Anthem for Doomed Youth

Here is the full poem and you can hear it read by Stephen Fry here.

A WWI funeral procession

Owen wrote this poem while at Craiglockhart, in September to October of 1917. It was edited and revised with the help of Sigfried Sassoon, who gave Owen the title “Anthem” and suggested “doomed” instead of “dead.” This slight change of words in the title has a significant bearing on the interpretation of the meaning of the poem.

It is important to know that during this time when there was a death in the family that the blinds would be drawn (closed). The coffin of the deceased would stay in the house for a couple of days before it was time to take it to the church for the funeral. Family members would come and pay their respects to the deceased in the darkened parlour (the name given to the living room, or fanciest room in a British household). (Stallworthy, pp12-13).

Questions to Guide Your Annotations: 

  • What is Owen saying about the way soldiers will be mourned?
  • Why does Owen combine images of funeral processions and battle-fields?
  • What contrasts and comparisons can you make between the first and second stanzas?
  • Owen omits an article in the title. Why? How does the meaning change from being an anthem for doomed youth, as opposed to an anthem for doomed youth, or the doomed youth?

Important devices:

  • Rhetorical question
  • Simile
  • Allusion
  • Imagery (churches; funerals)
  • Alliteration / Onomatopoeia

In order to write accurately about the poem, you may want to learn these terms too:

  • elegy; Sonnet; Octet and sestet;

Glossary

  • anthem: a song or prayer of devotion, patriotism or praise; (e.g. national anthems)
  • passing-bell: a bell rang in towns or villages to announce that someone has died or that a funeral is taking place.
  • orison: a prayer
  • shrill: high-pitched and hard on the ears
  • demented: having lost sanity; crazy.
  • bugles: a brass musical instrument used in the military. They were used in towns when recruitment was happening to announce to the young men that they could sign-up for the war. They were also played during the “Last Post“, which is a song played when a soldier dies.
  • shires: countryside areas in Great Britain (think of the “shire” in LOTR).
  • pallor: being pale, especially through fear, grief or death.
  • pall: there are a couple of possible meanings here, you can read more here and find out which you think is most fitting.

 

References

Owen, Wilfred, and Jon Stallworthy. The War Poems of Wilfred Owen. London: Chatto & Windus, 1994. Print

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