Wilfred Owen's Poetry and War
Wilfred Owen is now seen as one of the most important of the many
poets of the First World War. He was born the son of a railway worker
in Shropshire, and educated at schools in Shrewsbury and Liverpool.
His devoted mother encouraged his early interests in music and poetry.
When he could not afford a university education, he went abroad to
teach English in France. He was there when war broke out in 1914, and
decided to return to England to volunteer for the army.
After training, he became an officer and was sent to France at the end
of 1916, seeing service first in the Somme sector. In spring 1917, he
took part in the attacks on the German Hindenburg Line near St
Quentin. When a huge shell burst near him, he was shell-shocked and
sent back to England. The horrors of battle dramatically changed him
from the youth of August 1914, who had felt 'the guns will effect a
little useful weeding'.
From his experiences, Owen was able to write very graphic and
realistic poems, to show his reader the true atrocities of war. Three
of his poems that show different aspects of war are; 'Anthem for
Doomed Youth', 'Dulce et Decorum Est', and 'The Send-Off'.
The poem 'Anthem for Doomed Youth', is a long comparison between the
elaborate ceremonial of a Victorian-style funeral, and the way in
which men go to their death on the western front. The poem is written
in the form of a sonnet, and has a very traditional format. Owen wrote
in this way mostly due to the influence of the poet Siegfried Sassoon,
whose experience and high education helped him greatly during this
period. The poem is made up of fourteen lines, and follows the rhyme
scheme abab, cdcd, effe, gg.
The title of the poem immediately suggests innocence, with the use of
the word, 'youth', and also suggests a connection with the church, as
an 'anthem' is a choral composition. The word 'Anthem' heralds the
poem's solemnity, as the word 'doomed' addresses the millions dead and
yet to die, adding a sinister touch to the sonnet. The title intrigues
the reader to find out the cause of this doom.
The first line of the octave compares the soldiers to cattle,
suggesting that the men seem weaker and more vulnerable to an
inevitable slaughter. The strong, hard sounds in the following lines
give a sinister feeling to the poem, as with the use of
personification, the guns and rifles are transformed into monsters. A
more dramatic effect is also created using alliteration such as,
'rifles rapid rattle', which emphasises the terrifying, unrelenting
sounds of the battlefield.
In the last lines of the octave, Owen's tone becomes sarcastic and
bitter. This is evident in the phrase, 'No mockeries now for them',
which refers to the elaborate Victorian style funerals, that these
soldiers do not receive. He again goes on to tease out comparisons and
contradictions with these ceremonies, such as the transition of
'mourning choirs', to the...