Compare the poems "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and "The Send-Off" by Wilfred Owen.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The life of the poet Wilfred Owen is as heart breaking as the war poetry he wrote.  After suffering from shell shock in World War I, Owen stayed in a hospital where he wrote many of his poems.  Eventually, Owen returned to the fighting and was killed in battle one week before the war was over. His poetry eloquently spoke of the young men that he met in war and the tragedy of losing their lives in battle.

The poem Anthem for Doomed Youth” was written during the time that Owen was in the hospital recuperating in 1917. This poem is written in sonnet form.   It clearly is an elegy or lament for the dead.  He writes for the young men who were doomed to die on the battle field.

The title of the poem sets the tone. The anthem is a song of praise or a sacred song. Owen felt that those who fight on behalf of their country deserve a hymn because many of them are doomed to die on the battlefield just as the poet did in 1918.

The tone of the poem in the beginning is bitter, then remorseful and somber. The noise of the trench warfare and the clamorous battle contrasts with the religious images symbolizing the subdued atmosphere of the sanctuary of the church. The bells, the prayers, and choirs represent the sanctity life. The last line when the dead return home it is comparable to the drawing of the blinds on his life.

The octet provides a succession of war sounds—the weapons of destruction: guns, rifles, and shells. The poet mourns the lack of prayer and ceremony for the soldiers who die like cattle. In line eight, the scene switches from the fighting front to the villages where the ones left behind grieve.

"The Send-Off" describes the soldiers waiting to board the train that will take them to an unspecified place.  The poet implies a pessimistic view of the young soldiers returning form the battle.  Traveling to unknown roads denotes the fear that these soldiers feel but are unwilling to admit. 

Many soldiers may return, but not as they once were.  Many will not return at all.  They are the ones whose chests stick out with pride.

Knowing the consequences of what may happen when they arrive at the trenches.  In line three, the poem indicates that the young men are happy yet grim. Soldiers put on their warlike faces to hide their fear; therefore, the fear will not be seen by the loved ones who waiting with them.  

War is often portrayed as honorable and magnificent for the soldiers.  Owen wants the readers to know that the midst of the battle it is actually gory and violent.  

Referring again to the sounds of war, he describes the return of those who survive. These men will creep back to little recognition: few bells and drums.

A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads

 In both poems, the poet acknowledges the fate of the young men who go to war.  There are too many that die.  The word “doomed” applies to both poems.  The ones who are in the trenches and the ones waiting for the train recognize that many of them will die.  Do those who send them to war cry for those who die?


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