Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth". An Analysis

Essay, 2005
8 Pages, Grade: 2,0


1. Introduction ... 3
1.1 Introduction to the poet ... 3
1.2 Introduction to the poem ... 3
2. Summary ... 4
2.1 Summary of the Poem ... 4
3. Analysis ... 4
3.1 Analysis of the first stanza ... 5
3.2 Analysis of the second stanza ... 6
4. Bibliography ... 8

1. Introduction
1.1 Introduction to the poet
Wilfred Owen was born in 1893 at Oswestry in Shropshire and died on the 4
of November
1918, one week before the Armistice. He was the spokesperson for the soldiers in the trenches
during the war.
Questioned about his poems, Owen himself said that his aim was not poetry itself but his
subject was to tell the truth about war. During the war, Owen changed from a "boyish
romantic poet"
to a mature man who fully understood the war. With the disagreements in his
poems, he wanted to express the "hopelessness of the situation he was describing"
. Owen
wanted to show that those who die in war are no heroes but simply dead people who died
senselessly. Not only in "Anthem for Doomed Youth" (1918), but also in all of his poems, he
states his opinion about war and its futility.
Wilfred Owen's poem "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a "sensitive expression of the sadness
and futility which arises as a result of the death of young men on the battlefield"
1.2 Introduction to the poem
The poem "Anthem for Doomed Youth" consists of two stanzas and fourteen lines. The first
stanza consists of eight lines and the second stanza consists of six lines, an octave and a
sestet. It is a variation of the Shakespearian or Elizabethan sonnet.
Owen himself has divided the sonnet in parts, the break coming at the end of line eight, which
gives the impression of it being a Petrarchan sonnet. The reader must not, however, be fooled
by this break, because if one looks at the poem in terms of its themes, one finds that there is
only one theme which takes up all fourteen lines. On the other hand, although the sonnet
concludes with a rhyming couplet, there is no distinct theme in this couplet, as there would be
in a classical Elizabethan structure.
The first four lines consist of two cross rhymes, lines 5-8 consist of two half cross rhymes,
line 9 and 12 create a surrounding rhyme, which surround a couple rhyme in lines 10 and 11.
The last two lines create a couple rhyme, such as can be found in a traditional sonnet.

2. Summary
2.1 Summary of the Poem
In the first stanza, Owen describes how cruel and senseless war is and how soldiers who die
for their country are treated when they are dead. They do not get real funerals or ceremonies,
especially those who die as young soldiers. They do not get any tribute, only sounds of guns
and shells. In the second stanza Owen describes how the fallen soldiers' families and friends
deal with the death of them and how those, whose brothers and husbands and sons are still at
war feel like. To summarize it, the first stanza describes the situation on the battlefield and the
second stanza describes the situation of those who remember the soldiers, such as their
3. Analysis
Now I want to start with the analysis of the poem, with special regard to the imagery Owen
uses. "`Anthem for Doomed Youth' was completed by 25 September [1918] after advice from
Sasoon [...]. [T]here where at least seven drafts [but] Owen began to bring his lyrical writing
into step with his opinions about war."
Immediately at the beginning of the poem, the term "Anthem" catches the readers' eye. Owen
could have used "hymn" or any other word, but "[...] by calling the poem an anthem, Owen is
trying to convey a sense of its seriousness [...]
. With the term "doomed youth" Owen
expresses that his poem it not only written for those who have already died, but also for those
who also may die.
In the structure of the poem, which is one of a traditional sonnet, except that the quatrains and
the couplet are combined to an octet and a sestet, the irony Owen uses throughout the whole
poem is identifiable. The irony lies in the fact that sonnets usually make the reader think of a
love poem, which is definitely not the case in Owen's poem. The "love" in a sonnet is, in
"Anthem for Doomed Youth", the "patriotic love that is often used to sell war to men too
young to comprehend the risk involved in fighting"
. In addition, "this irony helps the poet
[to] express his overall feeling of indignation and disgust at war."
Hibberd, Dominic. Owen The Poet. Houndmills: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1986
Mc Ilroy, James: Wilfred Owen's poetry, A Study Guide, p. 39

3.1 Analysis of the first stanza
The first stanza is introduced through a rhetorical question: "What passing bells for these who
die as cattle?" (l.1). A rhetorical question is a figure of speech where a question is asked in
order to make a statement rather than to get an answer. Owen uses this stylistic device to
underline the fact that the whole poem is written with a sense of irony. The choice of the
word "cattle" prepares the reader for a shocking but truthful stanza. Owen also uses a simile
to show that the soldiers are no more important than "cattle", which is not at all human. A
simile is an expression which makes a comparison between two unlike things that have
something in common, using the words "as" or "like".
In the next two lines, Owen gives an answer to his question asked in line 1: "Only the
monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle." To underline the
finiteness of his answer, Owen uses an anaphora: "Only [...] Only" (l.2 f.). An anaphora is
"the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of each one of a sequence of
sentences, paragraphs, lines of verse, or stanzas."
Furthermore, he uses an alliteration, which
is also onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is the arrangement and use of words that sound like the
noise or the thing that they are relating to or that they are signifying: "rifles' rapid rattle" (l.3).
An alliteration is a figure of speech in which two or more words in one or more lines start
with the same letter or sound.
With the anaphora, Owen emphasizes the monotonous noise of the gunfire and that these
sounds are the only respect the soldiers get for their courage and fighting. The alliteration is,
when spoken out loudly, similar to the actual constant sounds of the guns and riffles, which is
the onomatopoeia. The reader can immediately design a picture of war in his mind.
With the term "monstrous anger" (l.2) Owen portrays clearly his own anger. The first three
lines all refer to the madness and senselessness of war.
The run-on-line from line 3 to line 4 is made to underline the continuity of the sounds. A run-
on-line is a figure of speech in which a phrase or sentence is not finished at the end of a line,
but goes on to the next one. In line 4, Owen tries to express that the guns are the only prayers
for the dead soldiers. Moreover, by shooting constantly ("patter out", l.4), the guns will kill
even more soldiers, whereas the term "patter" "[...] itself has harmless overtones and sounds
too innocent for its deadly nature [...]"
In line 5 and 6 Owen again uses an alliteration: "No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor
bells, nor any voice [...]" (l.5 f.). Here, the term "mockeries" (l.5) also refers to the madness
Abrams, M.H.: A Glossary of Literary Terms. p. 279
Mc Ilroy, James: Wilfred Owen's poetry, A Study Guide. p. 41
Excerpt out of 8 pages


Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth". An Analysis
Ruhr-University of Bochum
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Anthem for Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen
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Jenny Koss (Author), 2005, Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth". An Analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/148930


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