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Anthem for Doomed Youth

Anthem for Doomed Youth

by Wilfred Owen

Death Theme

Here's the deal: the big problem with war is that people die. We know, we know. Duh. Still, we figure it's worth pointing out that even though "Anthem for Doomed Youth" doesn't directly mention death after the first line, it's still completely obsessed with the concept. We move between the sounds of incoming death (rifle and artillery fire) and images of mourning (coffin covers, candles, passing-bells). Where do we end up? At dusk, a.k.a. the dying of day.

Questions About Death

  1. Is it strange that our speaker doesn't have a physical presence in the poem? Does that make us less concerned about death, if our speaker doesn't seem to be in peril himself? Or is he maybe talking from beyond the grave?
  2. Can you find a line that doesn't have to do with death? Why are there so few, if any? And what do the lines that don't have to do with death address?
  3. Why does the poem, despite revolving completely around the deaths of soldiers, not actually show us any images of dying? What is the effect of instead giving us the sounds of war, and the images of funeral rituals?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker's "Anthem" is really his own version of the rituals the figures in the poems participate in to honor. He's so angry in the anthem because he has such compassion for the soldiers, who need not have died in the first place.

The problem with war, the speaker thinks, is that the deaths are actually no big deal. So many people die with such frequency, that they can never properly be mourned, so their deaths have less meaning.

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