Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen
Anthem for Doomed Youth
This poem laments the sacrifice of thousands of young lives which were ended at the Western Front during the First World War.
The title itself is ironical because anthem is ‘a song or a hymn of praise and gladness.’ When we read the poem we learn that these youths receive no honour, no anthem. They are denied of such final respect. The form of the poem derives from the Italian sonnet form. In the poem there are two rhetorical questions which seek no answers. In effect, the poet says that there are no ringing bells and that ringing bells are pointless as the youths die like cattle. With this idea he expresses his disgust at war. As given in the second line, the poet says that bells are overcome by the sound of guns, which means guns dominate, denying the youths of their final funeral rites. Sound and sense effect is brought out nicely in the poem as ‘stuttering’ and ‘rattle’ are examples of onomatopoeia, with which the poet reminds us of an actual war. Repetition of “r” sound produces alliterative effect and emphasizes continuity of the action of guns. As the third and the forth lines suggest, the orisons for these youths are overcome by the orisons of the riffles. In effect, he says that there are no orisons for these dead youth, because guns recite orisons which mean they expect and bring out death to youths. Furthermore guns follow no pattern; their language is a hurried piece. So Owen says, ‘patter out their hasty orisons’
As suggested in the seventh line, prayers of choirs for these youths are overcome by the choirs of wailing shells. Again this is an ironical statement because the poet means that the place of the choir of the human beings has been overtaken by the choir of shells. Final salute of burgles and the choir of wailing shells call these youths from sad shires which may be the place of the dead. So every funeral rite is suppressed and dominated by the actions of war.
Furthermore the poet inquires the meaninglessness and the uselessness of holding candles to respect, as they are actually dead. In his vision he sees the candle light in the eyes of the boys not in their hands. The girls who are or who will be the sweet hearts of the youth are seen in the same vision. The pall of the dead youth is seen through the paleness of the girls’ brows. So the death is marked and is haunting both girls and boys because they will be the instruments of war tomorrow. This is how Owen foresees the doom of youth, the youths are dead. As shown in the thirteenth line, the flowers for these youths who are dying or dead, are the tenderness of patient minds. Patient minds are necessary. In his vision, Owen sees the patient minds like flowers on the graves or in wreaths for the dead youths. Last line is full of several associations. ‘Each slow dusk’ means ‘end of day’. ‘Drawing down of blinds’ is closing windows as the night falls. It can also be interpreted as closing of eye lids. So at the end of each day thousands of youths close their eye lids ‘end of day’ means ‘end of life’ in other words, it was and still sometimes is, the custom to draw down the blinds of a house as a mark of respect for someone’s death.