So the question asks what bells will be rung to announce the death of soldiers killed fighting for their country?
And overnight is this question himself by saying only the monstrous anger of the guns in line to the sound of gunfire is the last noise that these soldiers will hear.
And the fact that this is described with the phrase monstrous anger has a couple of interesting effects.
First of all, it personifies the guns to make them collectively sound like a huge hostile monster attacking the soldiers.
But also the adjective monstrous means evil or abominable, which feeds into Wilfred Owen’s broader themes about the appalling nature of war.
The word only is repeated at the beginning of line three, and in this context. It means just or no more than and this is all in further adding to his answer to the question set up in the first line, what sounds will be heard to announce the death of soldiers killed on the battlefield.
No more than the stuttering rifles rapid rattle, which predators out or silence is the final prayers, origins of the dying men.
The word pattern which I’ve circled here is really interesting to look at in a bit more detail because of the depth of meanings being conveyed. Patter can mean the rapid meaningless chatter of people.
So the effect here Mike once again be to personify the sound of the guns and make their glib chattering sound muffled the men’s prayers, canceling them out.
But the pattern also has a more archaic meaning which has its roots in the Middle Ages and itself means to pray appropriately, perhaps in a rather mechanical way,
It relates to the pattern of stir, which in Latin are the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer not stir meaning our and patter, meaning father.
So Wilfred Owen is sort of subverting the use of prayer here, saying that the final hasty prayers of the men will be silenced by the mechanical, glib, meaningless praying of the guns. And employs a couple of sound effects in this part of the poem.
To make the noise of the battlefield come to live.
For example, He repeats the t sound in stutter, rattle and pattern to create that onomatopoeic sound of the guns being fired.
And he also uses alliteration, and short vowel sounds with rifles rapid rattle, to speed up the line, and therefore suggest the speed that the men were being shot at.
Clearly, the sounds are very far away from the respectful sound of church bells, which announced most people’s death.
Now, I will just warn you that there are a number of quite dubious interpretations of the next line and sources you can find online and in print.
So I’m going to give you what I think is the most accurate one, and the confusion is around interpreted the word mockery.
And the best way I can think of defining this is as an absurd imitation of something.
In other words, the prayers, and bells mentioned in the second half of this line are an absurd imitation of the guns and rifles that mark the end of the lives of soldiers.
And in fact, it would be ludicrously few tiles and pointless to hear that dignified sound of bells and prayers considering the indignity of the soldier’s deaths.
There will also be no voices of mourners, except for the choir’s and at this point, the reader might begin to see some saving compared with the respectful church service that most would receive at the end of their life.
And the punctuation at the end of this line encourages us to pause just long enough to reflect on this before Wilfred Owen gives us his meaning in full acquires.
He is referring to the high pitched wailing sounds of the shells, the automatic, peer and long vowel sound here, creating an evocative image of the shells passing overhead.
He personifies the shells as well calling them demented meaning mad which adds to the terrifying sound that the shells must have made while at the same time returning to another familiar theme in omens poetry.
The madness of war, and the only other noise mentioned as part of this monstrous funeral services.
The sound of bugles and of course, bugles are recognized as a central part of a service of remembrance for those who have sacrificed themselves in war, or in imagines, this sound played from the soldier’s own village or town calling out and recognizing their sacrifice.
The word the Shire here creates a deliberate contrast or juxtaposition between the mechanized theater of war, and something much more green and pastoral.
The final six lines of the poem are quite complicated, but I think there are a couple of things that you can do to try and make sense of it.
Firstly, there is a transition of images from light to darkness, which of course, represents the life going out of the soldiers.
So first of all, we have images of candles begins this section of the poem. Then, a glimmer, which is a sort of weak light.
And Paul, which is dark cloud of smoke, dusk, at that point in the day before the light goes completely, the final word in the pose blinds, which on the one hand, has to do with window hangings. But to be blind also means that you can’t see anything to the light has gone out completely.
This part of the poem begins with another question, which literally means, what candles will be led and held at the funeral of these men to respectfully mark their deaths and send them swiftly to a place of rest?
And the answer to this question, as with other questions in this poem is not, there won’t be any, the only sense of a goodbye they will receive is the light fading in their eyes.
The word boys which I’ve circled here, links, of course, to the title of the poem, and reminds us again, of the age of the soldiers.
The imagery then moves to those back home in England, loved ones who may be pale with worry, waiting for news from those missing action, or pale with grief. paler means light or pale-colored, and this echoes the end of this line through the word, Paul, which is the shroud laid over a coffin or funeral. palette is light. While Paul is dark signaling again, the transition in this part of the poem from light to darkness, from life to death.
The final feature of a traditional funeral which is denied the soldiers, flowers, instead of them, the soldiers will have the tenderness of patient minds, which is a tricky line to unpick.
It’s referring again to those back home in England who were waiting or grieving for loved ones, perhaps the thoughts and memories that they have a tender, kind and gentle and perhaps they have to be patient while waiting for news from France.
And this rather than flowers is the only respectful token the dying men will have.
But in loved language even said that he wanted to go out to fight to preserve the language of Keats and Shakespeare, and so he would have known that the original meaning of the word patient is the bearing of suffering.
And if we take this meaning of the word that we understand how Owen is describing the thoughts of those waiting back home as both tender and painful.
The final if this poem has another couple of images of impending darkness, it’s evening does.
So the sun has almost set and the blinds were pulled down in the house is closing out the last rays of light.
And although this line can be read as the households respectfully pulling the blinds down in order to begin a period of mourning.
It’s also true that Wilfred Owen felt increasingly separated and isolated from those who have no experience of war.
So this image of the drawing down of blinds works as a metaphor for this feeling of exclusion.
You can see it elsewhere. You know, in his poetry.
If you look at the end of the exposure, for example, you’ll read the line shutters and doors or closed on us The doors are closed.
The alliteration in this final line does good drawing down, gives it a heavy feeling, and reminds us of the solemn tone of this very solemn poem.