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Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, creates a picture of young soldiers in battle dying. Drawing a mental picture of a family at home sharing in the mourning for their lost sibling, the reader feels the grief of this poem. Through the portrait of vanishing soldiers one sees loneliness, as they die alone on the battleground. Effective use of imagery, alliteration, and end rhyme as well as great writing gives the reader a lasting impression.
The title, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, fits well for this poem.
For the duration of the poem a feeling of death and despair run through the reader’s mind. Though one cannot tell exactly which war the poem stands for, one can hypothesize that it stands for World War I because of the type of warfare the speaker discusses. He discusses machine guns, rifles, and artillery shells falling from the sky like rain which most parallels World War I. This image of soldiers dying due to heavy artillery appears most in the mind of the reader.
Feckless soldiers dive into the muck of trenches to save themselves from the “wailing shells” (7) that “shrill” (7) over them.
Reading this poem puts one in World War I through the great imagery of the speaker; one feels as if he is diving to keep away from the artillery. Titling this poem seems simple since the entire sonnet informs the reader of the hopeless situation for the young soldiers. Praying soldiers “die as cattle” (1) with no “passing-bells” (1) as “their hasty orisons” (4) die with them.
An interpretation of this is that if one “[dies] as cattle” (1) they are dying as animals and dying with no “passing-bells” (1) means there are no mourning bells which exist at funerals. “Hasty orisons” (4) means quick prayers which in the sonnet makes them the quick prayers before the soldiers are shot; so if “their hasty orisons” (4) are “[pattered] out”, then they have no prayers. The speaker’s diction here sets the gloomy tone and setting throughout the poem.
Without any introduction the reader finds himself on the front line. Through great imagery the speaker illustrates a grim tale of battlefield death. In the first octave the speaker makes the reader feel as if he stands shoulder to shoulder with a fellow soldier praying that “the monstrous anger of the guns” (2) will not leave them decaying on the field. Dying alone on the field, the boy’s “hasty orisons” (4) fade away by the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” (3).
Through these images the reader sees how the prayers of young soldiers go on deaf ears with no one around to hear, especially over the “choirs of wailing shells” (7). Honestly, no one knows of or can acknowledge the fact that the boys die this lonely death, which leaves sadness in the reader’s heart. As in most octaves of poems there lies a proposition in this poem the proposition of a lot of deaths alone on a battlefield becomes the proposal. In further detail the reader sees the flying shells and rifles that bring a stop to the hope and prayers of the soldiers.
Following the octave, the sestet brings a result or response to the proposition. Responding to the proposition of dying alone, the reader finds that the young soldiers die alone on a battlefield, but they have already given their “holy glimmers of goodbyes” (11) to the girls who will cry over their deaths. Crying over these dead soldiers shows that these young boys die in someone’s heart, though they die by themselves physically. Through the illustration of “the pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall; / their flowers the tenderness of patient minds” (12-13), the reader sees the poignant funeral of a military man.
In the last line of the poem the reader finds out that “each slow dusk a drawing- down of blinds” (14) occurs, which can have two meanings. One, more sadness reaches the people who love their lost soldier, and another interpretation can be that the “drawing-down of blinds” (14) displays the soldiers’ eyes closing slowly as he dies. This interpretation of “the holy glimmers of goodbyes” (11) means the soldier’s eyes right before death have flashes of his funeral back on the home front with “the pallor of girls’ brows” (12) and “their pall; / their flowers” (12-13). Within the sestet the reader basically finds that mourning does occur for the death of the young lost soldiers. Throughout the first octave the speaker uses great imagery to illustrate the grim reality of the young boys’ dying on far away battlefields.
Also in “Anthem for Doomed Youth” such devices as alliteration and end rhyme give a flow to the poem. Alliteration occurs when the reader reads “rifles’ rapid rattle” on line three. Another use of alliteration arises with the “slow dusk a drawing-down” (14) repeating the sound of words starting with the letter d. Using the alliteration of the r and d sound gives the reader a better feel for the sound of what occurs at that point in the poem. Reading “rifles’ rapid rattle” (3) gives the sound of the rifle shooting very well.
Throughout the poem the use of end rhyme transpires with the rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD EFFEGG. Although this rhyme scheme appears to be Petrarchan because of the octave and sestet, it does not have the same scheme as Petrarchan. Shakespearian scheme occurs in the octave and the last two lines of the sestet, but it does not take place in the first four lines of the sestet, and it does not have the correct format of three quatrains and a couplet.
In conclusion this poem displays a grim look on the truth about war and its affect on the young soldiers who participate in it. Displaying this truth through great imagery, Wilfred Owen brings a candid opinion of what occurs during war. Through these literary devices such as alliteration, end rhyme, and imagery Owen creates a vivid picture and gripping description of “Anthem for Doomed Youth”.
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