Anthem for Doomed Youth

by Wilfred Owen

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What is Wilfred Owen's attitude towards war in 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' and how is it conveyed?

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Wilfred Owen's attitude towards war in "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is deeply anti-war, portraying it as dehumanizing and a tragic waste of young life. This is conveyed through metaphors comparing soldiers to cattle and the sounds of battle to a grotesque church service, emphasizing the senselessness and horror of their deaths, and the profound sorrow of those left behind.

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Owen's aggressively anti-war poem uses the metaphor of a church service to frame the horrific scene of men dying, most likely in France, during World War I.

Instead of the sound of church bells summoning the faithful to church, the "passing bells" in the poem are the sounds of artillery...

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fire, and these guns are killing the soldiers as if they are cattle.  During a church service, the orisons are prayers, but to Owen, the orisons consist of the "rapid rattle" of rifle fire.

In the world of battle, normal aspects of a religious service--prayers, bells, choirs--become mockeries, the "demented choirs of wailing shells."  Wilfred's use of the "bugles" has a much more sinister meaning than one would normally associate with a bugle call.  In this case, the bugles come from the soldiers' funeral services held in the "sad shires" in which they lived, and the dead are so numerous, their are simply not enough candles to light the number of funeral services.

The last few lines complete this sorry scene: the farewells to the fallen soldiers are reflected not by the candles but by the eyes; the covering usually on the casket is replaced by the blankness on the faces of the soldier's girl friends and lovers; and the flowers are replaced by the tender thoughts of those left behind.  The last line is especially sad because it describes the actions each night of those left behind--they draw the blinds down to shield the rest of the world from their sorrow at having lost a son, a brother, a father, a husband.

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Discuss how Wilfred Owen's perspective on the horrors of war is conveyed in his poem "Anthem for Doomed Youth."

In "Anthem for Doomed Youth," Owen presents war as horrifying because it is dehumanizing and because it is a tragic waste of young life.

In the opening line, the speaker asks, "What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?" The soldiers here are compared to cattle, implying that they die like animals. The comparison also implies that the deaths of the soldiers occur on a mass scale, just as animals die on a mass scale in abattoirs. In times of war, we accept the deaths of men just as much as we accept the deaths of livestock in times of peace.

The opening line also refers to "passing-bells," which are bells rung during funerals to signal the passing of a soul from its body. In the next line the speaker acknowledges that "Only the monstrous anger of the guns" marks the departing souls of these soldiers on the battlefields. In other words, these soldiers, who give their lives for their countries, are not afforded deaths befitting men but are instead sent to be slaughtered like animals.

The horror of life being wasted is conveyed throughout the poem. For example, the speaker uses words like "demented" and "monstrous" to describe the war, implying that the soldiers' deaths are not for any greater, noble cause but are rather for something that is "monstrous" and "demented." The soldiers are also referred to as "boys," suggesting that these soldiers are merely children. They have most of their lives still ahead of them, emphasizing the tragic, horrifying waste of life during the war.

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How can the theme of Wilfred Owen's poem "Anthem for Doomed Youth" be explicated?

The theme of Owen's sonnet presents the bitter irony of the terrible costs and brutal realities of warfare in contrast to the incapability of England's rituals to honor the fallen soldiers and alleviate the terrible suffering in warfare.

In his poem "Anthem for Doomed Youth," Wilfred Owen creates a formal poem which eulogizes the fallen soldiers who have no funeral ceremony given them. It is his sonnet that acts as an anthem, or sacred hymn composed to honor the soldiers who have fallen in the lonely fields. All that can be heard are the "wailing shells" and the "demented choirs of wailing shires."

In this sonnet, Owen expresses his poignant emotion for the soldiers who have lain down their lives in what seems a senselessly cruel war:

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,--
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells....

In this octave, Owen represents as "mockeries" the burial rites of the Church that do not include these fallen soldiers. For, there are no church bells nor any prayers--only the "demented choirs of wailing shells" and the sounds of the call to battle: the "stuttering" of rifles in rapid fire.

Having once planned to be a clergyman, Owen represents in the sestet the burial rites of the established Church as “mockeries” and imagines instead a private, nonconformist ritual of the "heart and patient minds." 

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