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Letter

MORE POETRY

 

TWO FAMOUS POEMS FROM THE FIRST WORLD WAR
| FOR THE FALLEN | ANTHEM FOR A DOOMED YOUTH |


  anthem for a doomed youth
| the story of the poem | what does the poem say? |

WHAT DOES THE POEM SAY?
The sounds of the battlefield are all that accompany the soldier into death. In a peaceful world – where most people leave life naturally – there are simple rituals to mark the event: candles, flowers, the ringing of a bell, the murmuring of prayers, the singing of laments. Wilfred Owen makes the words he chooses match the sounds of war. For example, ‘The monstrous anger of the guns’ has a strong, booming sound. Rifle-fire is echoed in the word-sounds ‘the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle’ which ‘patter out’ a ghastly travesty of recited prayer. Images are created by both the sound and the meaning of the words. Together they convey the horror of war and the longing, which everyone ought to be able to feel, for peace.

Like Laurence Binyon in ‘For the Fallen’, Wilfred Owen sees a link between the soldier’s brutal deaths and the wider world of nature. But for him the link is tender, not grandiose. The curtains closed by mourners to mark a death are echoed in nature every day: as darkness falls at dusk. The poetry is indeed in the pity: the pity that the last six lines evoke, using potent images and musical sounds that reach the reader’s inner eyes and ears.

This is, it hardly needs saying, an anti-war poem. Can anti-war poetry encourage people to become anti-war themselves? What does poetry have to do to set people thinking more clearly about war – and how can it do it? Is ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ a poem only for the time it was written, or does it still have something to say? What sort of ‘anthems’ might we write for the ‘doomed youth’ who are killing and being killed in the world today?





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