In the poems "Soldier", and "Anthem for Doomed Youth", what are the tensions that lie between the dream of battle and reality?

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coachingcorner's profile pic

coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In the poem "Anthem for Doomed Youth" by Wilfred Owen, the poet asks "what passing bells for these that die as cattle" will ring, but more particularly, will ring in churches. All the way through the poem he brings the similes and metaphors home to either religious or abbatoir-like environments. In this, we see a light but nonetheless strong criticism of the establishment, more particularly the church. Doubtless, Rupert Brooke was present a many a school chapel/cathedral where bishops preached about the glory of giving up one's life as a sacrifice for stopping a perceived evil from abroad. He was gullible due to his lack of real-worl experience, whereas Owen was closer to the horrible bloody truth. His choirboys,orizons,bells and music act as a sad indictment of those who glorify war from the pulpit - the sacrifice wasn't worth it.

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I'll assume you're asking about Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier" compared to Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth."  It is easy to see "The Soldier" as representing the dream of war, and "Anthem" as representing the reality of war.

Brooke wrote his poem before he ever saw any actual action in the war.  In fact he died of infection before he saw action.  His poem reflects the view of many before WWI that fighting for England was a noble cause, and worth dying for.  If he should die, the speaker writes, "some corner of a foreign field" will be forever England, and the earth there will be a "richer dust."  The dust will be richer because it (his body turned to dust) will have previously lived in England.  His fallen heart will be shed of evil, will be a part of the "eternal mind."   

Brooke's poem is exaggeratedly nationalistic, naive, and idealistic.  The speaker sees glory in dying for his country.  As he prepares to leave for battle, he is taking part in a noble cause.

Owen's poem, in contrast, reveals the reality of war:  what war is really like.  There's nothing noble about war in Owen's poem.  No beautiful sounding church bells will ring for these soldiers who die like cattle.  The only sound they hear when they die is the "monstrous anger of the guns."  The "rifles' rapid rattle" drowns out their hasty prayers.  The only choirs these boys hear are "shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells." 

In "Anthem," what's left when soldiers die is not some noble, English heart that enriches a foreign countryside, but eyes that shine goodbyes as they die, and pale women that wait for them each night as the sun sets, hoping to see their men walking home on the horizon. 

Brooke shows the dream, or illusion, of war, while Owen shows the reality.

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j12345678910 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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The poets portray the feelings about war in a plurality of ways in the poems “The Soldier” and “The Anthem of Doomed Youth”, both poets employ the use of linguistic techniques, structure and reoccurring motifs and themes to convey that families grieved and suffered because of death in war and how they came to terms with it. Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke differ in many ways with what they feels about war: Owen thinks it is a melancholy and terrible place although Brooke thought it was wonderful and honourable to fight in the war for England, Though he never fought himself but died on the way the Battle of Gallipoli.

‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, a wartime Sonnet by Wilfred Owen The poem uses many techniques to convey its meaning. By our understanding of the use of these techniques, the poem becomes easier to understand and at the same time, more is revealed to us. Wilfred Owen was a soldier during WW1 and therefore gives us a firsthand experience of war. He was against war and was appalled by the effects of war on people and their families.                                      .     
By using a sonnet for the structure of his poem, Wilfred Owen introduces a touch of irony. The conventional function for a sonnet is love, but this poem has a sort of anti-love, or rather, a love that turns bad. The young male population have so much patriotic love, and are so eager to serve, but this love turns sour. They spend time rotting in the wastes of the trenches, only to be mown down in the blink of an eye by a machine-gun. Not only are their lives wasted, gone without the holy rite of a funeral, but the lives of their loved ones at home are also ruined.

The technique of comparison is used a lot in this poem. Owen explores the monstrosity of war in various examples of comparison. The boys 'die as cattle, ' this conveys the idea that the young men going to war is the same as cattle going to a slaughter house to be killed - with no real purpose but to be mindlessly massacred. Through personification, the guns responsible for taking so much human life are made out to be monstrous, even evil. The poem also links their deaths to a funeral between ones held by the church and ones on the battle field, but one where the bells are shots from machine guns, and the mourning choirs are the army's bugles.  The drawing down of the blinds, the traditional sign to show that the family is in mourning, has been compared to the drawing of a sheet to cover the dead. 

Through various literary techniques, Wilfred Owen enhances the meaning of the poem. The title itself has significant use of assonance, 'Doomed Youth.' The sound is intended to be drawn out, long and melancholy, as melancholy as the subject of war itself. Onomatopoeia is used to make the sounds real: as if we were really there. We hear the 'stuttering rifles' and the 'patter out their hasty orisons.' Repetition and alliteration have also been used to make the poem reflect the ordeal that the soldiers had to face: monotonous boredom in the terrible conditions, then their death, inevitable from the start, will come.

The poet structures the poem in a fascinating way. The poem is split into two parts, one part contains eight lines and the second part contains six lines. In the octet a question is asked in the first line and answered in the remaining seven lines. The poet also uses the same techniquthe sestet from the octet by a question. “

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