Anthem for Doomed Youth

by Wilfred Owen

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Discussion Topic

The antecedent for "these" in line 1 of "Anthem for Doomed Youth."

Summary:

The antecedent for "these" in line 1 of "Anthem for Doomed Youth" refers to the soldiers who die in war. The poem laments their deaths and the lack of proper funerals for them, highlighting the impersonal and mechanical nature of their demise on the battlefield.

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In "Anthem for Doomed Youth," by Wilfred Owen, what is the antecedent for "these" in line 1?

In Wilfred Owen's poem, "Anthem for Doomed Youth," the antecedent for "these" does refer to the dying soldiers. However, it seems that the poem's title provides us with the best answer based on the choices given.

First, "antecedent" means "one that precedes another." Grammatically, an antecedent is a word that comes before another related word—one that reflects back to the first word. For example, it may be a pronoun that is used in place of someone's name. An antecedent is:

a word, phrase, or clause, usually a substantive, that is replaced by a pronoun or other substitute later, oroccasionally earlier, in the same or in another, usually subsequent, sentence.

(I agree, also, with your very eloquent concern regarding how poetry appreciation and understanding should be approached with "freedom," especially in that poetry speaks differently to different people. An essay would be a better assessment tool, but harder for a teacher to grade...)

In any case, looking at the choices given, "these" cannot refer to "guns," as they do not die. "Orisons" are prayers, and while they might "die" figuratively on someone's lips, bells would not toll for the passing of prayers.

"Brows" probably does not need an explanation: I would consider this the throw-away question that could be deleted immediately. (Usually multiple choice answers in a block have one of these.) "Shires" are counties in England. The shires are not dying in the war.

The biggest difficulty with both "orisons" and "shires" is that some students may not know what these words mean. The unfamiliar word becomes a stumbling block in choosing the correct answer.

"Doomed," however, refers to the young men (youth) that are dying. In this case "doomed" is not an adjective, but a noun. "The" is not in front of the word to show that it is a noun, but it is the youth who are doomed, and if "these" refers to "dying soldiers," consequently it refers specifically to those who are "doomed," dying on the battlefields and in the trenches of World War I. "These" refers back to "the doomed youth," or simply, "doomed."

Additional Source:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/antecedent

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What is the antecedent for "these" in line 1 of "Anthem for Doomed Youth"?

Strictly, an antecedent is defined as the word, phrase, or clause that determines what a pronoun refers to. Applying this definition to your question, it is clear that "these," and other words that are repeated throughout the poem such as "their" and "them," refer not to any of the options you have listed above, but to the soldiers who are dying "as cattle," as the first line describes it. Owen emphasises the ignomonious fate of the soldiers by never mentioning their identity. We are only left with the image in our minds of their mindless and senseless death as they proceed forth and are killed as if they were "cattle." The lack of reference to the soldiers themselves means that we need to piece together what "these" refers to as it is never uttered in the poem.

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