Regarded as the greatest of First World War poets, Wilfred Owen was virtually unknown at the time of his death, yet our collective vision of the hell of the Western Front has largely been shaped by his writing.
The redrafting of this poem with the help and encouragement of Siegfried Sassoon, whom Owen met while convalescing in Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart Hospital in August 1917, marked a turning point in Owen’s life as a poet. A remarkable writing period was just beginning. In sonnet form, ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH is an elegy, a lament for the dead, a judgement on Owen’s experience of war rather than an account of the experience itself. Doomed youth is right. These were young men, some very young.
There is much more about Wilfred Owen in O
To understand more about Wilfred Owen's war experience, his breakdown, how his poetry developed rapidly after meeting another British war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, it may be worth reading one of these two books. Both contain many more poems by Wilfred Owen and extracts from his letters.
Lesson 1: Owen’s Background | The Poetry of Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares(2) we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest(3) began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots(4)
Of tired, outstripped(5) Five-Nines(6) that dropped behind.
Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets(8) just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime(9) . . .
Dim, through the misty panes(10) and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering,(11) choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud(12)
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest(13)
To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.(15)
Wilfred Owen - Great English anti-war poet of World War I
Although he could have avoided a return to the front, Owen felt a pressing duty to record the experiences of his comrades. "All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful," he wrote. Owen was killed in action a week before the war ended, in November 1918. The telegram of his death reached his parents as the bells were ringing out to announce the Armistice.
‘Image and Reality’ – the writings of Wilfred Owen and …
In line 12, "pallor" - "pall" (paleness-coffin cloth) is almost an example of Owen’s use of pararhyme (half rhyme), a poetic device which may give a downbeat, lowering effect or creates an impression of solemnity. "Flowers" (line 13) suggest beauty but also sadness, again a word that runs counter to the pandemonium of the first eight lines.