Study Guide

Anthem for Doomed Youth Religion

By Wilfred Owen

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Choirs, candles, palls, and bells? "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is chock full of religious imagery, but it lacks the peaceful, contemplative feel you might expect. Instead, our speaker is bent on comparing religious rituals to the weapons of war, which is an alarming, but effective way of getting us to face facts: are the religious rituals and institutions that glorify and promote war just as destructive as the instruments used to carry out war? And will the religious rituals we participate in to mourn our lost loved ones really be enough to honor them after they have died as cattle?

Questions About Religion

  1. Do you think this poem is a criticism of organized religious ritual, or just specifically those that deal with death? To take the same question a little further: do you think our speaker is angry about the complicity of the church in the war, or is this a broader critique of the way we respond to (or fail to recognize) death and suffering?
  2. Why does our speaker mention certain religious images and not others? Would they be interchangeable, or is there something about the ones he specifically notes that makes them stand out? In other words, why choirs, candles, palls, and bells?
  3. What do you make of that final image, of pulling down the blinds? Is that an example of a religious person turning a blind eye to the senseless violence of war? Or is that a mourner attempting to get some private grieving time after the more public, less sincere ritual of the funeral?

Chew on This

"Anthem for Doomed Youth" is a religious critique, through and through. The speaker is arguing that our religious rituals are nothing but a hollow attempt to justify pointless deaths.

Not so fast. The speaker is critiquing religion, sure, but only because it's public. Private prayers and sincere mourning behind closed doors are a legitimate way to mark the passing of loved ones lost on the front.

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