Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth
and Siegfried Sassoon’s Attack
Explore the ways in which Sassoon’s and Owen’s words convey powerful feelings about the First World War in these two poems.
Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon are seen as the two greatest British First World War poets. ‘Attack’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ attempt to dissuade young men to go to war and to stop them from ‘dying as cattle’ on the front. These views were not conventional. The British Government and the people on the Home Front were urging people to go to war and said it was ‘a noble thing to die for your country. In these poems and many of their other poems Owen and Sassoon redefine war, from being a noble thing to die for you country to the poets mocking the war and describing the brutal reality of trenches and the Western Front. Therefore it is a very controversial poem. Sassoon used his powerful poetic voice to shock Britons and warmongers. His poems savaged the smug cruelty of the generals who sacrificed hundreds of lives of innocent soldiers and told people about the reality of the Great War. Owen had the same views on the war but his work had not yet been published but when he met Sassoon at Craig Lockhart Hospital during the war Sassoon noticed his talent as a poet and it was there that Owen was most inspired writing poems such as ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’.
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is a fine example of a poem which attacks the glory of war. It starts with a rhetorical question- ‘What passing bells for those who die as cattle?’ He is asking how can you possibly recognise slaughter on such a scale. He uses the word ‘cattle’ because the soldiers are like cattle and die without funerals and in their masses. He uses this simile to emphasise that people are sending out their young lads to war as they would send a herd of cattle to a slaughter-house. The question is aimed at the ignorant civilians and the complacent generals. He goes on to answer his question, what prayers to the soldiers get?, with ‘Only the monstrous anger of the guns.| Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle | Can patter out their hasty orisons.’ He uses personification in line 2 by describing the guns as angry which brings out his anger for the brutality that the men are facing from the guns.