Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for a Doomed Youth Essay
Mike Ruggiero British Classics Poetry Paper Rough Draft 4/24/2013 Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for a Doomed Youth Born on March 18, 1893 of an English and Welsh background, Wilfred Owen was born at Plas Wilmot, a house in Weston Lane, near Oswestry in Shropshire. He was the eldest of four children and extremely fond of his mother, which became apparent in the letters he would send her during his tenure in World War I. His mother was of a wealthy background and always imagined Wilfred rising to aristocracy.
Wilfred’s father was a stationmaster, a man in charge of railway stations in the United Kingdom. His family was quite religious, Wilfred was a parish assistant and attended Bible classed, but his religious affiliations faded after being exposed to the world and the horrors of war. He always aspired to go to university but could not pass the exams in which to do so. After not being able to attend university Wilfred traveled to France, where he taught English at a Berlitz school and his love for literature grew.
In 1915 he volunteered to enter the war and after two years in the service his letters to his mother described that he had entered hell, endured deprivation and extreme violence. His woes continued in March of 1917, when he was entombed for 36 hours in the cellar of a French home after falling through the floor. A month later his bad luck continued when a shell exploded near his head, sending him flying into the air and into ditch covered with corrugated iron, where he spent the next few days.
On May 1, 1917 Owens Army file stated, “Second Lieutenant Owen was observed to be shaky and tremulous and his conduct and manner were peculiar, and his memory was confused. ” After this he was sent to Craiglockhart in Scotland to recuperate after being a witness “to not a sign of life on the horizon and a thousand signs of death. ” It was in Craiglockhart that he met his literary influence and friend, Siegfried Sassoon, who would change his life. Over the following year Sassoon provided Owens not only with only a much needed friendship but an entry to English literary society.
Owens embraced both Sassoon’s friendship and the new world he had entered, creating an escape from the terrors of the war. Owen’s poetry gained fame and recognition in this last year of his life, having published five poems in between 1917 and 1918. Wilfred Owens died on November 4, 1918, a week before the official end of the war, he was only 25. Owen’s famous poem, Anthem for Doomed Youth, takes place during World War I, inside the trenches of the British troops. He seamlessly blends the battlefield, home front and funeral of a solider to create one general atmosphere, both on the front and at home.
One moment you’re crouching in the trenches, listening to shells being fired at you, and the next, you’re standing with the soldier’s family at his funeral while also hearing the firing of rifles smoothly blended in the background. Wilfred Owen paints a gruesomely beautiful depiction of the horrors of war on and off the battlefield. The narrator or voice of the poem is that of a seemingly disembodied soldier, not necessarily dead or dismembered, or a man who has temporarily stepped out of his body to tell us his story from a bird’s eye point of view.
There is also no use of “I”, “my”, “our”, or any other type of possessive language, however he associates himself with the soldiers and has knowledge of war, leading us to assume he is also a soldier. This man sees, knows, hears, and is not afraid to share all of his knowledge of the terrors of war. He seems displeased by war and the emotional toll it takes on those directly and indirectly involved. He seems to express that he dislikes the inability of religious rituals and traditions to truly address the problem at hand.
Owen again shows off his writing ability with the creation of his soldier narrator, continuing to seemingly blend multiple subjects into one, continuous depiction of the man’s up close and personal view of World War I. The title, Anthem for Doomed Youth, has a very important and specific meaning which goes along with the plot of the poem. The word “doomed” raises an eyebrow right off the bat, it seems to alert the reader that the poem has a very serious tone. “Youth” is another important piece of the puzzle; it picks out the younger soldiers, who could be considered ignorant due to their enthusiastic attitude about engaging in battle. Anthem” is the most controversial part of the title. In the dictionary “anthem” is defined as, “a psalm or hymn sung antiphonally or responsively, a sacred vocal composition with words usually from the Scriptures. ” The religious connections make the title ironic in that war is probably the most unholy act one could partake in and is in not any way, shape, or form something the Christian “God” would approve of. The title is contradictory is the sense that how can someone be glad or thankful that another person, most likely their loved one, is dead, as a hymn typically is sung in rejoice or celebration.
By dubbing the poem an “anthem”, Owen subtly states his opinion on the war and its effects in his poem even before it can be read, again seamlessly blending more than one idea or belief to create on larger picture. In the first four stanzas of Anthem for Doomed Youth Owen sets a serious tone by his use of imagery and language. “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid fire. Can patter out their hasty orisons. The passing bells seem to represent bells that are rung after someone’s death, to announce that death to the public. “For those who die as cattle…” is a pretty gruesome image, suggesting that the young men fighting are getting slaughtered by the enemy like cattle systematically being slaughtered at a slaughter house. “Only the monstrous anger of the guns” personifies the overwhelming sound of constant rifle fire giving it a distinct emotion and even describing the overall feelings of angst and anger the men felt during battle.
The rifles’ rapid fire pattering, drowning out the people of the town’s hasty orisons, or prayers, suggests that the war and its violence has silenced God and has made the peoples prayers futile. The religious tones continue in stanzas five and six, “No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs…” Mockeries, or insults, suggest that the Christian religion, with its “all loving God”, could have nothing to do with the deaths of thousands of young soldiers.
Owen believe that the Christian “God” is seemingly mocking them by letting them die in these extreme conditions, and believes that prayers and religious tradition is futile in attempting to help the men who are being shot down each day. Owen does not understand how a god described as “loving” could do such a horrible thing to his people. In stanzas six through nine Owen moves the action from the trenches and the battlefield to the home front. “The shrill, demented choirs of the wailing shells; And bugles calling for them for sad shires.
What candles may be help to speed them all? ” A bugle is a genuine instrument of the battlefield and is also played military funerals; however it is an interesting climax to the percussion of the guns and choir of shells. The figurative image of the bugle looks forward to the memorial services following the end of the war, but it also had a literal meaning. Dead soldier’s memories are carried by their surrounding comrades, the eyes of the boys, and by their wives, sweethearts and loved one. The bugle creates a moving vision of the effects of war felt at home.
The final five stanzas create the climax for Owen’s story. “Not in the hands of the boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow duck a drawing-down of blinds. ” Owen starts out by suggesting that the pain of the boys in the shires cannot be seen or held physically in their hands, but can be recognized in the eyes of the young men who’s brothers and fathers they will not be returning from war.
The young boy’s pain can also be expressed in “the holy glimmers of goodbyes” at funerals and grave sites throughout the country, the pain and suffering is wide spread. “A drawing-down of blinds” ends the poem, setting quite the somber tone. Normally, blinds are drawn as a preparation for night, but also, the tradition of drawing the blinds in a room where a dead person lies, as a sign to the world and as a mark or respect. In conclusion Wilfred Owen is a master of describing and personifying his thoughts, feelings, and personal experience of the war.
It is evident that Owen did not agree with the war and what it stood for and was disgusted by what he saw on an everyday basis. War, no matter the outcome, win or lose, is always terrifying for everyone involved at home and on the front and Wilfred Owen paints a beautifully clear picture for the reader. Works Cited Warwick, McFadyen. “Candle in the wind: The short but many-layered life of Wilfred Owen. ” Sunday Age, The (Melbourne) 27 Apr. 2003: 10. Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. Hammond, Gerald. Owen’s ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH. ” Explicator 40. 3 (1982): 41. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. Firchow, Peter Edgerly. “Wilfred Owen Anthem For A Doomed Youth (Book). ” Anq 2. 4 (1989): 152. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. Kerr, Douglas. “The Disciplines Of The Wars: Army Training And The Language Of Wilfred Owen. ” Modern Language Review 87. 2 (1992): 286-299. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. “anthem,” Merriam-Webster. com. 2011. http://www. merriam-webster. com (28 April 2013).