Anthem for Doomed Youth: Exploring the Devastating Impact of WWI

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Sassoon’s Critique of WWI and Society’s Illusions

WWI had a devastating impact on its veterans as well as those on the sidelines. Even though it was clear who the enemy was and was not, there was mass confusion amongst those not fighting in the war. Young men were subject to harsh conditions such as rats, lice, trench warfare, and a lack of food. Both poets Sassoon and Owen were actively involved in the war, Sassoon writing incredibly fierce and passionate poems about the war, depicting a strong hatred and resentment towards it.

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Owen, on the other hand, was inspired by Sassoon and wrote shockingly realistic poems depicting the strength and brutality of the war.
Poet Siegfried Sassoon employs different literary techniques to communicate the illusion of WWI and the effects it had on its veterans. In his poem “They,” the structure consists of six lines within two stanzas of iambic pentameter, along with the rhyme scheme of ABABCC.

Owen’s Realism: The Experience of War

The title refers to the British soldiers who fought in WWI; the first sentence, “When the boys come back, they will not be the same,” means that the war has changed many boys and will change those going into it; this sentence is the bishop addressing the fact that the boys have come home from the war different. The bishop then continues on to state, “for they’ll have fought in a just cause.” Not only is this using alliteration, but it reinforces the fact that the bishop believes that the boys are fighting for what is right, for what is good, and holy, “attack on antichrist) and that what they are doing is honorable. However, the majority of the British did not know what it was like to be in the war and had muddled views on the war itself. Sassoon uses imagery to emphasize the effect of the war on its veterans. In the second stanza, it states that George has lost both his legs, Bill became blind, Jim was shot through the lungs, and Burt is suffering from syphilis. He goes through each boy and depicts major injuries, showing the reader how gruesome the Cold War truly is.

Distinct Approaches, Shared Purpose

Poet Wilfred Owen employs different literary techniques to depict the experience of the war. In his poem, “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” the structure is made up of eight plus six lines and has an octet as well as a sestet, the rhyme scheme being ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The first stanza uses personification straight away, “only the monstrous anger of the guns,” “the shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells,” as well as “the bugles calling.” This allows the reader to imagine what it was like to be in the war. Owen emphasizes the boldness and loudness of the rifles as well as giving the poem a sense of speed in the line, “only the stuttering rifles rapid rattle.” This uses onomatopoeia and alliteration to give a bold description of the loudness of the rifles. He does, in the second stanza, refer to candles, asking a rhetorical question, “What candles may be held to speed them all?” Candles are used in funerals as a guiding light, sending the spirits on their way towards good fortune. Drawing on this, these soldiers who are dying in the war don’t get a candle to light their way, another use of alliteration and comparison.

Poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen are both similar in terms of literary techniques but very different in terms of focus and description. Both Poets use literary techniques such as alliteration and imagery to convey their main points. Sassoon is extremely critical in his works; his poem “They” criticizes the war and people’s muddled views about it. For example, Sassoon gives the example of the bishop, creating him into this character that thinks he understands the war and its effects but really doesn’t, as the boys prove him wrong. While Sassoon is very critical, Owen tends to focus on the moment, drawing the reader in with every little bit of necessary detail. In “Anthem of the Doomed Youth,” he personifies the sounds of the bombs and emphasizes the quickness of the rifles, allowing those finer details to grasp the reader’s attention.


Both poets, Sassoon and Owen, share the experience of the war through their writings, depicting the illusions people had as well as the finer, necessary details allowing us to step foot in the experience. Though their styles are different, they both emphasize the use of literary techniques to get their message across, whether that be imagery, allusion, personification, or even style. 


  1. Sassoon, S. (1917). They. In Collected Poems (pp. 69-70). Faber and Faber.

  2. Owen, W. (1917). Anthem for Doomed Youth. In Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (pp. 74-75). Chatto & Windus.

  3. Carter, P. (2000). War Poetry and the Anthropology of Reading. Yale University Press.

  4. Kendall, T. S. (2015). The Background of Sassoon’s “They”. Notes & Queries, 62(3), 496-498.

  5. Birch, D. (1996). War and the Literary Hero: A Study of Siegfried Sassoon’s War Poetry. Macmillan International Higher Education.

  6. Hibberd, D. (2002). Wilfred Owen: A New Biography. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

  7. Stallworthy, J. (2013). Anthem for Doomed Youth: Twelve Soldier Poets of the First World War. Oxford University Press.

  8. Cousins, A. D. (2019). Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon: An Environmental Perspective. In Literature and the Great War, 1914-1918 (pp. 146-168). Brill Rodopi.

  9. Hibberd, D. (1985). Owen the Poet. Chatto & Windus.

  10. Partington, A. (2007). Wilfred Owen. Oxford University Press.

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Anthem for Doomed Youth: Exploring the Devastating Impact of WWI. (2023, Aug 29). Retrieved from