Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” asks what burial rites will be offered for the soldiers who die on the battlefields of World War I (1914-1918) and argues that, in place of a normal funeral, these men “who die as cattle” will receive, initially, a parody of funeral rites, enacted by the noise of guns, rifles, and “wailing shells,” and later the more authentic rites of mourning supplied by the enduring grief of family and friends at home. The poem thus begins in a mood of bitterness and irony, but as the focus shifts from the battlefield to the home front, from the immediate setting of mechanized warfare to the distant calm of civilian life, the mood shifts toward poignant sadness and regret.
The poem, a Petrarchian sonnet—an octave followed by a sestet—draws a sharp, satiric contrast between the peaceful sounds associated with the formal Anglo-Catholic burial rite and the “monstrous” and “demented” noises of modern warfare. The “anger” of the guns (the big guns used on the western front were so deafening they could frequently be heard and even felt in England) is the only “passing-bell” for these dead soldiers, the rapid fire of rifles the only “orisons” (prayers), the wail of shells the only choir music. The octave’s last line, however, mentions another “voice of mourning”: the bugles that call to them from “sad shires,” from the towns and villages of the English countryside.
(The entire section is 431 words.)