Anthem for Doomed Youth

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Wilfred Owen’s poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth” was written while he was a patient in a Scottish hospital, receiving treatment for shell shock during the First World War. Owen wrote the poem in 1917. He died in 1918 of gun shots he received in battle. He was only 25 when he died. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is a lament for the young men whose deaths he witnessed, both on the field and in hospital. It is a poem that acts as a mourning prayer or song for soldiers who might never get to receive a proper funeral, and a reminder of the horrors of war and the sacrifice of the younger generation. On the literal level, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” asks what kind of funeral these soldiers have when they die on the field of battle. The answer is that they have no beautiful rituals, only the sights and sounds of warfare and destruction. The first seven lines of the poem focus on the noise and horror of the battlefield. In line eight, our attention shifts to the “sad shires” of home, the counties of England, and the next six lines remind us of the families and friends who are waiting patiently for the return of soldiers who have already died and thus will never come home (Owen 542).

The speaker of the poem is someone who has experienced war. He is speaking to those who have not, and thus cannot understand the degree of loss and the unfairness of a war that wastes the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men.

The tone of this poem moves from anger in the first eight lines to sadness and mourning in the last six. This is reflected in the sound of the poem. The first eight lines employ cacophony; they sound unpleasant and noisy. Owen uses alliteration to simulate the sound of gunfire in lines three and four: “Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle/Can patter out their hasty orisons” (Owen 542). The repetition of the “T” and the “r” sounds bring to mind the clamour of gunshots, which take the place of prayers recited for the dead. The sound of line seven, “The...
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