Although I believe that “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is a poem that contains strong opinion from Owen, I do not think that it was aimed to be entirely a poem of protest, or of criticism. However, from the title of the poem, it is easy to see how it could be immediately viewed as such. The use of the word “Anthem” to describe the poem gives the impression that Owen wishes to make a point, as it is a strong word that implies anger. As well as this, “Anthem” is generally used to represent a group of people, rather than individuals, such as a National Anthem which represents a country, and because of this the reader begins to see where Owen might be trying to make a point – it seems to be the beginning of a strong statement throughout the poem. However, although some readers may believe Owen used this word to show his criticism of the system, I believe he also used it as an anthem has a strong link to honour – the National Anthem is always played when someone (an athlete, for example) has achieved something to be proud of. I think that Owen was trying to link the poem to honour even from the title, as well as making a strong statement even before the reader has started the poem. However, when the word “Anthem” is combined with “Doomed Youth” makes it seem slightly sarcastic – as if Owen is almost mocking the idea of honour itself.Order now
The strong statement in the title is continued by Owen into the opening stanza of the poem – in the first line, the soldiers are called “cattle”. Straightaway, this word tells the reader than Owen is angry at something, as “cattle” is a strong and harsh word to use to describe soldiers fighting for the country. As well as this, it again groups all the soldiers together, rather than acknowledging them as individual people. Again, this could easily imply that Owen is trying to make a point about something, as it is a recurring theme throughout the poem, as if he wants the idea to remain in the reader’s mind. Referring to the soldiers specifically as “cattle” also has an effect; cattle need to die for others (in that we need to eat meet to survive), and in making this link I believe that Owen wants us to think about why these soldiers are going to fight, and effectively makes us feel guilty. In linking them to animals, Owen also implies that he feels the soldiers are stupid – another sign that perhaps he is trying to make a point as it would have been a rare opinion to think ill of your soldiers. Phrasing the first line as a question also makes the first line sound very aggressive, almost as if Owen is accusing the reader of something. This makes the line sound very harsh, and adds to the tone already created in the poem, which is a strong feeling of anger. This is a very clever opening line technique, as it grabs attention and makes the reader involved from the very first line, as they are questioning their own feelings.
Overall, the first stanza appears to contain a lot of anger – there are strong sounds throughout, for example “rifles rapid rattle”, which gives the impression that a speaker saying these words would almost be spitting them out. The alliteration also sounds like a stutter, which gives the impression that a speaker would perhaps be overcome with the anger he feels. The adjectives used in the first stanza are very dark and depressing, for example “monstrous”, which give the first stanza overall a very depressing feel. As well as the anger shown, the first stanza contains many allusions that Owen is not happy with the attitudes of the public towards soldiers, despite appearing to think little of them himself at first. The repeated use of the word “only” at the start of successive lines implies that Owen feels soldiers are not really given enough of anything – for example honour, respect and support. The way that the word is repeated emphasises this, as if Owen has at the back of his mind constantly how soldiers deserve more than they receive for what they risk. He also mentions the soldiers “hasty orisons”.
I believe that inputting “hasty” here, again shows that Owen feels what they receive is inadequate – he could have easily omitted this word. By writing it here it draws the reader’s attention to the fact that the soldiers do not even have enough time to complete their prayers, which may contribute to the feeling of injustice for the soldiers. In this respect, I believe that it is a poem of criticism as I feel Owen is condemning the attitude towards the soldiers. Along with anger, there is a strong sense of mocking in the first stanza – Owen uses words that have trivial connotations – for example “shrill” and “patter”. This implies that he is mocking the overall attitude to war, and the attitude towards dying for your country. As a result of this, the opening stanza also comes across as very bitter and resentful, which the reader feels increases the likelihood that Owen is trying to make a point with this poem. The reader also recognises the anger as we realise that Owen would probably have fought in the war himself, and so the feelings would seem a lot more important and personal to him, which is perhaps why they seem so intense.
Although I feel that the poem has aspects that seem as if they are protesting against something in the first stanza as the main emotion is anger, I believe the rest of the poem does a lot to ensure that it is not seen entirely as a protest poem. This is because after the first six lines of the poem, the main emotion shown by Owen appears to alter. After the initial anger shown in these lines, the final pair in the first stanza appears to show sadness. The tone suddenly changes here to more mournful – the use of words such as “sad” and “wailing” are effective in bringing to the reader’s mind the other aspects of fighting in the war, as Owen reminds us how friends and relatives of these soldiers would be feeling. As well as these words, the use of the phrase “And bugles calling” adds to the sadness, as this phrase sounds very realistic – it is something that would have actually happened around that time and contributes to the sad aura in this part of the poem. In addition to this, using “calling” in this phrase is also effective, as Owen makes it seem as if the soldiers have never really had a choice – if you have a calling in life, it is something you are born to do. As this makes the fighting seem incredibly inevitable, it is a very depressing phrase overall, adding to the sad sentiment in these two lines. These lines are the first in altering the reader’s perspective of what Owen wanted to achieve in the poem overall.
I believe the main aspect of “Anthem” that prevents it being a protest entirely of criticism is the running parallel to a funeral, which is present all throughout the poem, but is most noticeable in the second stanza. Here, Owen mentions many links to a funeral, for example “candles”, “flowers”, and “pall”. This language sounds very calm, especially in comparison to the language in the first stanza, which almost gives this part of the poem a feeling of acceptance. The language in this stanza also makes it seem as if Owen is talking more personally about the soldiers – describing them as people rather than a unit as we have seen previously. He uses multiple personal pronouns throughout this part, which gives the reader the impression that he is thinking about the soldiers more. This makes the reader feel almost as if Owens’ initial anger has been calmed – as if he is seeing more clearly as a result. This is another effect of the language used here. The funeral comparisons that Owen describes that the soldiers will receive seem far more personal than the versions that they would have received back at home.
An example of this is the line, “Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes, shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.” Here, Owen using the eyes as the alternative is very effective, because the eyes are commonly thought of as the windows to the soul, which makes it sound much more individual to each soldier. By using “boys” as the carriers of the candles is also effective, as it groups them altogether, making them sound generic and makes the state funeral comparison seem much less personal. This comparison also makes the reader feel as if they will be remembered more this way, as people’s memories and thoughts of the soldiers will last far longer than the candles will burn, which shows that Owen feels that this way perhaps has the more honour, even if it is not honour in the traditional sense. This is again shown when Owen uses the phrase “the tenderness of patient minds”, as this implies that the soldiers will be remembered for far longer in the memories of the people who knew and loved him, whereas “their flowers” will wilt and die over time. This is a very touching comparison, as Owen puts more importance by the feeling of those close to the soldiers than what the country as a whole will believe, which again gives the poem a much more personal feel.
An effect of the funeral comparison is that it makes the overall scene a lot easier to imagine for the reader, which means we feel more involved in the poem as a whole. It is effective because it means we really can imagine the contrast as well, and means we think about it more. As a result of this, Owen can achieve the emotion that he wished for. However, the effect of the funeral comparison overall could still be viewed as a protest, due to the fact that it could seem as if Owen is saying that death for these soldiers is inevitable and imminent, which is a continuation of the point he was making earlier on in the poem. I believe though, if he had wanted this to be the chosen response by a reader Owen would have made his feelings far more obvious, so that the point really had an impact.
The language overall in the second stanza is much more gentle and calm, especially when compared to the language in the first. As seen earlier, in the first stanza there are many strong words and sounds which gave the verse it’s feeling of anger. The language here also creates the tone; the sounds are much softer and contribute largely to the overall feeling. Examples of these words are “shine”, “glimmers”, and “tenderness”. These words give a much more positive feeling to this part of the poem, due to the connotations they have, for example “shine” and “glimmers” both have strong associations with light, which is why they have this effect. They also allow the reader to feel more reflective about the poem, as the slower pace and calmer feeling allow the reader to take time to evaluate how they feel. The sounds of the words are also a lot softer, which contribute to the calm feeling in this area of the poem. I believe that this really turns opinion against “Anthem” being entirely a protest of criticism because this area of the poem doesn’t appear to be arguing the point that has been shown to us so far by Owen.
The last line in this stanza is perhaps the best example of the different language – the use of the word “dusk” is probably the most positive word possible to use – all the alternatives, such as “darkness”, “night”, “black” and so on are all considerably more depressing. This shows the change in attitude Owen has had from the first stanza, where many of the words were probably chosen for dramatic effect. The phrase “a drawing-down of blinds” is also a contrast from the first stanza; it is quite a comforting phrase (considering that it refers to death) and is more synonymous to sleep than to death. Again, this shows the contrast because previously I believe Owen would have chosen the phrase to create the most impact, in order to give his protest more force. Although, even in this line, it would be possible to see Owen as trying to show his protest once more; by putting “each” in the line it could be seen as trying to make the point that the death will happen over and over again. However, I believe that it just makes this line more personal, as to me “each” separates each soldier’s death out from the mass death happening every day.
The tone of the poem overall changes often; however I believe by the end of the poem the initial anger has almost been forgotten due to the very different second stanza. It is almost like a continuous thought process; as if Owen is writing down his feelings as they occur to him. For example, the first line of the second stanza is “What candles may be held to speed them all?” It is this line where the reader sees the change in the tone of the poem; it is here when Owen appears to have a change of heart, very suddenly. It is as if it is here when Owen realises what true honour is at this precise point in the poem, and this would explain why he goes from writing to make a point with so much anger becoming seemingly more reflective about everything. The question mark also implies that he really does not know the answer, making it seem more like an overall though, and an exploration of his feelings rather than a true protest poem. I believe that this would explain the sudden change in the language of the poem.
The main emotion changes three times in this poem; from anger, to sadness, to acceptance, and I believe that this could have been intentional by Owen, as it represents the mourning process after the death of a loved one. It is effective overall because he does it subtly – constructing the poem so that it could be used as a thought process means that there are multiple ways of viewing it, giving the reader the chance to think for themselves. I believe that although Owen does make individual points throughout the poem, that this overall was his main aim – rather than to make a protest or criticise. It appears, although there is some criticism towards the beginning of the poem, that it is more a reflection of the feelings of Owen himself.