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“Anthem of Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen Analysis

It is difficult to imagine life of humanity without literature. The fact is that literature helps people to express their feelings, emotions, and points of view. Moreover, it can even change minds of people and make them think in a different way. As a rule, people turn to literature when they are very excited or in sorrow. One of the main reasons of people’s writing is their experience concerning some important event in their lives. Different social, political, or cultural issues can be a reason for people to write novels, short stories, poems, or other kinds of literary works in order to express what they feel. Certainly, such an event as a war has always being a reason to express people’s thoughts through literature. One of the most famous anti-war poets of the period of the First World War was Wilfred Owen. His poems were the prime examples of how horrifying the wars can be, which makes him one of the well-known early anti-war poets.

The life of Wilfred Owen cannot be called unusual, but it is very tragic. He was born on 18th of March, 1893. His hometown is Oswestry. He was the eldest child in the family. As for education of the poet, he graduated from Birkenhead Institute and Shrewsbury Technical College (Warpoetry.co.uk). Except of getting education at educational establishments, he was brought up by his family. Thus, his faith in God and knowledge of the Bible was implanted to him by his mother. After finishing his studies, Wilfred Owen moved to France, and worked as a language tutor. However, his calm life was interrupted by the First World War. Although, he was a person of art, he could not remain uninvolved in the events of those times. That is why he returned to England, and decided to go to the front. However, he did not feel what war was: “even when he visited the local hospital with a doctor friend and examined… the nature of the wounds of soldiers… the war still appeared to him as someone else’s story” (Warpoetry.co.uk). However, some time passed, and events, which happened on the front, made him understand the essence of the war – he suffered shell shock, was blown up, and killed a lot of Germans using machine-gun. Unfortunately, the war was not only life of Wilfred Owen, but it also became his death. He was killed in 1918 on the front.

It can sound strange but Wilfred Owen as a person and as a poet were two absolutely different people. The experts of his life and work say that he was very shy and unsociable person: “A woman who sat next to him at a dinner in 1917 recalled that he was so hopelessly tongue-tied that he replied ‘Oh rather’ and ‘I should just think so’ to everything she said” (Preston). Although, Wilfred Owen’s creative work is mainly associated with war poetry, the topics and manner of his writing were different in different times. As all young writers, Owen started his career with love lyrics. However, when the war started, the theme of his poems changed. Certainly, such an event as war could not go unnoticed in life of Wilfred Owen. The thing is that he saw the war from the inside, and it had a great influence on him. That is why war is reflected in all of his poems, and this is the reason for calling Wilfred Owen “the most famous and most praised of First World War poets” (Caesar 115). War became the main topic of Owen’s poems as soon as he understood what the war is. He expressed everything he thought about the war in his poems, and his feelings and emotions showed that he was “raging against armchairs generals but in praise of those who actually fought at the front” (History Learning Site). However, not only the events, which took place in the world at those times, influenced creative work of Wilfred Owen. He also was influenced by another contemporary writer – Siegfried Sassoon. They made acquaintances during the war. Sassoon was already a famous poet, and he was the person, who encouraged Wilfred Owen to develop his poetic talent. The critics say that “reading Sassoon’s poems and discussing his work with Sassoon revolutionized Owen’s style and his conception of poetry” (BBC History).

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As it was mentioned above, war became the major topic of Wilfred Owen’s works. Let us analyze his creative work and the topic of war in it on the example of his poem Anthem for Doomed Youth. The critics emphasize a unique ability of Wilfred Owen to combine two main things while writing the poems – “if he was making propaganda against war in his verse, as he might very justly, he was consciously making poetry also” (Henderson 277). He wrote about his feelings and emotions, and expressed his point of view with the help of poetry. Anthem for Doomed Youth was written in 1917, one year before Wilfred Owen died. He understood a lot about the war to that moment, and this poem was a real cry from the depth. The name of the poem speaks for itself. Here, the author expresses what he feels as for the young men who die on the war because of somebody’s ambitions. The poem can be figuratively divided into two parts, which are different in accordance to the idea they transfer. The first part of the poem, which consists of eight lines, has bitter and, at the same time, angry tone. The author mourns for young people who die on the war. He starts his poem with the rhetorical question, for which no one can give the answer: “What passing-bells for these who died as cattle?” (qtd. in Lewis 44). Here, the author describes the horror of war: “monstrous anger of the gun”, “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle”, “the shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells” (qtd. in Lewis 44). The atmosphere of the first part of the poem is tense. One can see it not only from the description of the war, but also from the stylistic devices the author uses. One should not read the poem very closely in order to understand that Wilfred Owen uses alliteration. The frequent repetition of the sounds [ʃ], [s], and [r] makes the tone of the poem rough and angry. The atmosphere of the second part of the poem – the last six lines – changes from angry to sorrowful. It is evident from the words the author uses in these lines: “holy glimmers”, “flowers”, and “tenderness”. The author does not describe the war anymore. In these lines, he speaks how deaths of others influence people. The lines “…in their eyes shall shine the hole glimmers of good-bye” and “the pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall” (qtd. in Lewis 44) show that people can bemoan those who died only on their minds.

However, Anthem for Doomed Youth covers not only the author’s attitude to the war, and what it does to people, but it also reflects Owen’s upbringing. The author touches upon the topic of religion, to be more precise, he speaks about rituals of funeral, which are traditional for Christian people. One can see the evidence in the following lines:

“…no prayers nor bells,

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs…

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes” (qtd. in Lewis 44).

It is not strange because the bibliographical facts of Owen’s life confirm that he was brought up in a religious family, he read the Bible every day, and he even could become a priest because of his faith and respectable attitude to religion, but he chose another way. Nevertheless, the topic of religion remained not only in his heart, but in his poems as well.

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Having analyzed the life and work of Wilfred Owen, the following conclusion can be made. He is one of the most famous war poets of his time. Although, his life was not unusual, it reflected greatly on his poems. Such events as acquaintance with other contemporary poets, his upbringing in a religious family, and, of course, the First World War, could not go unnoticed in his work. The poem Anthem for Doomed Youth is a great example of how these events were reflected in his poems. In this verse, readers can find the reflection of every aspect of his life, which was mentioned above. The author tells not just about the war and its horror, but also expresses his feelings and emotions as for this event. Reading the poems of Wilfred Owen, it becomes evident that he is very talented and patriotic author. Undoubtedly, he would have written a lot of beautiful poems and make more contributions to the world of literature if the death had not taken him away so early. Nevertheless, the name of Wilfred Owen as one of the most famous war poets of the period of the First World War will forever remain in hearts of millions readers.