This essay will compare the poems “On Passing the New Menin Gate” by Siegfried Sassoon (1927) and “Anthem For Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen (1917) and decipher whether there are any contrasts of worthwhile note. It will explore the meanings of both poems and consider the importance and effect of formal features that Sassoon and Owen use to convey their ideas. One immediate comparison that can be made about these two poems is that they are both anti-war poems.
Sassoon and Owen became friends while fighting in World War 1 (Internet 1), which is the subject of both poems.
Having both experienced the war first-hand, Sassoon and Owen talk about its harsh reality and the devastating consequences for both soldiers and their families alike. Their close friendship is undoubtedly a major factor in the two poems being very similar in the way they are written, especially considering Sassoon helped co-write “Anthem For Doomed Youth” with Owen (Internet 2).
They are both keen to dispell the popular myth that it was a “Great War” and use various techniques to convey the main themes of anger, resentment, betrayal and biterness to emphasise the destructive and devastating nature of war throughout their poems, which I will now go on to talk about in greater depth.
The seminal technique Sassoon and Owen use in their poems in order to achieve this emphasisation is their ironic use of the traditional sonnet form. In “On Passing the New Menin Gate” Sassoon deliberately decides to use the Shakespearian sonnet form, more onventionally used to communicate feelings of love or romance, in an ironic way (Internet 3) , as he tries to convey his bitter passion and contempt for not only the war but the memorial, Menin Gate, itself.
This ironic use of the sonnet form serves to highlight the romantic lie that it is great and honourable to die for your country (Internet 4). Owen also uses a variety of the Petrarchan sonnet structure to introduce irony, similarly to emphasise his own anger at the futility of war (Internet 5).
The ironic use of the sonnet form by both poets help transmit their feelings of disgust and resentment about the war to the reader. Sassoon and Owen both convey similar themes in their poems. The obvious theme of anger aside, the underlying theme of betrayal is vivid throughout both pieces of work. Both poets achieve this sense of betrayal through selective word choice. In “On Passing the New Menin Gate” Sassoon uses the word “conscripted” (line 4) to suggest the soldiers were forced or tricked into joining the army and ultimately ther death (Internet 6).
The theme of betrayal is carried on by Sassoon later in the poem when he angrily claims, “Was ever an immolation so belied, As these intolerably nameless names? ” (lines 11-12). This underscores Sassoon’s feelings of unjust and the theme of betrayal as it implies the memorial Menin Gate is not a proportionate reward for the soldiers sacrificing their lives (Internet 7). He feels it betrays their honour as the 54,889 inscribed names on the monument is a very impersonal way of celebrating or mourning the lost lives of the dead soldiers (Internet 8).
Owen, however, conveys the theme of betrayal more subtly, in the title of his poem, “Anthem For Doomed Youth”. The oxymoron “Doomed Youth” emphasises the naivety of the soldiers as it is an unusual phrase not normally associated with each other. “Doomed” gives the connotations of a terrible fate that is sure to end in tragedy, whereas “Youth” makes the reader think of vibrancy, vitality and people with good health with their whole life ahead of them.
This oxymoron is effective in making the reader think about how experienced soldiers and the media alike, fed propoganda to these naive young men, glorifying the war to them during times of conscription, essentially brainwashing them and signing these soldiers up for death. The underlying themes of betrayal and injustice are used by Sassoon and Owen with the aim of stirring up emotion within the reader and underpin their anti-war message. Another comparable technique of the two poems is the style of language and tone which Sassoon and Owen use to convey their disparaging views on the war.
They both adopt a sombre yet agrieved, resentful tone using numerous rhetorical questions aimed at drawing the reader in and provoking them to make their own conclusions about the war. Sassoon opens his poem “On Passing the New Menin Gate” with the question, “Who will remember, passing through this Gate, The unheroic Dead who fed the guns? ” (lines 1-2). This is effective as it instantly grabs the reader’s attention and makes them question the validity of the Menin Gate as a memorial monument. The implication from Sassoon is that is a pointless gesture.
Likewise, Owen also uses a rhetorical style to directly question and draw the reader in, when he asks in his opening line of “Anthem For Doomed Youth” , “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? ” (line 1). Straight away this question highlights the inhumanity and indignation involved in war. “What passing-bells for these” (line 1) implies to the reader that the dead soldiers will not receive any kind of funeral or burial service and the simile, “who die as cattle” (line 1) shocks the reader as it compares the dead soldiers to cows being mass slaughtered mercilessly (Internet 9).
Sassoon and Owen’s rhetorical style help connect the reader to the events being described and communicate successfully their feelings of anguish about the war. Sassoon and Owen further communicate their contempt for the war and its unforgiving treatment of the soldiers through the use of alliteration. Sassoon says, “Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone” (line 7). The sarcastic use of “Paid” suggests Sassoon does not believe the Menin Gate to be a worthwhile reward.
The personification of the monument when Sassoon says, “peace-complacent stone” (line 7) creates the idea that the monument has an unjustified feeling of self-worth and importance and stands arrogantly, believing itself to be a comparable reward to the loss of life and misery endured by thousands of soldiers and families. The repetition of the letter “p” makes it sound as though Sassoon is spitting his words out in a bitter and degrading manner and is effective in demonstrating his anger about the perceived ignorance displayed by the memorial (Internet 10).
Owen also achieves an emphatic effect when he uses alliteration in “Anthem For Doomed Youth” when he says, “Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” (line 3). This harsh sounding repetition of the letter “r” is used for the purpose of sound imagery to help convey the horrors of the battlefield. Sassoon and Owen’s use of alliteration here are similar in communicating both poet’s hatred for the war. Another important technique that Sassoon and Owen use to convince us of the horrors of war is personification.
Sassoon bemoans the relevance of the Menin Gate when he asks, “Who will remember, passing through this Gate, The unheroic Dead who fed the guns? ” (line 1-2). This use of personification in “fed the guns” is particularly effective in giving the guns a human characteristic, as if they need fed to stay alive. Describing the guns in this manner gives them a mind of their own almost, which makes them appear more sinister and the soldiers in even less control of their own destiny. Similarly, Owen uses personification to make the weaponry appear more sinister when he says, “the monstrous anger of the guns” (line 2).
This use of personification by Owen creates terrifying sound images as it suggests the guns have a conscious agenda to harm the soldiers. It also enlightens the reader to the horror and terror the soldiers faced. Sassoon and Owen both use personification to give the weaponry a sinister edge, which compounds the soldiers misery and as a result, heightens the reader’s sense of injustice and contempt for the war. In the light of the above, Siegfried Sassoon’s “On Passing the New Menin Gate” and Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem For Doomed Youth” resemble each other in a number of different ways.
Both poets chose to write their poems in the traditional sonnet form, as an ironic way of highlighting their disgust and anger towards the war and Menin Gate in Sassoon’s case, which is the opposite to what the conventional function of the sonnet is. They also adopt a similar accusing, angry speech-like tone and use a similar style of language by using a rhetorical style to help draw in and connect the reader to their emotions. The predominant themes in both poems are betrayal and contempt for the war which is effective in gaining sympathy for the dead soldiers.
The use of literary techniques such as irony, word choice, alliteration and personification are also successful in depicting the terrifying conditions faced by the soldiers and the devastating consequences of war. I did not find any significant contrasts between Sassoon and Owen’s poems, although this is unsurprising considering they are both anti-war poets and the fact Sassoon helped Owen write “Anthem For Doomed Youth” (Internet 11) . It is therefore understandable that both poems possess very similar traits.