Commentary on Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owens

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The sonnet “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen explores the horrific and tragic conditions of the deaths of World War I soldiers on the Western front. By contrasting the soldiers’ deaths with the customary Christian funeral ceremonies, Owen comments on the dark irony that the young men who gave their lives to serve “God and their country” were denied the respectful yet superficial rituals that the religious society value so much.    

The title of the poem well expresses the sentiments Owen conveys throughout the sonnet. The use of the term “anthem”, which is usually refers to a joyous and often religious song of praise,  is in this case referring to the widely held view that fighting for one’s country is joyous and honorable. This anthem, however, is for “Doomed Youth”, and there is a dark irony that this widely held sense of pride and nationalism about war actually results in futility and death. Owen chooses to describe the young soldiers as “doomed” because they are destined for death as soon as they enter the army, because of the futility of the strategies used in this war. The soldiers are also referred to as “youth” to emphasize their innocence and create the image of healthy, fit young men dying for nothing, which arouses pity in the reader.

The first stanza is an octave that describes the horrifically violent conditions of these young soldiers’ deaths by contrasting and juxtaposing auditory imagery of the battlefield as the soldiers die with descriptions of customary funeral ceremonies.  The first line is a rhetorical question, which forces the reader to truly ponder all that the soldiers lack in terms of acknowledgment and ceremonies of death, and this encouragement to think is further enhanced by the hyphen in the beginning of the second line, which forces the reader to pause.

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Owen emphasizes the shocking nature of the soldiers’ world, the war, by saying that the soldiers “die as cattle”, which conveys the manner in which these young men are slaughtered inhumanely as if they are worthless and are treated as if they have no identity. Instead of “passing-bells”, which is society’s way of acknowledging a death, these soldiers receive the “only the monstrous anger of the guns”, which indicates that their death goes unnoticed as if they were just cattle.

Furthermore, Owen comments on all the rituals and customs that the soldiers fail to receive. The personification of the ...

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