Anthem for Doomed Youth is a poem written by Wilfred Owen. Anthemis written as a piece of mourning about the soldiers lost in WWI, this being especiallyironic as Wilfred Owen himself died in World War I, two weeks before theArmistice. Anthem was written in 1917, when Owen was healing in a Scottish hospitalafter sustaining an injury during battle.
Owen was not necessarily a pacifist butrather, was interested in exploring the idea of why the war was occurring inthe first place. Similar to the style of Dulce et Decorum Est, Anthem forDoomed Youth explores the darker side of war, and it represents the massacre ofthousands of young men. The very title of the poem describes what the poem isabout, a song for young men destined to die in the war. Owen used his personalmemories and experiences to illustrate the slaughter of the men, saying that “thesewho die as cattle,” this comparison directly compares men to cattle which areoften reared to slaughter, the same as these men. Owen also talks of the riflespattering “out their hasty orisons,” which illustrates that the prayers for thedeaths are not recited, except for with the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.”This links in to the glowing contrast that repeats in the poem, as the wordsswitch from describing the horrors of war to normal funeral processes thatoccurred at the time. Owen then goes on to state that there are “no prayers norbells” for the dead, prayers and bells are examples of common funereal practicesat that time, further linking to my earlier observation, also the fact that earlierOwen said the guns pattered out the “orisons” here he further establishes thatthere were no technical prayers, but rather the rifles’ rapid rattle.
Like the “rifles’rapid rattle,” Owen later mentions the “shrill demented choirs of wailing shells”and that they are the only “voice of mourning.” This further agrees with theobservation as choirs are used in churches, where funerals happen, and that onthe battlefield, there are too many dead, thus meaning that no one is mourningbut the “wailing shells.” This is also ominous as shells means artilleryshells, which terrified every soldier as they came from nowhere and made a lotof noise while raining down death.
The last line of the stanza describes the “buglescalling them for them from sad shires,” this being especially powerful, asbugles have two main uses. The musical instrument is used in war band to assisttroops with marching and as a call to arms when launching attacks but there isanother use for the instrument, it is used to play The Last Post at militaryfunerals. This contrast between the battlefield buglers and the lone bugler atthe funerals suggests that as the men die, the bugle calls are what they willhear, whereas the family missing them “from sad shires,” will also hear bugles,but at funerals they hold back home for their dead family members.
The second stanza also begins with the relation between themassacre of young men, called “boys” in the poem to further illustrate the youthof soldiers in the war, and regular funerals back home. Candles are symbols ofhope, light and holiness in life, Owen suggests that these candles will not behelp by innocent boys, but reflected in their eyes, the “doomed youth.” Thenext line describes the “pallor of girls” brows shall be their pall” toillustrate that the paleness of girls mourning them back at home shall be theirfuneral shroud. Owen also opines that the flowers that are normally placed atthe graveside will instead be the agony of their families back at home. Thefinal line in the play is especially powerful as a family mourning a loss wouldtraditionally include drawing your blinds as a respect to the dead, but as thesesoldiers lay dead on the slaughter fields, only the natural fading of the lightwill be present.