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In Wilfred Owens's "Anthem for Doomed Youth," the poet employs sound imagery in the first stanza and visual imagery in the second.
With its indirect appeal to the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, or even internal sensations such as hunger, thirst, fatigue, or nausea, or movement and tension in the joints and muscles, imagery is a powerful poetic tool that recreates sensations for listeners/readers of verse by means of tapping into the imagination. Thus, the idea of a poem is only part of the total experience that it communicates. It is the total experience of the poem wherein the value of the verse lies, and imagery greatly contributes to this experience.
In Wilfred Owens's poem, imagery plays a very large role. This poem is a Petrarchan sonnet composed of an octave and a sestet that use different imagery. The octave differs greatly in tone from the sestet as it is somewhat satiric and bitter; further, its sound imagery imitates the sounds of war, sounds that are identical to that which killed the poor soldiers, who must tragically be buried at the battle site.
Here is the sound imagery:
- Only guns (cannons) will sound in their "monstrous anger" (these huge guns were supposedly heard all across Britain) against the death of the soldiers
- The "stuttering rifles' rapid rattle" is the only prayer for these dead soldiers / "Can stutter out their hasty orisons (prayers)."
- "No...bells ring for the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives."
- Only "the shrill ...choirs of wailing shells"
- And "bugles" calling for them
In the sestet, however, the tone changes as it becomes more reverent toward the ultimate sacrifice that the doughboys made.
Religious and visual imagery is used.
- "What candles may be held to speed them all?"
- "Shall shine the holy glimmers
- "The pallor of girls' brows....
- "And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds." (closing of the light--families who had sons die in WWI closed their blinds as symbolic of their loss)
With this tragic last image of prolonged, tragic mourning, Owen ends his poem that seems transposed from satire to elegy.
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