Anthem for Doomed Youth Summary
"Anthem for Doomed Youth" is one of the best-known of Wilfred Owen's World War I poems. It was written largely while he was convalescing at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, where he met fellow war poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon had enormous influence upon Owen's work, causing it to become increasingly incisive and critical, whereas his earlier poetry had slightly romanticized the plight of soldiers.
The poem describes the fate of English soldiers who died in World War I: on the European continent, far from their homes, and in such great numbers that the remains of many were never returned. Instead, they were buried there, away from their families and without individual and personal funeral services.
The speaker begins by questioning what trappings of the typical funeral these soldiers will get. Will there be church bells ringing for them? No, only the sound of the rifles firing over and over. There are no prayers said over them either; they simply "die as cattle," so numerously and so quickly are they slaughtered. No choirs will sing for them: the only "choirs" they get are the wailing sounds the mortar shells make as they drop. Back at home, in the "sad shires" of England, bugles may call for them, but that is it.
The speaker asks what candles will be held for these soldiers, what funeral services they will receive at home. The answer is none; instead, the young boys left at home will cry, their eyes shining like candles over their lost fathers and older brothers. Likewise, the soldiers will have no palls, because there will be no funerals; instead, the paleness and sorrow on the faces of the girls left behind will serve as their shrouds. Perhaps these girls mourn their brothers, fathers, and boyfriends—those who have gone off to fight and may never return. Finally, there will be no flowers, but only the tenderness offered by the patient minds of those who, full of hope, await the soldiers' return, though that day may never come.
At day's end, each family lowers the blinds on their home, giving up the idea that their loved one will return today, and they will continue to do this, day after day, hoping again and again for a homecoming that may only be a dream.