Anthem for Doomed Youth

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

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.
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.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
    Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
    The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Anthem for Doomed Youth Questions

Bring on the tough stuff – there’s not just one right answer.

  1. Is this an anti-war poem? Which do you think is more upsetting for our speaker: the fact that the soldiers are dying, or the ways in which the holy rituals of mourning civilians understand those deaths?
  2. Why do you think this poem is a sonnet? Do the rhymes and rhythm affect the meaning of the poem in any way? Does the music of the poem have anything to do with the music of war—those bells and choirs of shells?
    Where’s our speaker? And who is he? Why do you think our speaker has chosen to essentially leave himself out of the poem?
  3. What do you make of the question-and-response format of this poem? Is it effective?
  4. And what do you make of that last image? Are these people drawing down their blinds to shut out the world’s phony rituals and mourn and suffer in their own private way? Or are they foolishly blocking out the horrors of war?
  5. What do you make of the title? Is this poem itself an anthem? Does the poem approve of anthems for doomed youths in the first place?