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Anthem for Doomed Youth
MS DARWICH 12B2
Glossary of Terms
Anthem-A song of praise, usually of a religious or some other ritual; a celebration.
Attrition- Wearing down. A war of attrition is on ein which is the main tactic is to try to kill off as many of the enemy as you can while they try to kill off as possible on your side.
Orisons- prayers, here funeral prayers
Bugles-sounding of last post played at military funerals
Drawing down of blinds- a room where the dead lie-a mark of respect for the dead
Cacophony- A mixture of harsh sounds that do not blend.
Fatuous- Foolish, but at the same time self-satisfied, unaware of being foolish.
Uncelebrated-Unmarked by any kind of ritual or solemnity (being serious/formal)
Copy these terms with their definitions into your workbook
Context of Poem
Owen contrasts the funeral rites held for those who die at home in peace, as opposed to those abrupt and uncelebrated deaths of those who die on the battlefield.
He believes the elaborate funeral rites of civilian funerals are less sincere than the compassion and farewell soldiers I battle give their fallen comrades.
He calls the prayers, bells and choir of normal funerals “mockeries”.
Felt the church rituals were a matter of form rather than a sincere confrontation with the finality of death.
The poem is a sonnet of fourteen lines, divided into two stanzas, the first 8 (octet)and the second 6 (sestet).
In the eight line stanza, one aspect of an idea is expressed in the first four lines and this is further develops the second four lines.
In the six-line stanza, the first four lines explore a different aspect of the general topic.
Lastly, the final two couplets, give a new twist to the ideas explored.
Line by line analysis
L1. “What passing bells for these who die as cattle?”
The poem opens with a question – asking what sign/signal will be sounded to mark the death, the “passing” of the soldiers. The manner of their deaths is being compared to the mass slaughter of animals.
“passing-bells” – bells tolled to announce a death, to call the people to mourn.
“as cattle” – the deaths are impersonal, mass, in a group. Connotations of slaughter.
Explanation – the poet’s opinion is clear from the outset. He is appalled by the inhumane deaths these young men experience. He feels as if they are nameless and faceless – losing their identities in the chaos of war. They die together – brutally and mechanically. They line up and are helpless in the face of their enemy.
“Only the monstrous anger of the guns”
“only” – what they hear is not enough sufficient as a “passing bell”, considering what they will have suffered.
“monstrous” – connotations of- evil, horror
“anger of the guns” – transferred epithet – the anger of the enemy soldiers is transferred into their weapons, creating a metaphor, personifying the guns that become “angry”.
Explanation – Instead of a bell, calling people to mourn for the lives of these individuals, the sound is one of “monstrous anger”. The anger is misplaced – transferred onto the weapons which spit their hatred at the soldiers. The anger is “monstrous” - unfitting, grotesque and obscene. To be monstrous also suggests that the sound is loud, as if a huge monster is roaring angrily.
Lines 3 and 4.
“Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.”
The anaphora at the beginning of this sentence (starting with "Only the," just like the line before) helps build momentum, and details what the monstrous anger of the guns sounded like.
Alliteration and onomatopoeia used to imitate the sound of the guns – harsh, repetitive. The repeated “t” sound in “stuttering”, “rattle” and “patter” imitate the short, hard sound of the bullets being fired. The repeated “r” sound suggests the rapidity and frequency of the shots.
“patter out” – rapidly speak
“hasty” – rushed, fast
“orisons” – prayers
Explanation - The personified guns are rattling out prayers – but these prayers are not for the good of the soldiers as they die. The noises made, being bullets, lead to their death. So the question from the first line is answered: What bells will be rung for them? The sound of guns, the sound of bullets: – quick, harsh and repetitive. Religious acts are seen to be inadequate here prayers are rapidly spoken – perhaps thoughtlessly. Orisons are described as “hasty” – rushed.
Line 5 – 7
“No mockeries now for them; no prayers or bells:
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs-
The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells:”
“Mockeries” – ceremonies which would be insults to them and what they have sacrificed.
“Prayers”/”bells” – traditional funeral rites.
“No”, “no”, “nor” – repetition emphasises what they do not have.
“”Save – except – he goes on to describe what they do get in place of a funeral
“Shrill” – high pitched – piercing. Connotations - uncomfortable to hear, unpleasant
“Wailing” – in pain, crying, sorrow, lamenting – onomatopoeia. The word “wailing” imitates the sound of the shell as it travels. It is an appropriate description, given the death all around.
Explanation-. In the battlefield, the overall impression would be harsh and discordant, making the listeners wince. This is why the choirs are described as “shrill” and “demented” – it is a mad and horrific cacophony of sound. Just as the bullets pray, the shells grieve in their “wailing”. This develops the idea of the noise of battle from the opening lines. The guns and shells build up together to create for us the atmosphere of the battle – a disorienting mix of sounds that are the tragic reality for the soldiers at the moment of their deaths. Again the inadequacy of religion’s response to this mass death is noted – their prayers and bells that usually suffice are nothing but “mockeries” to these soldiers.
“And bugles calling them from sad shires”
“Bugles” – a bugle is a small valveless trumpet – used to mark times of day in barracks. Would also be sounded at funerals. Would be sounded to call a retreat.
“Sad shires” – a reference to the places the soldiers would have come from. This is the first reference away from the battlefield. The bugles are “calling them” – showing us that although they are dying a nameless, faceless death, some people are waiting and hoping for them.
Explanation – the last sound of battle is the sound here of the bugles being sounded to call the soldiers home. In the Owen’s mind the bugles call the instruction that those at home would call – to get out of the madness of war. The bugles are mixed with the guns and bullets in the confusion of the battle.
“What candles may be held to speed them all?”
Explanation -This is the second question asked and this indicates a shift in the poem’s focus. We now know what “passing-bells” they will have – it will be the sound of the chaos of battle. He now develops the idea of comparing a right and fitting death to a death in war – without ceremony, without traditional rites and without dignity.
“Candles” – people would light candles in churches perhaps to show they were remembering their father/husband/son. At a funeral, the candles would be a sign of the hope of an afterlife, they would be wished well on their way.
“Speed” – to send forth with good wishes – to bring to an end. They would be sending them off.
Owen again, emphasising the pity of war
Again, Owen begins with another rhetorical Q.This time he moves away from the battlefield and sounds of war to the stillness of the home front where men are being mourned by their families
Lines 10 and 11
“Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.”
Explantion – Instead of candles being held to send them on their way into the afterlife, the soldiers simply have the last flicker of light in each other’s eyes before they die. In this image, candles are being compared to small “glimmers” of light in the eyes of the soldiers. They both bear a tiny, but holy light.
Here the contrast of Boys holding candlesAs opposed to the gunsHeld by them on the battlefield
“boys” emphasises their Innocence.
The alliterationReinforces the notion of notHaving enough time to sayTheir goodbyes
“The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall”
“Pallor” – paleness of complexion
“Girls” – these will be the girls they have left at home
“Pall” – the cloth placed over a coffin (sometimes a flag) as it arrives in a church.
Explanantion – The soldiers will not have a sheet/pall/flag placed over their coffin. They may never have a proper burial. They will not be transported home for their own funeral. The pall will be absent from their funeral. The pall would be draped over the coffin before burial. The absent pall is metaphorically replaced with the grief of girls at home. They would hear of the death and be pale. This paleness – representative of the angst of the mourners - would be seen on their brows/foreheads.
“Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds.”
“Flowers” – a tribute to the dead, a mark of respect, a thing of beauty contrasting the uglinessof death.
Explanation - Another metaphor. Again, as in the previous two images, they will not get flowers as you traditionally would at a funeral. In place of floral tributes, they have people thinking about them. The people’s thoughts are respectful and positive in place of flowers.
“And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.”
Alliteration –– “dusk a drawing down” - atmosphere of dull stillness – death and coming to a close.
“blinds” - People draw down the blinds at night as a preparation for sleep.
Also the blinds would have been drawn in a room a dead person had been laid.
Explanation – This is the last of these comparisons – “candles”, “pall”, “flowers” – and the last usual funeral custom is the “drawing down of blinds”. Traditionally the blinds are drawn when someone dies. It is a sign to the world and a mark of respect for them. Instead of blinds being drawn around a dead person, the soldiers lying dead on the battlefield would simply have the day draw to a close. “Dusk” would come naturally, darkening the place where they lay.
Double entendre-the Term “blind”
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out3 their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
Title is seen as ironicgiven that the anthem is a song of praise.
Octet builds up a hellish pictureOf sound and chaos, increasing in Intensity from the restrained butRhetorical question in the first lineThrough the angry comparison betweenThe battlefield and the church reachingA demented crescendo in the 7th lineThen dropping shockingly into the intensePathos of the 8th line.
Simile-just like cattleThe soldiers are herdedOnto the battlefield and killed.Simile takes away from them the Human quality of being loved and Cared for as individuals.
The two words “a cattle” conjured up the Picture of mass slaughter and how Owen feels about it.
Personification- works on two levels.Anger is a human emotion so the gunIs personified, but the “monstrous” suggestSomething abnormal as well as huge.Symbolic of the monstrous inhumaneForces that initiate wars.
Personification-noise of riflesBut also suggests an irritatingPerson unable to put forwardAn understandable argumentWith those they kill.“Shrill” remenicient of the choirs in the Churces, but also suggests the madnessWhile “wailing” suggests hysterical mourning.Parody of the church ritual being unnatural, like “the monstrous anger of the guns”
Cacophany- the harsh sounds of the “bells’;“stuttering rifles”, “wailing shells” symbolise the Churches denial of death
Onomatopoeia-Quick sharp decibels of “the stuttering rifles and “rapid rattle are contrasted with the heavy syllables of “the Monstrous anger of the guns”
“wailing shells” and“shrill demented adds to the ideaOf insanity.
Contrast-hushed solemnity of the church and the screaming madness of the battlefield
the sounds and frantic pace of war.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
The poem reads like a direct invective (insult, a scorn expressed by someone exasperated by war and senseless killing of the young
In the sestet there is no sound of war but a vast funeral service for the dead soldiers.
Three metaphors centre on the poignant suffering of the mourners at home. One compares the holy glimmers in the eyes of boys to candles, and another compares the pallor of the girls' brows to the pall that covers the casket. In the third, the tenderness of patient minds becomes the flowers that adorn the soldiers' graves.
The symbols in the octave suggest cacophony and the visual images in the sestet suggest silence.
Traditional Funeral / Religious Ceremonies
Death on the Battlefield
“Anthem” “Doomed Youth”
Church bells announcing death Gunfire
Prayers for the deceased Rifle fire
Choirs singing hymns “demented choirs of wailing shells”
Candles held by alter boys Light reflected in dead soldiers’ eyes
Velvet cloth to cover coffin The pale, mourning faces of young girls
Flowers Kind, mourning thoughts of loved ones
Drawing down of blinds out of respect and mourning.
Each slow dusk falling on the battlefield
Throughout the poem, Owen draws the comparison of traditional/religious/funeral rituals and ceremonies with the actuality of death for a soldier on the battlefield. The table below gives a brief outline of these comparisons.
The following themes are prominent in the poem
Loss of Identity
Sacrifice of youth
Theme Deconstruction Table
Write a structured paragraph in your workbooks in response to the following question
“How does Owen portray the idea that the soldiers’ lives are devalued and humanity is denied them?”
Write a structured paragraph outlining this concern.
What it means to be human-Characteristics
Underestimate one’s worth
Imaginative script writing
Imagine you are Owen and wake up beside Sassoon during the war. You are to compose a short drama script of what took place next…this should be a page long.
Write your script in your own workbook!
If time prevails, you will have the opportunity to showcase your script through a dramatic role play of your dialogue.