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WILFRED OWEN - ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH

WILFRED OWEN

Anthem for Doomed Youth
  an often quoted poem of the First World War
(with explanatory notes)

 
ANTHEM1 FOR DOOMED YOUTH

A

    What passing-bells2 for these who die as cattle? 
    Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 
    Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle 
    Can patter out3 their hasty orisons.4
    No mockeries5 now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
    Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
    The shrill, demented6 choirs of wailing shells; 
    And bugles7 calling for them from sad shires.8
    What candles9 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 pallor10 of girls' brows shall be their pall; 
    Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 
    And each slow dusk11 a drawing-down of blinds.12

    A

    September - October, 1917

Notes for students
1 Anthem  -  perhaps best known in the expression "The National Anthem;" also, an important religious song (often expressing joy); here, perhaps, a solemn song of celebration 
2 passing-bells - a bell tolled after someone's death to announce the death to the world 
3 patter out - rapidly speak 
4 orisons  -   prayers, here funeral prayers 
5 mockeries  -  ceremonies which are insults. Here Owen seems to be suggesting that the Christian religion, with its loving God, can have nothing to do with the deaths of so many thousands of men 
6 demented -   raving mad 
7 bugles  -  a bugle is played at military funerals (sounding the last post) 
8 shires  -   English counties and countryside from which so many of the soldiers came 
9 candles  -   church candles, or the candles lit in the room where a body lies in a coffin 
10 pallor -   paleness 
11 dusk has a symbolic significance here 
12 drawing-down of blinds - normally a preparation for night, but also, here, the tradition of drawing the blinds in a room where a dead person lies, as a sign to the world and as a mark of respect. The coming of night is like the drawing down of blinds. 
Notes from Out in the Dark - Poetry of the First World War in Context edited by David Roberts. Copyright © David Roberts 1998. Free use by individual students for personal use only.

Links

Brief Life of Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen's first encounter with the reality of war
Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

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