Anthem for Doomed Youth - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of Anthem for Doomed Youth

Owen questions what is being done to commemorate the deaths of servicemen dying on the Western Front. In the absence of appropriate Christian memorials (about which Owen is cynical), he states that the fury of the battlefield has replaced traditional burial rites. However, back in England, the bitter reality of losing so many young men is reflected in the demeanour of those left behind and in nature itself.

Investigating Anthem for Doomed Youth

  • Owen poses a question at the start of each stanza which he answers himself in the form of the narrative from the Western Front and that from the home front. These accounts are very different. How effective is Owen’s use of questioning in involving the reader in the poem?
    • How does Owen uses the detail of the front line to answer question one?
    • How does Owen uses the detail of the home front to answer the second question?

Commentary on Anthem for Doomed Youth


Image of Siegfried SassoonAnthem for Doomed Youth was written after Owen’s first tour of duty on the Somme. By the time Owen was drafting the poem at Craiglockhart in September 1917, he had experienced both trench warfare and personal injury. As second lieutenant he had led his men over the top, seen the death of friends and comrades and suffered from the neurasthenia (shell shock) which was to result in his being sent back to Blighty

The sonnet was redrafted seven times, with the help of Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon, who was already an established poet and critic of the war, regarded the first draft as patriotic, supporting the war. 

More on Redrafting Anthem for Doomed Youth...: You can find a copy of the original in first world war poetry digital archive. ( It is well worth looking at to see how different it is to the final poem, the changes highlighting Owen’s own change of heart about the war.

Patriotism vs reality 

Before he met Sassoon, Owen felt that to write anti-war poems about what he saw as a defensive ‘war to end all wars’ would undermine morale. Gradually he came to share Sassoon’s view that the role of the poet was to speak out on behalf of the troops. Anti-war poetry was a means by which the reader could be persuaded to exert pressure on the government to negotiate for peace. In a way, Anthem for Doomed Youth can be seen as a turning point both in Owen’s thinking and in his poetry.

More on the order of Owen's poems...: If you are using Stallworthy’s edition of the poems a useful exercise is to look where Anthem for Doomed Youth appears in the chronology. Notice the tone and themes of the poems which come before. The poems which appear immediately after were also drafted at Craiglockhart and have titles such as Inspection and With an Identity Disc. These are realistic titles of real war time experiences which contrast with titles such as A New Heaven and Song of Songs.     

Anthem for Doomed Youth has clear anti-war message. Owen regularly showed drafts to Siegfried Sassoon whose strong anti-war poetry was already well known. It is interesting that it was Sassoon who suggested that Owen:

  • Changed the phrase ‘The monstrous anger of our guns’ to ‘the monstrous anger of the guns’, thus depersonalising it from any possible nationalistic feeling
  • Used the word ‘Anthem’ in the title, to reflect the sombre tone of the poem. 

Investigating Anthem for Doomed Youth

  • Anthem for Doomed Youth is an early poem but is among the most famous of Owen’s works. Compare the synopsis of Anthem for Doomed Youth with the equally famous Dulce et Decorum Est.
    • How does the story each poem tells affect the impact it has on you as the reader?
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