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Imagery in Anthem for Doomed Youth

As a soldier on the frontlines of battle, Owen saw the atrocities of war firsthand. He translated these experiences of trench warfare and military artillery power into his poetry with potent imagery. In the first stanza of the poem, Owen employs auditory imagery to describe the ceaseless sounds of warfare, of the “stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.” Contrasted against the lack of funeral bells, Owen makes clear that the only sounds of battle are of bullets flying over soldiers’ heads. While the first stanza deals with the horror of war, the second stanza illustrates the quietude of grieving as the speaker transplants the reader away from battle and into the home country. Here, Owen employs visual imagery of sallow, tearful children to demonstrate the contemplative, meditative nature of grief.

Imagery Examples in Anthem for Doomed Youth:

Text of the Owen's Poem

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"slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds...."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

This image, which likens nightfall to the “drawing-down of blinds,” evokes both the end of a day and, more broadly and metaphorically, the end of a life. Dusk falls slowly, perhaps indicating that the process of grief is long and fraught. Grief is interminable, and as night falls and dawn emerges, the grieving process begins all over again the next day. The image of dusk descending into night echoes the lyrics to taps: “Day is gone, gone the sun, from the hills, from the lake...fades the light.” Owen connects the two stanzas together by concluding this stanza as he does the last—with the sound of taps to signal an ending.

"Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,..."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

This stanza, like the first, describes the emptiness of war—even in the grieving process. Boys without candles shine light through “holy glimmers of goodbyes,” and girls without veils wear their brows like palls. None of the mourners have flowers, a symbol to represent quiet contemplation to honor the dead, but they do have “patient minds.” As they wait to hear of news overseas about the young soldiers, they must rely on their patience to carry them through the arduous process of grieving.

"The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;..."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

In the Christian church, the word “pall” refers to the cloth placed over an altar during the Eucharist as well as the cloth draped over a coffin during a funeral. The girls’ pallid brows serves as a metaphor for the mourning veils—“their palls”—traditionally worn over the faces of the grieving. The absence of actual veils underscores the absence of funeral rites; after all, the soldiers have died overseas.

"in their eyes
 Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
..."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

The speaker takes the dark, deathly funerary images from the first stanza and recasts them to describe the other side of war: the grieving process. Instead of bullets and death, the speaker envisions the mourning boys whose tears glimmer in their eyes. By describing the other side of war, the speaker creates an introspective, meditative tone. He establishes that the mourner’s grief is spiritual and perpetual, unlike the earthly, finite scenes of the first stanza.

"candles..."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

The second stanza has transitioned to the location of the shires. In contrast to the first, the second illustrates a quiet environment, far from the mayhem of war. The candle provides a distinct image against all the clanking, hideous sounds of war and suggests quietude and contemplation.

"bugles calling for them from sad shires...."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

At the end of the first stanza, the speaker employs the word “bugles,” which are a trumpet-like wind instrument traditionally associated with the military—in particular, the funeral call “Taps.” Since 1891, in accordance with army infantry regulations, the military has been required to play taps at all military funeral services. The bugles, always played at dusk, signal the end of the day. In the context of the poem, the bugles call for the soldiers, bringing a close to the soldiers’ lives.

"The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
..."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

The adjective “shrill” indicates that the bullets are like high-pitched, piercing screams, whereas the terms “demented” and “wailing” add a dimension of bedlam. The “wailing shells” come as a “choir,” meaning that the bullets whiz past incessantly and without rest. These word choices serve as auditory imagery to emphasize how the bullets whip past the heads of soldiers, who are perhaps crouched inside trenches. Additionally, the metaphor of the shells constituting a choir underscores the poem’s broader conceit concerning the sacrilegious, graceless nature of warfare.

"hasty orisons..."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

To further the sombre funeral imagery, the speaker describes the gunfire as “hasty orisons,” or prayers. Since the speaker calls the orison “hasty,” this word choice not only adds to the overall sense of the urgency and chaos of war but also reiterates the lack of ceremony for the soldiers.

"stuttering rifles' rapid rattle..."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

Here, the speaker employs another auditory image. The diction, which includes words like “rattle” and “stuttering,” evokes an image of guns’ firing in rapid succession. This image is furthered by Owen’s use of consonance, in the repetition of the r consonant in “rifles’ rapid rattle” and the trio of t sounds in “stuttering” and “rattle.” The consonance mimics, through onomatopoeia, the bursting sounds of rifles.

"monstrous anger..."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

This first stanza is replete with auditory imagery. The soldiers may not hear the sounds of the passing-bell; however, they hear the guns, which the speaker describes as having “monstrous anger.” The meaning of the term “monstrous” contributes to this image of piercing sound: frightening in appearance and inhumane. In this context, the imagery of the guns not only evokes terrifying pieces of artillery but also heinous devices of murder.

"passing-bells..."   (Text of the Owen's Poem)

The word “passing-bell” refers to a church bell rung following a death to signal a moment of mourning and prayer. This word choice serves as auditory imagery, evoking the sound of bells rung for funerary service. Thus, the speaker immediately establishes a somber tone to the poem, one which contrasts sharply against the backdrop of war.

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