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Wilfred Owen

Anthem for
Doomed Youth

More challenging questions!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 20 January 2014
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Owen is a renowned anti-war poet. All his poems are set in the trenches of the Great War (1st World War) and each aims to show through the use of shock images how grotesque and inhuman warfare really is.

Owen himself fought in the trenches but, ironically, was killed just one week before the end of the war in 1918.


Line 1:
"those who die as cattle" -- a simile showing how the soldiers are no more important than cattle which are lead to the slaughter without feeling.

Line 2:
"monstrous anger" -- the poet portrays clearly his anger at war.

Line 3:
"stuttering rifles rapid rattle":
"stuttering" = personification and onomatopoeia;
"rifles rapid rattle" = alliteration and onomatopoeia.
All of this portrays the sound and feeling of the guns firing in quick succession.

Line 4:
"patter" -- onomatopoeia illustrating the dull sound of bullets hitting the earth walls of the trenches, comparing it to the dull muttering of prayers.

Line 7:
"shrill, demented choirs" -- the expression of the futility of warfare, that it is something quite insane but also something that drives soldiers mad.

Line 11:
"holy glimmers of goodbyes" -- the dull gleam of light reflected in dead eyes, compared to candles held by altar boys.

Line 14:
"each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds" -- a double metaphor here:
dusk draws the curtains on a passing day;
death draws the curtains on life.

The vehicle for this poem is the sustained or extended metaphor of a funeral where the poet looks at the trappings of a typical funeral in a church and compares it with what would happen to a soldier killed in battle:
church bells = the noise of gun-fire
prayers = rapid rifle fire
choirs = the wailing of shells, plus the bugle calls
candles held by altar boys = the light of the sky reflected in the unclosed dead eyes of the soldiers
pall covering the body = pale colour in the faces of the bereaved women back home
flowers = kind thoughts of those back home

Notice too the numerous references to the madness and futility of war:
"die as cattle";
"monstrous anger";
"stuttering rifles rapid rattle";
"shrill demented choirs".

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

The title of this poem -- ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH -- is ironic.
  • Discuss how the poet uses this irony to sum up his philosophy as presented in this poem. (3)

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"What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?"
  • How effective is this opening question as a statement of the poet's philosophy towards warfare? (3)

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How does the ARGUMENT of the Octave differ from that of the Sestet? Or is this a trick question? (4)

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What type of sonnet is this? Justify your answer. (4)

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What would be the BEST word to describe the tone of the poem? Justify your answer. (4)

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Is the final line a fitting conclusion to the sonnet? Justify you answer. (4)

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What is the poet's attitude towards war? Discuss with reference to the words and images used in this sonnet. (6)

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