The use of language techniques in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’

May 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

Anthem for Doomed Youth is a poem written by Wilfred Owen. Anthem is written as a piece of mourning about the soldiers lost in WWI, this being especially ironic as Wilfred Owen himself died in World War I, two weeks before the Armistice. Anthem was written in 1917, when Owen was healing in a Scottish hospital after sustaining an injury during battle. Owen was interested in exploring the idea of why the war was occurring in the first place.

Similar to the style of Dulce et Decorum Est, Anthem for Doomed Youth explores the darker side of war, and it represents the massacre of thousands of young men. The very title of the poem describes what the poem is about, a song for young men destined to die in the war. Owen used his personal memories and experiences to illustrate the slaughter of the men, saying that “these who die as cattle,” this comparison directly compares men to cattle which are often reared to slaughter, the same as these men. Owen also talks of the rifles pattering “out their hasty orisons,” which illustrates that the prayers for the deaths 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 words switch from describing the horrors of war to normal funereal processes that occurred at the time.

Owen then goes on to state that there are “no prayers nor bells” for the dead, prayers and bells are examples of common funereal practices at that time, further linking to my earlier observation, also the fact that earlier Owen said the guns pattered out the “orisons” here he further establishes that there 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 the observation as choirs are used in churches, where most funerals involve, and that on the battlefield there are too many dead thus meaning that no one is mourning but for the “wailing shells.” This is also ominous as shells means artillery shells, which terrified every soldier as they came from nowhere and made a lot of noise while raining down death.

The last line of the stanza describes the “bugles calling them for them from sad shires,” this being especially powerful, as bugles have two main uses. The musical instrument is used in war band to assist troops with marching and as a call to arms when launching attacks but there is another use for the instrument, it is used to play The Last Post at military funerals. This contrast between the battlefield buglers and the lone bugler at the funerals suggests that as the men die, the bugle calls are what they will hear, whereas the family missing them “from sad shires,” will also hear bugles, but at funerals they hold at home for their dead family members.

The second stanza also begins with the relation between the massacre of young men, called “boys” in the poem to further illustrate the youth of soldiers in the war, and regular funerals back home. Candles are symbols of hope, light and holiness in life, Owen suggests that these candles will not be help by innocent boys, but reflected in their eyes, the “doomed youth.” The next line describes the “pallor of girls” brows shall be their pall” to illustrate that the paleness of girls mourning them back at home shall be their funeral shroud. Owen also opines that the flowers that are normally placed at the graveside will instead be the agony of their families back at home. The final line in the play is especially powerful as a family mourning a loss would traditionally include drawing your blinds as a respect to the dead, but as these soldiers lay dead on the slaughter fields, only the natural fading of the light will be present.

Anthem for Doomed Youth uses a peculiar form, as the poem is written in sonnet form. Sonnets are usually used to symbolize romance and love, whereas this poem describes the horrors of war, and war’s effect on the families of soldiers and their funeral procedures. The first lines of each stanza are like each other, they both begin with “What” and end with a question, then the question is answered in the next line. The same can be said of the final line of each stanza, as they too are like each other. The first stanza ends with alliteration and an example of an event that happens back at home with the families, in the first stanza this is the bugles performing the Last Post, and it also contains alliteration of “sad shires.” The use of repetition symbolizes the repetitive nature of war and World War I in particular, sending waves of young men to their death. The final line of the second stanza contains the process of drawing down of blinds symbolizing the tradition of darkness and solitude as a mourning gesture.

Anthem for Doomed Youth contains many literary terms and evidence of complex language. In the first line, Owen compares men to cattle in the simile “who die as cattle.” In context, Owen saw the death of soldiers, similar to the slaughtering of cattle, in person. In the second line, Owen uses personification to personify the “monstrous anger of the guns,” this is also a metaphor which illustrates the ruthlessness of the guns that the soldiers had to face. These tools are useful to aid the imagery of the reader and to animate inanimate objects.

In the third line Owen mentions the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” which, as he uses alliteration, onomatopoeia and personification clearly conveys the sounds that the soldiers heard as they were dying and gives the reader a chilled effect as it is powerful imagery. Owen later uses onomatopoeia again in the “wailing shells” and sibilance in “sad shires.” In the second stanza, Owen uses alliteration to describe the “the holy glimmer of goodbyes,” this further conveys the fact that the soldiers are dying by the masses. As mentioned before, Owen uses alliteration with the “dusk a drawing-down” to finish the piece, which was especially memorable as the light was fading from the lives of the soldiers, as was the poem.

In the third line Owen mentions the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” which, as he uses alliteration, onomatopoeia and personification clearly conveys the sounds that the soldiers heard as they were dying and gives the reader a chilled effect as it is powerful imagery. Owen later uses onomatopoeia again in the “wailing shells” and sibilance in “sad shires.” In the second stanza, Owen uses alliteration to describe the “the holy glimmer of goodbyes,” this further conveys the fact that the soldiers are dying by the masses. As mentioned before, Owen uses alliteration with the “dusk a drawing-down” to finish the piece, which was especially memorable as the light was fading from the lives of the soldiers, as was the poem.

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