Anthem for Doomed YouthA Poem by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)AStudy GuideWilfred Owen: Talented Poet Killed in World War I.......Wilfred Owen was born in Shropshire, England, in 1893 and studied at the University of Reading. Because he could not afford to continue his education, he left school and worked as an English-language tutor in France while also writing poetry. After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the loss of so many young lives horrified him. Nevertheless, after returninghomein 1915, he enlisted in the Artist's Rifles of the British army, received a commission, and shipped out to France in late December 1916. Over the next several months, he wrote poetry to record his impressions of the war. In the spring of 1917, he exhibited symptoms of shell shock after experiencing the hell of trench warfare. He also contracted trench fever, abacterial infectiontransmitted by lice. His superiors returned him to Britain, where he underwent treatment at a war hospital in Craiglockhart, Scotland, then a suburb of Edinburgh and now part of the city. While there, he continued to write poems, one of which was Anthem for Doomed Youth. An experienced poet who was also receiving treatment, Siegrfied Sassoon (1886-1967), helped him edit and polish his work. After his discharge from the hospital, Owen mingled with poets and wrote more poetry. His work by this time was showing great promise. Eventually, he returned to the armyand to war. He died in battle just one week before the war ended (November 11, 1918). He was only twenty-five. However, his war poems, including Anthem, lived on and today remain as meaningful and relevant as when he wrote them.Type of Work: Sonnet.......Anthem for Doomed Youth is alyric poemin the format of a sonnet. Wilfred Owen wrote it in 1917 while under treatment for psychological trauma and trench fever (as explained in theparagraphabove) at a war hospital in Craiglockhart, Scotland, then a suburb of Edinburgh and now part of the city.The Sonnet Format: Petrarchan and Shakespearean.......The Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374), a Roman Catholic priest, popularized the sonnet format. Other famous Italian sonneteers wereDante Alighieri(1265-1321), Italy's most esteemed writer, and Guido Cavalcante (1255-1300).A Petrarchan sonnet consists of an eight-line stanza (octave) and a six-line stanza (sestet). Generally, the first stanza presents a theme, and the second stanza develops it. The rhymeschemeis as follows: first stanza (octave): ABBA, ABBA; second stanza (sestet): CDE, CDE........The sonnet form was introduced in England by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547). They translated Italian sonnets into English and wrote sonnets of their own. Wyatt and Surrey sometimes replaced Petrarch'sschemeof an eight-line stanza and a six-line stanza with three four-line stanzas and a two-line conclusion known as a couplet. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) adopted the latterschemein his sonnets. His rhymeschemewas ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. The meter of his lines was iambic pentameter. After his sonnets were published in a 1609 collection, the English sonnet became popularly known as theShakespearean sonnet.Owen's Poem: a Hybrid Sonnet......."Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a hybrid sonnetthat is, it combines the structure of the Petrarchan sonnet with the rhymeschemeof aShakespearean sonnetexcept for lines 11 and 12. (The rhymeschemeof Shakespeare's sonnets isABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG; the rhymeschemeof Owen's poem is ABAB, CDCD, EFFE, GG.Meter.......All lines except 2 and 3 are iniambic pentameter, a verse format in which a line contains five pairs of syllables (ten syllables in all). In each pair, the first syllable is unstressed and the second stressed,making upa unit called aniamb. Lines 4, 5, and 6 of the poem demonstrate the pattern of iambic pentameter:CanPAT..|..terOUT..|..theirHAS..|..tyOR..|..isSONSNoMOCK..|..erIES..|..forTHEM..|..fromPRAYERS..|..orBELLSNorAN..|..yVOICE..|..ofMOURN..|..ingSAVE..|..theCHOIRSOccasionally a line of iambic pentameter contains an extra syllable, for a total of eleven, as in line 1:WhatPASS..|..ingBELLS..|..forTHESE..|..whoDIE..|..asCAT..|..tleLines 2 and 3 of "Anthem for Doomed Youth" veer from the iambic pattern because the stress falls on the first syllable in the first pair (ON ly) in each line. To learn more about iambic pentameter and other forms of meter,click here.Writing Approach and Literary Devices.......Owen wrote the poem from the perspective of a soldier on a battlefield. In the first eight lines (octet), the soldier asks and answers a question. Notice that the answer appears in the present tense and focuses almost exclusively on the sounds and frantic pace of war. Phrases withonomatopoeiastuttering rifles,rapid rattle,patter out, andwailing shellsimitate the sounds on the field........In the last six lines (sestet), the soldier asks and answers another question. Notice that this time the answer appears in the future tense and focuses entirely on the sights of the mourning period and the agonizing slowness of its pace........Throughout the poem, Owen usesalliterationto promote rhythm and euphony, as inrifles'rapidrattleandglimmers ofgood-byes. Note that some alliterations occur subtly, as in thestinhastythat echoes thestinstutteringand in theshinshrillthat alliterates with theshinshellsand theshinshires........In the octet, two personifications call attention to the terrifying rage and insanity of war:monstrous anger of the guns(comparison of guns to angry humans) anddemented choirs of wailing shells(comparison of the shells to deranged humans)........In the sestet, three metaphors center on the poignant suffering of the mourners athome. One compares theholy glimmersin the eyes of boys to candles, and another compares thepallor of the girls' browsto the pall that covers the casket. In the third,the tenderness of patient mindsbecomesthe flowersthat adorn the soldiers' graves.ThemesSenseless Devastation.......The butchery of war horrified Wilfred Owen. His comrades in arms represented the besthopefor a better future, but all around him thathopewas vanishing in the fire and smoke of the battlefield. The war also devastated the loved ones athome, robbing them of sons, daughters, brothers, and fathers and leaving only emptiness behind.Loss of Identity.......In war, young men with distinct personalities and unique talents become nameless pawns to do the bidding of the political decision-makers. When they fall on the battlefield, no one stops to mourn them or pay them homage. The bombs keep falling. The guns keep firing.Anthem for Doomed YouthBy Wilfred OwenWhatpassing-bellsfor these who die ascattle?Only the monstrous anger of the guns.Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattleCan patter out their hastyorisons.No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,Nor any voice of mourning save the choirsThe shrill, demented choirs ofwailing shells;And bugles calling for them from sad shires.Whatcandlesmay be held to speed them all?Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyesShall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.The pallor of girls' brows shall be theirpall;Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,And each slow dusk adrawing-down of blinds.AnnotationsPassing-bells: A custom in England dating back many centuries was to ring a bell when a person was dying. Those who heard it were to pray that the person's soul would pass on to the light of heaven when he or she diedhence, the termpassing bell. Today, churches traditionally toll bells atfunerals.Cattle: The comparison of the soldiers to slaughtered cattle underscores the inhumanity of war; it treats men as mereanimals.Orisons(OR ih zuns): Prayers.Wailing shells: It is ironic that the killers, the shells, are also personified mourners.Candles: Held by altar boys, the candles represent to Owen ritualistic, artificial funereal trappings. More appropriate to him is the sad glimmer in the eyes of these boys.Pall: The cloth, usually black, covering the coffin at afuneral. To Owen, it is, like the candles, an artificial funereal trapping. More appropriate as a pall is the pallor (paleness) on the faces of girls.Drawing-down of blinds: This simple phrase allows the reader to picture the behind-the-scenes suffering of the loved ones after the burial of a soldier.Study Questions and Essay Topics1. Write a short essay arguing that "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is as meaningful today as it was when Owen wrote it in 1917.2. Ask a person who fought in a war whether the poem expresses what he or she felt on the battlefield. Report your answer to your class.3..What is an anthem?4. Identify three alliterating words in the last line of the poem.5. Did you notice that the first word of the first and second stanzas is the same (what) and that the first word of the last line of each stanza is also the same (and)? In your opinion, why did frame each stanza withwhatandand?