Anthem for Doomed Youth
Anthem for Doomed Youth was a Petrarchan sonnet written by Wilfred Owen during World War I. His literary work was war poetry, where he drew a parallel between the horrors on a war front and the peaceful conditions on the home front (Owen, Day-Lewis, and Blunden). This poem was a protest against the war because people were slaughtered like cattle and the only prayers (orisons) are the rapid-fire of rifles. Owen used different elements of a poem to express his feelings of a doomed youth during the war.
The first element of the poem that Owen uses extensively in this poem is imagery. Imagery is used in the poem to evoke sensory experience such as auditory (sound), visual (sight), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), etc. The other forms of imagery used by Owen include metaphor, simile and personification. The word “Anthem” in the poem creates an image of a church choir or servicemen singing to glorify the country and their heroes. In the poem, the speaker sets up a grim image of the battlefield with only the sounds of rifles commemorating the death of the gallant soldiers. The stuttering rifles create a auditory image of the ear-splitting sounds in the war zones that even deafen the sounds of choir and the sounds that could be heard from miles away in a peaceful civilian home.
The other form of imagery used by the author is a simile. In the first line, the author says that the young men on the battlefield “die as cattle.” The simile creates an image of people on the battlefield who are treated as cattle and massacred as cows in the slaughterhouse. The cattle create an image of people whose lives are worthless and can be killed anytime for a trivial reason, just like cows killed just because of meat.
The author uses personification to represent the abstract quality or nonhuman form into human form or human form to nonhuman form. Inline two, the gun is personified because anger is an emotion that can only be attributed to humans, but here the guns are considered furious. In line 7, there is also the personification of instruments of war, i.e. “wailing shells.”
A metaphor is a stylistic device used to compare two unrelated things or suggest similarity without one existing. In line 7, the speaker talked about a demented choir that has shrills. A shrill is a high pitched, unpleasant voice that one wouldn’t want to hear. From a choir, one would expect to listen to a calm and pleasant voice. A raving mad choir is not the type of choir that one would like to hear even in a funeral. A quiet and peaceful image (choir) is used as the metaphor for an unpleasant war.
Symbolism uses signs or symbols to signify an attribute or object different from its literal sense. The “passing-bell” in ancient times was used to symbolize that someone had died and prayers should be said for the departed. In Christian rituals or religion, candles represent hope, especially in the afterlife, and they would be placed besides the coffin as a promise of salvation. The lack of candles signifies there is a lack of hope but only tears on the acolyte’s eyes who are supposed to hold the candle. In a funeral, the flowers are used as a sign of remembrance and respect, but it is replaced with sad faces in the battle. “The tenderness of patient minds” means even though the fallen soldiers will be remembered, it will be so much pain for those who are left behind left wondering if the deaths were deserved.
In line 12, Drawing down of blind is done during the night showing the day has ended. In the poem, it is symbolic of a life that has ended. The families that have lost their gallant young soldiers have to mark the end of the life of their loved one in the battlefield. Drawing down of blinds can be symbolic of people who do not want to face the realities of war; therefore they would shut themselves out so that they cannot see what is happening. The line is also symbolic of people who do not want to take action and assist in the situation at hand; therefore, they will draw the blind and let the situation continue or solve itself.
Mood is a literary device used to express the atmosphere of the poem or a literary work. Mood can be achieved through the setting, tone, diction and theme. The speaker uses a solemn tone for this piece as religious ceremonies characterize it. The word “anthem” in the title sets the tone of solemnity that is reinforced with religious attributes such as ringing bells, candles, flowers and prayers. The tone is marked by people wailing and buying their fallen soldiers at the hands of a gruesome battlefield. There is a cynic tone in the piece because the speaker he suggests the religious gestures performed as funeral rites are “mockeries” because they do little to make amends of what is happening in the battlefield.
The choice of words by Owen reflects realism e.g. the use of orisons, which is a prayer for healing, brings an ancient feel as well as irony because he consider those payers irrelevant and in real sense they are supposed to bring healing. The mood of the poem is also romantic because “pity increases the tenderness of a girl in love” (Brophy 22).
There are two settings in the sonnet that characterize the tone. The first setting is a battlefield that is horrific where men kill each other in cold blood. The war give rise to a melancholic mood where people mourn their loved ones. The civilian homes is the second setting where despite the mourning, it is peaceful and calm.