Anthem for Doomed Youth
The two poems “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen and “Vergissmeinnicht” By Keith Douglas fall under the genre of “War Poetry” and explore similar themes, including the effects of war, love, and death. I intend to analyse both the poems’ structure and content to explore these themes and explain why and how the poets have portrayed them in verse. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” takes the form of a Petrarchan sonnet due to its stanzaic structure of an octet succeeded by a sestet; however it follows a rhyme scheme more closely associated with a Shakespearean sonnet, abab cdcd, effe gg.
However, instead of using a heroic rhyme scheme of abab for the lines: 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; he uses a rhyme enclosure of abba, possibly to differentiate between this poem and other poems which use the Shakespearean rhyme scheme, which are often concerned with the semantic field of love.
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In this poem doomed love is an overriding theme, the poem itself is an “elegy, a lament for the dead. (Simcox) Therefore, Owen’s aim to askew the traditional theme of a sonnet is complimented by his variation on the traditional rhyme scheme. Religion is also an overriding theme of this poem and Owen chooses to intercut references to war with to religious imagery, “Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs- / The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells. ” With the first line Owen conjures the image of a choir singing hymns in a church or similar setting, while in the second line it’s as if Owen is making a correction to the preceding line, contrasting the original image with one concerned with the heat of battle.
These two lines, and examples elsewhere in the poem, suggest that Owen considered religion irrelevant to what was happening during the First World War. This viewpoint is backed up by a letter he sent to his mother in 1912, “All theological lore is growing distasteful to me. ” (Stallworthy 75) “Vergissmeinnicht” (Translation: “Forget Me Not”) unlike “Anthem” follows a less identifiable structure, consisting of six stanzas of four lines each. The rhyme scheme consists of two rhyme couplets per stanza but often makes use of half rhymes so as to make the poem more difficult to read: Look. Here in the gunpit spoil he dishonoured picture of his girl who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht in a copybook gothic script. It is possible that Douglas intentionally makes the poem difficult to read so as to mirror the idea that the soldier, from whose perspective the poem is written, finds it difficult to look at the other soldier on the ground. It could also be argued that the rhyme scheme is unstable because “Like the rhyme scheme, war is unstable. ” (Birkshire) Tying in with this concept is the syllabic count of each line which keeps to a constant eight or nine syllables per line. However there is a deviance to this rule twice in the poem, in line 9, “Look.
Here in the gunpit spoil,” and line 21, “For here the lover and killer are mingled. ” Line 9 consists of only seven syllables possible because of the feeling of surprise exhibited in the line, the shorter line length suggests that the Douglas is trying to instil the soldier’s shock into the structure of the line. Line 11 is eleven syllables long as it is arguably the most important line in the poem and as such, must stand out, because it places Steffi (lover) and the soldier (killer) under the same metaphorical spotlight and invites the reader to compare their reactions to the image of the dead soldier.
Birkshire goes on to suggest that the organised syllabic count is supposed to reflect the organised aspects of the military and thus, in tying in with the unpredictable rhyme scheme, the poem represents both the unpredictable and organised aspects of war. “Anthem’s” syllabic count is even more structured than that of “Vergissmeinnicht. ” Four lines don’t comply with the strict iambic pentameter associated with sonnets, these are: Line 1, “What passing bells for those who die as cattle? Line 2, “- Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Line3, “Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle. ” Line 10, “Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes. ” Line 1 differs from the iambic pentameter as it has eleven syllables as opposed to the expected ten. This is due to the polysyllabic nature of the word “cattle. ” Owen had originally used the term “in herds” as the final words of that line and “rattled words” at the end of line three but was “[dissatisfied] with the first and third lines. (Stallworthy 219) As a result “in herds” was changed to “as cattle” so as to fit into the abba rhyme scheme along with “rapid rattle” in line three. Line 3 does not fit the convention of the iambic pentameter as it has six feet instead of the standard five. The reason for this is to use onomatopoeia to give the line the phonetic form akin to gun fire, and the extended length of the line is to convey the extended and continuous nature of said gun fire on the battlefield.
Another reason for line 3 not fitting the convention, and also the reason for line 2 being an exception is the trochaic foot of the repeated word “Only. ” This technique is used by Owen to bring the reader’s attention to the word as it indicates that the following words are in response to the rhetorical question in line 1. Similarly the same reason for line 10’s opening foot “Not in” being a trochee is to indicate an answer being supplied for the rhetorical question contained in line 9. Douglas employs the use of enjambment a lot throughout “Vergissmeinnicht,” Three weeks gone and the combatants gone eturning over the nightmare ground we found the place again, and found the soldier sprawling in the sun. And The frowing barrel of his gun overshadowing. As we came on that day, he hit my tank with one like the entry of a demon. The lines above, which are just two sets of run-on sentences, is an example of enjambment in the poem. This technique is used to signify the on-going nature of war. This is in contrast with the setting of the poem, in a field three weeks after a battle has taken place.
It brings to mind the old notion of even though the battle is won the war goes on and contrasts with the aftermath tone of the poem. In comparison “Anthem” uses enjambment only twice, “Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle / Can patter out their hasty orisons / No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells” and “Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes / Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. ” The poem’s reluctance to use enjambment may stem from its theme of finality, and thus most lines end with a punctuation mark to signify that it is indeed over.
The exceptions listed above may occur so as to make it clear that they are the answers to the rhetorical questions in lines one and nine. The two poems explore a similar subject matter in different ways, they both explore the theme of love in the context of war but whereas “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is a sonnet which questions the role religious customs play in preserving the memory of someone who has died, “Vergissmeinnicht” ponders how a death can be received differently by two different people. They both also use imagery extensively to bring the reader under their influence.