Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Anthem for Doomed Youth – Wilfred Owen

William Owen was born in 1893 and died in action 1918, just before the end of the World War I was declared. War horrified and disgusted him. According to Owen war was a tragedy. The only suitable for war was compassion. Owen’s subject matter exceeded war. For him war was a metaphor for the human condition. Therefore, his poems are applicable to any situation in which people suffer and die.

In the first quatrain of the poem the poet describes a scene of carnage in front of him. All around him young men are dying. He likens his fellow soldiers who dying around him on the Western Front to cattle. They die uncared for and unmourned. No one is there to ring a bell symbolizing the demise of the many young men who die in the Trenches. It is only the sound of the guns that “patter out their hasty orisons.”  
“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.”
The use of the word cattle has another connotation. Cattle are usually herded by the shepherd. They do not have any say over their destination or their fate. Like the cattle the rulers and commanders of the army order the enlisted men to carry out their wishes. The men in uniforms do not have any say in the matter -“ Their’s not to make reply, Their’s not to reason why, Their’s but to do and die.” 

In the second quatrain Owen says that any mourning, probably the public mournings staged by those who have sent the young men to war- would be nothing but mockery. The soldiers would not have to suffer them. Out there at the battlefield only the shrill sound of the shells is heard. To the poet it is as if the shells were crying over the destruction they have caused. During the Remembrance Day the bugles would sound for them in the places of their birth. The sad cadence of the bugles piercing the sky is a flash forward.
“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.” 

In third quatrain the poet once again takes the reader to the battlefield. There is no one to light a candle for the dead of the Western Front. Only the memories flickering in the eyes of the fellow soldiers light the path to afterlife. There would be no flag covered bodied going home to be buried with full military honours as most of them deserved. They would be buried hastily by the other soldiers without much ceremony. When their girlfriends hear their death they would turn pale. Their pallor  would be the only pall the dead soldiers would receive. The only wreaths the soldiers receive would be love of those who have been waiting for them to come home. Every evening everyone drawdown the blinds and go to sleep, the soldier and the civilian alike only to get up the next morning and carry on from the place they have left from. it is a never ending cycle. 

The sonnet has three quatrains followed by a rhyming couplet. The rhyming scheme is, ”ab, ab, cd, cd, ef, fe, gg.” In the first line the poet brings in a simile. Like the cattle soldiers are led to death. Owen uses onomatopoeia to create an auditory image of the battlefield. 

       “Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
       Can patter out their hasty orisons.” 

The repeated /t/ mimics the sound of the gunfire. Long vowel sounds in the second quatrain mimic the moans of the dying and the those who mourn their demises. 
“The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.” 

Owen gives life to inanimate objects like guns, rifles and shells. He draws a sharp contrast between what is and what should be through the personification of guns, rifles, etc. The picture that stands in front of the reader is stark. There is no heroism in dying needlessly for some inscrutable reason only a few people in very high places in the government would know of. Yet every day thousands of young men die to fulfil the agendas of the power-hungry rulers. So the poet writes an anthem for his fellow soldiers. The irony is that he also becomes one of the unsunged with his death. The same sentiment is more graphically presented in Owen’s “Dulst et decorum”.

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