Stylistic analysis of
“Anthem for Doomed Youth”
by Wilfred Owen
Ms. Amna Shahid
29 January 2017
Anthem for Doomed Youth
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.
This paper is based on the stylistic analysis of the poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen. The stylistic analysis of this poem works on different level such as lexical, graphological, grammatical, figure of speech, and phonological. The stylistic analysis assists to unfold the hidden meaning of the poet’s thoughts. The stylistic devices used in this poem are the settings of the poem along with the figures of speech. Through this analysis it will be explored through different techniques and devices that how choice of words help create meaning in literary text and how they form meaning in harmonious way. The literal and non-literal meanings of the poem, bring to light the misery and helplessness of soldiers fighting in the battlefield and face death.
Stylistics is a branch of applied linguistics. It is the study and interpretation of texts in regard to their linguistic and tonal style. Stylistic analysis deals with the sound patterns, figures of speech, tone, grammatical use of verbs, nouns and adjectives etc. It imparts new meanings to any text and provide an insight to the poem through the use of different techniques used by the poet.
Stylistically, the poem will be explored on the following levels;
- Lexical level
- Graphological Level
- Grammatical level
- Figurative Level
- Phonological Level
- Context and Cohesion
Significance of the title:
The title of the poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is significant in imparting meaning to the poem. The title itself is ironic because anthem is sung for celebration but here the word anthem is used to mourn the death of doomed soldiers who die in war and there is no one around to give them respectful burial. The word “anthem” therefore is elegiac and infers lament and sadness.
Words related to war
Words related to religion/ funeral
The choice of vocabulary is simple as well as specific to the context of the poem. The poet has employed specific words in the poem which have been derived from the field of battle and war. Some words have also been taken from the religious field to highlight the importance of funeral and respect attached with the ritual of death.
Bells Choirs Girls
Cattle Bugles Brows
Anger Shires Pall
Guns Candles Flowers
Rifles Hands Tenderness
Rattle Boys Minds
Orisons Eyes Dusk
Mockeries Glimmers Blinds
The excessive use of nouns in the poem reflects that the emphasis is upon human individuals and their suffering. The words bells, rifles, guns highlight the butchery of war. The words like prayers, mourning, flowers, dusk, blinds, and goodbyes suggest the ritual of death which the soldiers are being deprived of.
Monstrous Demented rapid
Wailing slow hasty
Sad stuttering shrill
The use of adjectives is to bring home the idea that death and sadness is lurking in the lives of individuals. The adjectives ‘rapid’ ‘hasty’ ‘stuttering’ ‘shrill’ and ‘monstrous’ lend the movement and destructive quality to the poem.
On graphological level, the poem is written on the pattern of a sonnet. There is no semantic, lexical or graphological deviation in the poem.
There are bound morphemes employed in the poem which are:
These noun phrase infer meanings to the overall understanding of the fact that there is a lot of sadness which is associated with the soldiers’ death.
Figures of Speech
- What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?
“die as cattle” suggests that soldiers are as vulnerable and insignificant as the cattle who are killed mercilessly.
.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
.And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
These metaphors suggest that there is no one who is going to mourn the death of soldiers. Instead of candles, the tears shining in the eyes will say them goodbye. The pale yellowish colour of the girls would work as the coffin for them and drawing dusk will cover their faces instead of a shroud.
- Monstrous anger of the guns
- Stuttering rifles rapid rattle
- Choirs of wailing shells
‘guns’ ‘rifles’ and ‘shells’ are giving human qualities to heighten the effect of death which is presented as an angry and monstrous figure.
No mockeries now for them; nor prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs
- stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
- Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes
- dusk a drawing-down of blinds
- What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- monstrous anger of the guns
- Shrill choirs of wailing shells
- The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall
Movement in the poem
(Passing, stuttering, rapid, hasty, calling, speed, slow)
- Religious imagery: (bells, prayers, choir, candles, holy)
- War imagery: (guns, rifles, shells, bugles)
- Imagery of death: (die, mourning, wailing, sad, pall)
Coherence and Cohesion:
All the figures of speech, nouns, adjectives and phonological sound patterns create coherence and cohesion in the poem and each component infers different meaning to the poem which adds to the context of the poem.
The selection of words suggest that poet laments the death of those soldiers who die like cattle in an undignified mass. They are not granted the rituals and rites of Christian funeral. They do not get real prayers, only rifle fire. It suggests that religion cannot offer much consolation to those dying on the front. The religious images symbolize the sanctity of life and death while suggesting the inadequacy of religion measured against such a cataclysm as war. The tone of the poem is dolorous yet consolatory. It leaves a note of finality, of lingering sadness and an inability to avoid the reality of horrible death in war.