Poets And Poetry

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen Poem Analysis



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As an aid to understanding fatalism in anthem for doomed youth by English World War One poet Wilfred Owen, the poem's title gives a great clue. It is also paradoxical. The word 'doomed' suggests the poems conclusion is a foregone conclusion right from the start, rather like the fate of the boy soldiers themselves. The word implies that the futures of the boys have been pre-ordained by others and that those 'others' must therefore be in a position of power.


Owen then goes on to hint at the fate that lies in store for the young soldiers in the first line of the sonnet. He uses the imagery of the abattoir in contrasting the flower of England's youth with that of cattle about to die.


On continuing to read the poem further, readers will guess that the sort of cattle Owen has in mind are not wild cattle grazing open land until they drop from old age or a natural illness, but domesticated animals - whose only 'raison d'etre' is for slaughter to provide meat for more powerful beings to enjoy.


A sad note indeed - and so it is with the boy soldiers, Owen seems to say. For the excited youthful innocence of a teenager who thinks he is entering a glorious and well-planned battle for the protection of his home country and loved ones will be used and sacrificed without the lad having any say in the matter.


The paradox in the title now becomes apparent as, although the tone of the poem is anything but rousing, Owen gives the piece the title of 'Anthem.' The use of this word is bittersweet and ironic, as an anthem usually celebrates all that is great, laudable and glorious about a country in terms of its patriotism and love of homeland.


Yet the tone of this poem is not encouraging and motivational - rather it has an air of fatalism and despondency about it, seeming to acquire a more and more grieving atmosphere as it progresses, as slowly as a hearse, towards an end bedecked with funereal images such as 'bugles' or 'candles' or 'pall'.


Responsibility for the guaranteed sacrifice of so many young lives is not pointed out with as sharp a finger in this poem by Owen as it is in others. Instead, 'others' with the power of sentencing docile trusting youth to be sacrificed on an altar of land issues are merely alluded to.


Wartime was a highly volatile period in which to risk such concepts as Fate or Cause. These ideas might have become confused (either deliberately or accidentally) with unpatriotic publicity, morale-bashing - or even worse from the government's point of view - dangerous defeatism, white-feathered cowardice or conscientious objection.


Owen, after all, was in a tricky position. While writing his poems, he was still likely to have men and boys under his command and relying upon him. He was part of the very system (the British establishment) about which he was beginning to have serious doubts. Indeed he himself, along with Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon, had left a privileged green and pleasant land with high hopes of protecting its honour and loved ones in a spirit of 'Dulce and Decorum est Pro Patria Mori.' Much of the imagery of the rural idyll of England's calm, leafy provinces is used throughout the poem.

'...sad shires... each dusk a drawing down of blinds.'

A fatalistic and sombre air is also created by the listing of some potential tributes the boy soldiers were never going to have. With each item the reader becomes more resigned to the fact that there will be more errors of omission, more needless deaths. Rather than hasty orizons, prayers, bells, choirs or candles - all the boys will have to have the ugly, monstrous, shrill or demented battle sounds as tributes instead - the word patter implying hypocrisy and superficiality.


The poem ends with a reinforcement of the relentless inevitability of the passing of Time in hours and seasons. Fate cannot be changed in the sense of the rhythm of the galaxies and planets and moons. Every day the sun will rise and fall and each new evening will bring a dusk for those who have lost loved ones...


'...each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds' brings neither news nor return. Yet unlike Time, this could be changed with the right sense of Will. The final fatalistic thought that the reader is left with, is that no one will. It would seem that, in Owen's mind, 'the powers that be' have no intention of changing anything and the relentless evening ritual of shutting the blinds every dusk reinforces the fatalistic conclusions of the poet as the poem ends.


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