Anthem for Doomed Youth
by Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918) was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War. His shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his friend and mentor Siegfried Sassoon, and stood in stark contrast both to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets such asRupert Brooke. Among his best-known works – most of which were published posthumously – are "Dulce et Decorum Est", "Insensibility", "Anthem for Doomed Youth", "Futility" and "Strange Meeting".
"Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a well-known poem written by Wilfred Owen that incorporates the theme of the horror of war. It employs the traditional form of a petrarchan sonnet, but it uses the rhyme scheme of an English sonnet. Much of the second half of the poem is dedicated to funeral rituals suffered by those families deeply affected byWorld War I. The poem does this by following the sorrow of common soldiers in one of the bloodiest battles of the 20th century. Written between September and October 1917, when Owen was a patient at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh recovering from shell shock, the poem is a lament for young soldiers whose lives were unnecessarily lost in the First World War. The poem is also a comment on Owen's rejection of his religion in 1915. While at hospital, Owen met and became close friends with another poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Owen asked for his assistance in refining his poems' rough drafts. It was Sassoon who named the start of the poem "anthem", and who also substituted "doomed" for "dead"; the famous epithet of "patient minds" is also a correction of his. The amended manuscript copy, in both men's handwriting, still exists and may be found at the Wilfred Owen Manuscript Archive on the world wide web. The poem is among those set in the War Requiem of Benjamin Britten.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
* People are dying and our speaker asks us, what sound is there to mark their deaths? * Those "passing-bells"? They're church bells, which are rung to mark someone's death (when they have passed away). * Already this phrase has introduced religious imagery to the poem, but it's contrasted with the horrific experience on the front lines of war, where men die like cattle. And where we can't imagine any church bells are ringing. * So with this very slight matter of word choice, our speaker has deliberately brought the soldiers that much closer to us. It's as if we're on the battlefield, seeing those soldiers falling right and left. * And what are these soldiers compared to? Cattle. It's not exactly the nicest simile we've ever heard. But it does pack a big punch. * The phrase "die as cattle" suggests slaughter. He's saying that something about these deaths is especially terrible—it's inhuman, it's treating soldiers like animals. * Cattle come in herds, right? It seems a lot of these men are dying all at once. Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
* The only thing that marks their deaths is the angry sound of more guns. Gunfire is just about the opposite of pleasant church bells. * That word "monstrous" is a pretty big and heavy word, we'd say, especially to load on top of "anger." * We mean, anger is already a pretty violent and scary thing. So "monstrous anger" means that something about these guns is terrible enough to put regular anger to shame. * And now we know for sure, if we hadn't already guessed, that this poem is talking about war. * After all, where else would men die like cattle to the sound of monstrously angry guns? Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
* Our speaker says that rifle fire is the only kind of prayer for the dying soldiers. ("Orison" is kind of a fancy word [from Latin] for prayer.) *...
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