(I)GCSE Poetry 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen · 2020-01-08 · writing of Owen’s...

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Alexander Myers English, Grades 9-12 [email protected] 1 (I)GCSE Poetry 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen A About the Author W ilfred Owen, who wrote some of the best British poetry on World War I, composed nearly all of his poems in slightly over a year, from August 1917 to September 1918. In November 1918, he was killed in action at the age of twenty-five, one week before the Armistice. As the war went on, Wilfred Owen was one of the British poets who wrote about the dark side of the war in the trenches on the western front. Owen came from a family of modest means; he was accepted at the University of London but was unable tosupport the costs of education there. When the war began, he was working as a private tutor in France. He volunteered for service in 1915, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Manchester regiment in 1916. His poetry, presenting the harsh realities of fighting on the front lines in France, created an indelible image of the war for postwar generations. Owen's poetry is based on horrific first-hand experiences as a soldier at the front and in the trenches. On 12 January 1917, for example, occurred the march and attack of poison gas he later reported in “Dulce et Decorum Est.” They marched three miles over a shelled road and three more along a flooded trench, where those who got stuck in the heavy mud had to leave their waders, as well as some clothing and equipment, and move ahead on bleeding and freezing feet. They were under machine-gun fire, shelled by heavy explosives throughout the cold march, and were almost unconscious from fatigue when the poison-gas attack occurred. Another incident that month, in which one of Owen’s men was blown from a ladder in their trench and blinded, forms the basis of “The Sentry.” In February 1917, Owen attended an infantry school at Amiens. On 19 March, he was hospitalized for a brain concussion suffered six nights earlier, when he fell into a fifteen-foot- deep shell hole while searching in the dark for a soldier overcome by fatigue. Blunden dates the writing of Owen’s sonnet “To A Friend (With an Identity Disc)” to these few days in the hospital. Throughout April the battalion suffered incredible physical privations caused by the record-breaking cold and snow and by the heavy shelling. For four days and nights Owen and his men remained in an open field in the snow, with no support forces arriving to relieve them and with no chance to change wet, frozen clothes or to sleep: “I kept alive on brandy, the fear of death, and the glorious prospect of the cathedral town just below us, glittering with the morning.” Three weeks later on 25 April he continued to write his mother of the intense shelling: “For twelve days I did not wash my face, nor take off my boots, nor sleep a deep sleep. For twelve days we lay in holes where at any moment a shell might put us out.” One wet night during this time he was blown into the air while he slept. For the next several days he hid in a hole too small for his body, with the body of a friend, now dead, huddled in a similar hole opposite him, and less than six feet away. In these letters to his mother he directed his bitterness not at the enemy but at the people back in England “who might relieve us and will not.”
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Transcript of (I)GCSE Poetry 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen · 2020-01-08 · writing of Owen’s...

  • Alexander MyersEnglish, Grades 9-12

    [email protected]

    1

    (I)GCSE Poetry'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen

    A About the Author

    Wilfred Owen, who wrote some of the best British poetry on World War I, composed nearly all of his poems in slightly over a year, from August 1917 to September 1918. In November 1918,

    he was killed in action at the age of twenty-five, one week before the

    Armistice. As the war went on, Wilfred Owen was one of the British

    poets who wrote about the dark side of the war in the trenches on the

    western front. Owen came from a family of modest means; he was

    accepted at the University of London but was unable tosupport the

    costs of education there. When the war began, he was working as a

    private tutor in France. He volunteered for service in 1915, and was

    commissioned as a lieutenant in the Manchester regiment in 1916. His

    poetry, presenting the harsh realities of fighting on the front lines in

    France, created an indelible image of the war for postwar generations.

    Owen's poetry is based on horrific first-hand experiences as a soldier at the front and in the

    trenches. On 12 January 1917, for example, occurred the march and attack of poison gas he later

    reported in “Dulce et Decorum Est.” They marched three miles over a shelled road and three more

    along a flooded trench, where those who got stuck in the heavy mud had to leave their waders, as

    well as some clothing and equipment, and move ahead on bleeding and freezing feet. They were

    under machine-gun fire, shelled by heavy explosives throughout the cold march, and were almost

    unconscious from fatigue when the poison-gas attack occurred. Another incident that month, in

    which one of Owen’s men was blown from a ladder in their trench and blinded, forms the basis of

    “The Sentry.” In February 1917, Owen attended an infantry school at Amiens. On 19 March, he

    was hospitalized for a brain concussion suffered six nights earlier, when he fell into a fifteen-foot-

    deep shell hole while searching in the dark for a soldier overcome by fatigue. Blunden dates the

    writing of Owen’s sonnet “To A Friend (With an Identity Disc)” to these few days in the hospital.

    Throughout April the battalion suffered incredible physical privations caused by the record-breaking

    cold and snow and by the heavy shelling. For four days and nights Owen and his men remained in

    an open field in the snow, with no support forces arriving to relieve them and with no chance to

    change wet, frozen clothes or to sleep: “I kept alive on brandy, the fear of death, and the glorious

    prospect of the cathedral town just below us, glittering with the morning.” Three weeks later on

    25 April he continued to write his mother of the intense shelling: “For twelve days I did not wash

    my face, nor take off my boots, nor sleep a deep sleep. For twelve days we lay in holes where at

    any moment a shell might put us out.” One wet night during this time he was blown into the air

    while he slept. For the next several days he hid in a hole too small for his body, with the body of

    a friend, now dead, huddled in a similar hole opposite him, and less than six feet away. In these

    letters to his mother he directed his bitterness not at the enemy but at the people back in England

    “who might relieve us and will not.”

  • Alexander MyersEnglish, Grades 9-12

    [email protected]

    2

    B 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'

    Most war poetry expresses the thoughts and emotions of the poet, and it is rare to hear the voices of the soldiers who actually fought it. In several of his most effective war poems, Owen suggests that the experience of war for him was surrealistic, as when the infantrymen

    dream, hallucinate, begin freezing to death, continue to march after several nights without sleep,

    lose consciousness from loss of blood, or enter a hypnotic state from fear or excessive guilt. The

    resulting disconnected sensory perceptions and the speaker’s confusion about his identity suggest

    that not only the speaker, but the whole humanity, has lost its moorings. The horror of war, then,

    becomes more universal, the tragedy more overwhelming, and the pity evoked more profound,

    because there is no rational explanation to account for the cataclysm.

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    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 nor bells;

    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 dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

    Anthem: perhaps best known in the expression "The National Anthem," also, an important religious song (often expressing joy); here, perhaps, a solemn song of celebration

    passing-bells: a bell tolled after some-one's death to announce the death to the world.

    patter out: to speak rapidly

    orisons: prayers, here funeral prayers 

    mockeries: ceremonies which are insults.

    wailing: a high-pitched cry of pain   bugles: small trumpets played at mili-tary funerals  shires:  English counties and coun-tryside from which so many of the soldiers came 

    candles: church candles, or the can-dles lit in the room where a body lies in a coffin 

    pallor: an unhealthy pale appearance

    pall: a cloth spread over a coffin drawing-down of blinds: here, the tradition of drawing the blinds in a room where a dead person lies, as a sign to the world and as a mark of respect.

  • Alexander MyersEnglish, Grades 9-12

    [email protected]

    3

    C Close Reading & Analysis

    Title, Themes, and Structure:

    1) Why is the poem called an “anthem”? What is ironic about the title of the poem, and to what extent do you think that the title is appropriate, given what the poem is about?

    2) What central contrasts does Owen create in the poem, to what purpose, and, more importantly, to what effect?

    3) What does the poem seem to be suggesting about war and the experience of dying onthe battlefield?

    4) What do you notice about the form and structure of the poem? How does Owen's use of this poetic form differ from more traditional versions, to what purpose, and to what effect?

    Analysing Language and Poetic Devices:

    5) Identify at least 5 different poetic devices and examples – you'll find personification, metaphor, repetition simile, alliteration, assonance etc. Complete the chart below with the headings: “T” for Technique, “E” for Example, “A” for analyse, and “R” for relevance and effect:

    Technique Example Analysis Relevance & Effect

    Themes, Ideas, Connections:

    6) Which phrases do you find particularly striking or memorable, and why?

    7) If you were given the opportunity to discuss the poem with Owen today, what questions

    would you ask him?

    D Food for Thought

    WB Yeats described Owen’s poetry as “all blood, dirt & sucked sugar stick” and refused to put Owen’s poems (or those of any of the poets of the First World War) in his edition of The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892-1935.

    What do you think about this judgement of Owen’s poetry? Do you think Yeats' assessment is justified?