Anthem for Doomed
By Wilfred Owen
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds
Wilfred Owen
18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918
An English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War.
Owen fought in World War I and wrote this poem while in a hospital recovering from shell
Wilfred Owen was born the eldest of four children in a house
near Oswestry in Shropshire called Plas Wilmot on 18 March 1893, of mixed English and
Welsh ancestry. Lived in a comfortable house owned by his grandfather but, on his death in
1897, the family was forced to move to lodgings in the back streets of Birkenhead.
He was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School (now
The Wakeman School), and discovered his vocation in 1903 or 1904 during a holiday spent
in Cheshire. Owen was raised as an Anglican of the evangelical school, and in his youth was
a devout believer, in part due to his strong relationship with his mother, which was to last
throughout his life. His early influences included the 'big six' of romantic poetry,
particularly John Keats, and the Bible.
Shortly after leaving school in 1911, Owen passed the matriculation exam for the University
of London, but not with the first-class honours needed for a scholarship (his studies suffered
as Owen mourned the loss of his uncle and role model, Edgar Hilton in a hunting accident)
which in his family's circumstances was the only way he could have afforded to attend.
In return for free lodging, and some tuition for the entrance exam, Owen worked as lay assistant to
the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading and as a pupil-teacher at Wyle Cop School. He then attended
classes at University College, Reading (now the University of Reading), in botany and later, at the
urging of the head of the English Department, free lessons in Old English. His time spent at
Dunsden parish led him to disillusionment with the church, both in its ceremony and its failure to
provide aid for those in need.
Prior to the outbreak of World War I, he worked as a private tutor teaching English and French at
the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France. There he met the older French poet Laurent
Tailhade, with whom he later corresponded in French.
On 21 October 1915, he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles Officers' Training Corps. For the next seven
months, he trained at Hare Hall Camp in Essex. On 4 June 1916 he was commissioned as a second
lieutenant (on probation) in The Manchester Regiment.[2] Owen started the war as a cheerful and
optimistic man, but he soon changed forever. Initially, he held his troops in contempt for their
loutish behaviour, and in a letter to his mother described his company as "expressionless
lumps". However, Owen's outlook on the war was to be changed dramatically after two traumatic
experiences. Firstly, he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, landing among the remains
of a fellow officer. Soon after, he became trapped for days in an old German dugout. After these
two events, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War
Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. It was whilst recuperating at Craiglockhart that he met fellow
poet Siegfried Sassoon, an encounter which was to transform Owen's life.
After a period of convalescence in Northern Ireland, then a short spell working as a teacher in
nearby Tyne castle High School, he returned to light regimental duties. In March 1918, he was
posted to the Northern Command Depot at Ripon.. A number of poems were composed in
Ripon, including "Futility" and "Strange Meeting". His 25th birthday was spent quietly
in Ripon Cathedral.
After returning to the front, Owen led units of the Second Manchester's on 1 October 1918 to
storm a number of enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt. However, only one week
before the end of the war, whilst attempting to traverse a canal, he was shot in the head and
killed. The news of his death, on 4 November 1918, was given to his mother on Armistice
Day. For his courage and leadership in the Joncourt action, he was awarded the Military
Cross, an award which he had always sought in order to justify himself as a war poet, but the
award was not gazetted until 15 February 1919.
Owen is regarded by historians as the leading poet of the First World War, known for his war
poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare. Owen was killed in action on 4 November
1918 (aged 25) during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week (almost to the
hour) before the signing of the Armistice and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day
after his death. His mother received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice
Day, as the church bells were ringing out in celebration. He is buried at Ors Communal
Critical Review
The war imagery in the poem allows the reader to depict the message of the poem
along with the notes associated with it. The main imagery in the first stanza is
about the sound of war and death and the impacts and effects on soldiers from
war. The sounds of war are said to be by critics, ‘only sounds because in the
trenches at war it is virtually pitch black.’ The soldiers are unable to see; only hear.
The second stanza imagery involves sight. "candles" and "holy glimmers". The topic
of sight can describe the realisation of the civilians back at home have no idea of
what is happening until the see it for themselves. Especially with the emotive
language "Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes", also showing that no one can
understand what they felt; what they saw. The fact that the soldiers who died in the
war meant that they would not get a proper funeral because they died overseas.
This brings sadness to the families back in their country.
The last line in the stanza has a special effect "a drawing-down of blind". Not only
can just be the traditional mark of respect when people die but it can also describe
the families of the dead soldiers closing their blinds; turning their backs on the
war. All of this allows the reader to empathise with the soldiers with their lifestyle
and hardships they had to endure. Allowing them to pay their respects to the many
brave people’s sacrifices that may have been forgotten in the war.
Analysis of Language
Wilfred Owen uses a lot of comparisons comparing a typical funeral to
a death on the battle field, For example, he compares the church bells
with the noise of a gun-fire; the prayers with the rapid rifle fire; the
choirs with the wailing of shells; the candles head by altar boys with
the lights of the sky reflected in the dead eyes of the soldiers.
grotesque images are used in order to show how inhumane war is, for
example, in the first line, he uses a simile to show that soldiers are no
more important than cattle which are led to the slaughter house
without felling (“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?”).
Owen uses these comparisons so that the reader can relate more easily
to the poem and realise that war is a terrible experience that no one
should have to go through.
Analysis of Structure
Related to the structure of the poem, we can say that this poem is a variation
of the Elizabethan sonnet. Owen has divided the fourteen lines of this
sonnet into two stanzas, the break coming at the end of the line 8. As is the
case with the Elizabethan sonnets, this poem has ten syllables of iambic
pentameters, because there are five feet, and each foot contains a short
syllable followed by a long one.
The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFFE /GG, which differs slightly from
the classical Elizabethan sonnets, whose rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD
By using a sonnet for the structure of his poem, Wilfred Owen creates
irony, because the sonnets normally convey love, and this poem is sort of
anti-love. The young soldiers have to spend their time in the trenches. So,
their lives are wasted and the lives of their loved ones at home are also
ruined. Through the tone, the poet depicts a strong anger at the futility of
war, because he is an anti-war poet.
Analysis of Title
(The Anthem for Doomed Youth)
Anthem – a song of praise, devotion or patriotism.
The use of the word ‘anthem’ is ironic when it is used with the word
‘doomed’, which means certain demise because anthems are meant
to be songs of praise.
It also creates irony because Owen was an anti-war poet and didn’t
support his countries decision to go into war, yet anthems are meant
to be patriotic songs.
Assonance of ‘doomed youth’ creates a long, melancholic tone.
The word ‘youth’ highlights that war is wrong. This goes against the
natural idea that the ‘youth’ are meant to be protected. Instead, they
are being sent to war; ‘doomed’ to death.
Stanza one vs. Stanza two
In the first stanza, Owen uses a lot of violent death imagery. This
represents the dead men’s first funeral on the battlefield. With
‘wailing of choirs’ and ‘stuttering rifles’, the funeral is loud,
irreverent (‘no prayers, no bells’) and indifferent ( ‘No
mockeries....mourning save the choirs, -’)
Lots of very loud sounds and violent actions in stanza one .e.g.
‘Stuttering rifles’, ‘wailing shells’, ‘bugles calling’ etc.
In the second stanza, the family receive the body of their loved one
that died in battle. This funeral dramatically contrasts with the
funeral in stanza one. Their is no onomatopoeia in this stanza and
this stark silence creates an eerie, sombre tone.
This change in tone can represent the shell shock that inexperienced
men in war go through. At the time that Wilfred Owen wrote this
poem, he was shell shocked and staying at hospital recovering.
FLIRTY Questions
Describe the Tone of this poem
Identify the rhyme scheme used and explain its significance.
How is the first stanza different from the second? Give Examples.
How it the theme of war and death presented?
What is the effect of alliterations in this poem? Explain each given
Describe the effect of personifications used.
What kind of imagery has the poet used? How does this convey the
poets ideas?
Describe Owen’s views on war. How do they differ/how are they
similar to our views today?
Further Reading
Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo
Dulce et Decorum est – Wilfred Owen
In Flanders Fields – John McCrae
Base Details – Siegfried Sassoon

Anthem for Doomed Youth