Anthem for Doomed Youth

by Wilfred Owen

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Literary devices in "Anthem for Doomed Youth" by Wilfred Owen


Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth" utilizes various literary devices, including imagery, alliteration, and personification. The poem vividly contrasts the sounds of war with traditional funeral rites, using imagery to evoke the battlefield's harshness. Alliteration emphasizes the brutality of war, while personification gives human qualities to weapons, highlighting the dehumanizing effects of conflict.

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What imagery is used in "Anthem for Doomed Youth" by Wilfred Owen?

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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What figures of speech are used in Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth"?

There are lots of figures of speech in the second stanza of "Anthem for Doomed Youth," most of which draw on a motif of light and darkness. For example, in the opening line, "What candles may be held to speed them all?", the "candles" are symbolic of remembrance. The rhetorical question implies that these soldiers will not be remembered adequately for their sacrifices.

In the next line, the speaker says that "in their eyes / Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes." The light in the eyes of the soldiers here might be symbolic of the hope with which they set out for war. The fact that the light only "glimmers" suggests that it is a weak, faint hope. The adjective "holy" to describe the "glimmers" of light alludes to the purity and innocence of the boys setting out for war.

In the following line, the speaker says that "the pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall." A pall is a piece of cloth draped over a coffin at a funeral. The metaphor describing the "pallor of girls' brows" as the soldiers' pall implies the deaths of the soldiers will be marked by the sickness of the girls they leave behind.

The concluding line of the poem, "And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds," uses symbolism and imagery to emphasize the number of deaths consequent of war. The dusk is a time of the day when light is fading to be replaced by darkness. Dusk is thus usually symbolic of death or dying. This image of darkness is then compounded by the image of the "drawing-down of blinds." The impression of darkness alludes to the lives of the soldiers being extinguished. And these deaths are as inevitable as is the setting of the sun.

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What figures of speech are used in Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth"?

Some of the figures of speech employed by this poem include simile, personification, and alliteration. In the first line, the speaker asks, "What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?" He compares the young men who die in war to cattle, via simile, in order to emphasize the way they seem to be slaughtered, thoughtlessly, and by the thousands. A simile is a comparison of two unalike things using the word like or as.

In the next few lines, the guns are personified as feeling a "monstrous anger" and the rifles are "stuttering" while they "patter out their hasty orisons"; orisons are prayers, and so these lines personify the rifles by stating that they can pray. Personification is when something nonhuman is granted human characteristics. Later in this stanza, the "wailing shells" are personified as "choirs" that possess a "voice of mourning."

Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant sound in words, and it is often used to mimic or enhance the words' actual meaning. In the third line, the phrase "rifles' rapid rattle" is an example of alliteration. We can read the repeated "r" sound as echoing the sound guns make when fired over and over.

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