An explanationand analysis ofWilfred Owen‘spoem by FrancisGilbert for GCSEEnglish
Understanding the context ofthe poem: What anthem (representativesong) should there be fortoday‘s teenagers? Eg choosea suitable pop/hip-hop song?Why choose it? How would you describe theyouth of today? Lost? Happy?Worried? Anxious? Whatadjective would you choose? What songs are suitable forfunerals? What songs/noises/thingswould you definitely thinkwouldn‘t be good?
To learn about howand why a poet usesextended metaphorsin his poems. To learn about thecontexts of WilfredOwen‘s poetry. To learn how a poetcreates aatmosphere ofhorror and pity
This was the ―break-through‖poem for Wilfred Owen. At the beginning of thewar, Owen dreamed of beinga Romantic poet. He wasteaching in France andreturned to enlist in 1915. After training in Romford in1916, he was sent out to thefront in the new year. He was only a few months onthe front but it shook him tothe core: he captured aGerman dug-out, saw mendie horribly and one go blindfrom gas (see The Sentry andDulce Et Decorum)
Owen was put in a mentalhospital inEdinburgh, Scotland calledCraiglockhart. It was anenlightened place. There he met SiegfriedSassoon, a famous poetwho‘d been put in themental hospital forprotesting against the war. Sassoon and Owen‘spsychiatrist encouraged himto start writing poetry again. Until then Owen‘s poetry hadmainly been very―romantic‖, all aboutnature…
Religion. His mother, who hewas devoted to, was veryreligious, but Owen rejectedreligion after a badexperience as an assistant toa Vicar in Oxford before thewar. A double funeral of amother and her four-year-olddaughter shook him to thecore. Death. Nature. Young men. Owen was almostcertainly gay as was Sassoon. Poetry. The music andtexture of words…
What passing-bells2 for these whodie as cattle? Only the monstrousanger of the guns. Only thestuttering rifles rapid rattle Canpatter out3 their hasty orisons.4Nomockeries5 now for them; noprayers nor bells; Nor any voice ofmourning save the choirs, –Theshrill, demented6 choirs of wailingshells; And bugles7 calling for themfrom sad shires.8What candles9 maybe held to speed them all? Not inthe hands of boys but in theireyes Shall shine the holy glimmersof goodbyes. The pallor10 of girlsbrows shall be their pall; Theirflowers the tenderness of patientminds, And each slow dusk11 adrawing-down of blinds.12
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 norbells; 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 dusk11 a drawing-down ofblinds.12
What passing-bells for these who die ascattle?Only the monstrous anger of the guns.Only the stuttering rifles rapid rattleCan patter out their hasty orisons.No mockeries for them from prayers orbells,Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—The shrill, demented choirs of wailingshells;And bugles calling for them from sad shires. What candles may be held to speed themall?Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyesShall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.The pallor of girls brows shall be their pall;Their flowers the tenderness of silent maids,And each slow dusk a drawing-down ofblinds.
Notes for students Anthem:1. A rousing oruplifting song identified witha particular group, body, orcause. 2. A song officially adoptedby a country as an expressionof national identity. Passing-bells: a bell rung toannounce a death or funeral. Hasty: quick, hurried Orisons: prayers Choirs: note the connectionto Keats‘ To Autumn, l.27:‗Then in wailful choice thesmall gnats mourn…‖
Mockeries: Owen had beenreligious but now feltreligion was a ―mockery‖of life and felt theceremonies of religious(prayers, bells, choirs)were mockeries of life. Demented = completelymad Bugles = wind instrumentsplayed at funerals orsolemn occasions Shires = country districts.Millions of young menfrom the country died inthe 1st WW.
―Speed them all‖ = ―Helpthem go quickly toheaven.‖ Pallor: Pale colour Pall: A cloth spread over acoffin, hearse, or tomb. Line 14 Binyon‘s ‗For TheFallen‘ is important here:―At the going down of thesun and in themorning/We willremember them.‖ Thedrawing of blinds in ahouse was common whenthere had been a death…
Before we look in detail atthis difficultpoem, underline all thesounds in it! Can you guess what it‘sabout? Try your hardest! BIG POINT: the poemmakes a long comparisonbetween WHAT should bethe song for our youngpeople, and WHAT is. Thepoem is as much aboutwhat is NOT happening aswhat IS happening. Whatis not happening?
What it isabout…you mustunderstand itfully… What techniques apoet uses toachieve certaineffects… The possiblecontexts of apoem…
Think of three questionsto ask about the poemyourself… Line 1: what is the effectof the simile that says thesoldiers ―die as cattle‖? Write out line 1 in yourown words, explaining itclearly. The rest of the ―octet‖(eight lines of the sonnet)is a reply to the questionin line one. Explain theselines in THREE sentences. What do the soldiers NOThave as their funeral song?
Line 9. Anotherquestion. What doesthis question mean? The rest of the sestet(six lines that concludea sonnet) are a reply.What do these linesmean? Explain them inyour own words, usingselected quotation. The octet is full of noisewhereas the sestet hasimages connected withsilence. Why is this doyou think?
Why is it important tounderstand the contexts ofthis poem? What do you think of thepoem overall? What makes itinteresting and dramatic? Owen‘s great theme was the―pity of war‖…In what waysdoes this poem explore thistheme? (Classic essayquestion!)
This poem is alament for thedead… Why is the youth―doomed‖?Doomed to die;doomed tomadness; doomedto unhappiness…
This poem takes the ―form‖of a sonnet – usually lovepoems or with a religiousfocus. What parts of thepoem focus upon religiousissues and what parts suggestlove? What is the main topicof the poem? Sonnets often have thestructure of having eightlines (the octet) where themain point is set out, andthen six lines which concludethe poem (the sestet). Is thisthe case here?
This poem was written ina ‗mental hospital‘ forshell-shock victims,Craiglockhart, Edinburgh,in Sept-Oct 1917.Siegfried Sassoon helped alot with the compositionof the poem. What clues are there inthe poem that it‘s writtenby someone very―disillusioned‖ by the war? Is this poem ―patriotic‖?Where do the poet‘ssympathies lie?
Owen‘s greattheme was the―pity of war‖.What imagessuggest the ―pityof war‖ in thispoem and why?
Annotate the poem in yourbook, making sure you note: whatthe poem is about; the differenttechniques the poet uses and WHYhe uses them; speculate aboutWHY he might have written thepoem; note down your PERSONALresponses, your thoughts andfeelings. EXTENSION ACTIVITIES: Either: write your own creativeresponse – an anthem for today‘syouth: a poem, a story, apicture, an article, music, a slide-show of related images. Or: write a critical essay on thepoem, explaining why it iseffective.
Other poemspowerfullydescriptive poemsabout the horror ofwar are relevant:Futility Strange Meeting alsodiscusses the youngmen who go to war. Spring Offensive andThe Sentry illustratethe slaughter
A good ―close‖analysis of thepoem can be foundhere: http://wilfredowen.org.uk/poetry/anthem-for-doomed-youth Pick out FOUR keypoints made onthe website.
Review whether youhave learnt thelearning objectives –if not, get a partnerto teach you! Teach the poem tothe person sittingnext to you; Summarise the poemin ONE sentence. If the poem was anobject/person/animal, what it be and why?