Aside from his famous quotation about the pity of war, Owen also said “I find purer philosophy in a Poem than in a Conclusion of Geometry, a chemical analysis, or a physical law. ”. However, was this philosophy and depth present in his own poetic creations? In the poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth” Owen has caught, held and retold his experience of war. His liberal use of varying literary tools weaves a complex mirage of war which appeals to senses that are more complex than just seeing and hearing.
In addition to that, the strange rhythm and structure of the sonnet is also one that makes reading aloud quite different from stereotypical poems. Finally is the contrast he creates within the poem, by utilizing the stereotypes we have for certain objects and flipping them around Owen conveys to us his experience of war in all its beauty, and its horror. In “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, Owen’s liberal use of simple literary devices helps to put forth more complex ideas and scenes.
In the very first line he asks “ What passing-bells for these who die as cattle” the connotation implies that in a war, millions die with the same significance of cattle which justifies the lack of sounding from the passing-bells. It may also be a form of symbolism for cowbells; which farmers put on cows to make finding them easier. In this case it may be symbolic for soldiers missing in action because cowbells are redundant on cows which are not alive. Straying away from the idea of death and sadness at the hands of war, Owen also writes about “candles” that are not in the boys “hands, but in their eyes”.
Candles are often symbols for inner peace or illumination from the dark. In this case he has used a form of reverse personification in which he uses a humans eyes to describe the glow of a candle. He then follows up with “The holy glimmer of goodbyes”. The purpose of this reverse personification is to then utilize the metaphor which is the “holy glimmer” from candles which are the tears of the men who mourn their dead. Finally, is the pairing of sound (onomatopoeia) and alliteration in his description of the tools of war, guns. Only the stuttering, rifles’ rapid rattle” Owen uses a different method of imagery paired with repetition of the “r” consonant to help us form an audible sound as well as to build up on the word “stuttering” as the constant r’s form mini-caesuras between the words as they are read. As a poet Owen’s consistent use of literary devices is beneficial to his recollection of the experience of war through poetry. Besides using literary devices Owen also manages to put in a sense of individuality into his poems through differing structure and rhythm.
His poem is in the format of a Shakespearean sonnet. However, it is not a standard Shakespearean sonnet as he changes the second and third lines of the sestet, “but in their eyes shall shine the holy glimmer of goodbyes”. Instead of rhyming after the third line, the second line and third line rhyme consecutively. The purpose of this may be to give the reader a sort of rhythmic break whilst reading the sonnet. Also, is the use of iambic pentameter, each line consists of around ten syllables with each stressed syllable paired with one which is unstressed.
However, Owen frequently bends the iambic pentameter around sometimes using more than ten syllables and sometimes pairing stressed syllables with more stressed syllable leading to a different pace as the poem is read aloud. This is evident in the very first line again where he uses eleven syllables and in the octets sixth line where we have two unstressed syllables paired with one stressed in “save the choirs”. This contributes to the lines mood as it sounds more grim when read because you automatically read in a lower voice when not stressing the syllables.
The bending of the iambic pentameter and the Shakespearean sonnet is one of the skills that Owen has used to great effect in “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. Above all, Owen’s deft use of contrast is what really makes this poem special when compared to other war poems. “The shrill, demented choirs” is a juxtaposition of sorts, not an oxymoron as they are not directly contradicting each. This creates a contrast between the beautiful voices of young people in a choir to the shrill, demented sound that a falling bomb makes as it explodes in the midst of a city, town or trench.
Another great contrast is in the next line where there are “bugles calling for them from sad shires”. Bugles are known to be the brass instruments that are played in times of great celebration or in fanfares but these bugles are calling for them from sad shires, most likely shires that have experienced their own share of death and suffering from the war. From a personal perspective I feel that this poem is actually very striking as it gives you the two sides of war, the beauty in the comparison of the choirs, bugles, and the horror in the shrieks, sadness and destruction from explosives.
All in all, Owen uses contrast in his poem to convey an emotion which surpasses mere sadness and melancholy. As a poet, Owen was indeed gifted as he was adept at shaping poetry into a different form and bend formats to make them more appealing to the general public. He did this through good use of literary devices which included alliteration, sound imagery or onomatopoeia and symbolism. Owen also used variation in the structure of his poem, it was in the shape of a traditional Shakespearean sonnet but had slight variations in the rhyme.
The iambic pentameter, another creation of Shakespeare’s was used and there were more variations, from a few extra syllables per line to differences in stressed and unstressed syllables which contributed to the how well the poem flowed and connected as it was read. Finally was the use of contrast in the poem which showed exactly how war tainted everything beautiful. As Owen said about the pure philosophy of war, this poem captures that quotation and paints a picture of war in all its sorrow and desolation.