"All the poet can do today is to warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful."
Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)
Introduction: Wilfred Owen wrote in his Preface to his Volumes of War Poems published in 1819 “above all I am not concerned with poetry – my subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.” By stating that he is not concerned with poetry, Owen is obviously objecting to the aesthetic poetry which was written for poetry’s sake. Owen had a decided message through his poetry which is about the pity of war. It is in his message of the monstrosity of war where in lies poetic truth for him. Anthem for Doomed youth is one of Owen’s most famous war poems, written at Craiglockhart in October 1917. The title of the poem was suggested by another war poet Siegfried Sassoon and the word ‘another’ heralding the poem’s solemnity and the word ‘doomed’ addressing the millions dead or yet to die. Originally, entitled grief The Anthem, is indeed an elegiac lamentation for the young men slaughtered as cattle in the war.
Contrasts:questions followed by answers: Like many other poems of Owen The Anthem works though a series contrasts, and here the contrasts are framed in questions followed by answers. The first question is, ‘What passing bells for these who die as cattle”? The poet enquires about the appropriate form of burial ceremony for those dead bodies that are huddled together in the battle field. The answer is given from the ironical statement that the sound of battle is the appropriate sound of mourning; they function as a worthless laments.“Only the monstrous angels of the guns
only the shuttering rifle’s rapid rattle
can patter out their hasty orisons”
In the sestets he again speaks about the silent suffering of the soldier’s family and their soundlessness is depicted in the concluding lines. Again for the second time he puts for ward a question: “What candles may be held be held to speed them all”?
His answer is that tears gleaming in the mourner’s eyes will be as candles held in the church by acolytes, the pale faces of the men’s sweet hearts will be their funeral, clothes and their grave – side flowers the tender thought of these who have patiently waited for their return.
|Wilfred Owen: wiki|
The monstrosity of war; negation of Christian rituals: Owen’s has the first hand experience of modern warfare and brutality of war is well exposed in his poems. Here in this sonnet he points out that the monstrosity of war even negates Christian rituals. No patter should to be raised as prayer for the peace of the departed soul – the pattered ‘hasty orisons’ of Church prayers are greater mockery of this sacrifice. Only the sounds of military metaphors, the shuttering mechanical and meaningless sounds of guns tattering and pattering sum to be, ironically, the fittest form of mourning for those wretched Victims of battle. Thus each funeral or memorial service is replaced booming guns for bells Repeated rifle shots for mechanically uttered prayers, wailing shells for choirs. Thus the negation of the traditional ceremony in this poem stands as a form of lament for the soldiers lonely death and for the fact that they are denied proper burial.
A Study as a Sonnet: The poem has moved from lament and bitterness in the octave to a celebration or honoring of grief in the sestets. Its strength lies in these images which are aptly chosen to suggest the horror of war, the inadequacy of religion and the validity of love and grief. It was a greater compassion and respect for human relationship than Owens other poem which are more acrid in tone which are derived by his war experiences and his staying at Craiglockhart.
Conclusion: Owens poetry might strike one as morbid, monotonous and too painful without tragic relief and exaltation. But when the tragic vision is projected on the wider universal scale it rises above mere satire into a plea for greater sensitiveness to and a sympathetic understanding of human sufferings. Anthem for Doomed youth is such an experience.
Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert
2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature