Anthem for Doomed Youth and Reservist Essay
War is something most frown upon. The theme of war and destruction is presented through the poems ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and ‘Reservist’, written by Wilfred Owen and Boey Kim Cheng respectively. The poets convey their views of dehumanisation, bringing to light the mindless destruction and the effects of war through intentional use techniques such as structure, imagery, irony and various literary devices. Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ conveys his ideas of inhumanity and futility of World War One portrayed through his use of the sonnet form and rhetorical questions.
The young men of this period were lured into society views of the patriotic love and their eagerness to serve; conversely they spend their lives in the battlefields being shot down by machine guns. Their lives were wasted, gone without any dignified recognition and left their loved ones with the resulting hurt back home. Owen has exercised the structure of a sonnet in this poem. This is ironic in the sense as sonnets conventionally convey the theme of love. The fourteen lines are divided into an octave which describes mostly on the battlefield, then a sestet that illustrates the resulting reactions from family and friends back home.
Irony can also be seen through the title as “anthem” is usually being associated with love and passion. In this way, Owen shows his opinions on the ridiculousness of the war. “What passing bells for these who die as cattle? ” projects an image of a slaughterhouse through this use of simile. Imagery of unnecessary murder of the young men and mass burials parallel the ideas of cattle being slaughtered mercilessly and thus emphasises the crazy sacrifice that the soldiers gave. This use of rhetorical question offers the readers an opportunity to impersonate a soldier in this situation and to come to the realisation of the stupidity of the war.
The next stanza also begins with another rhetorical question. “What candles may be held to speed them all? ” Owen deliberately does so together with the sonnet structure to highlight the idea of the obvious foolishness of the war. Owen’s use of literary devices and comparisons also help express the effects of this war. Through personification of “Only the monstrous anger of the guns”, the guns are made evil as they have taken so many human lives. “Only the stuttering riffles’ rapid rattle can patter out their hasty orisons” shows that instead of the deserved prayers, the soldiers received firing bullets.
The onomatopoeia of “stuttering” and the alliteration of “riffle’s rapid rattle” paint an image of sounds in the environment and also imply that the sounds were unclear. The use of “shrill” creates an image that their funeral was not a peaceful one. Together with the onomatopoeic “wailing” displays an image of extreme sadness. Owen accentuates again that the idiocy of the war has consequently allowed innocent men to die without any reasonable purpose. The “wailing” is also contrasted to the traditional peaceful “choirs”, presenting the futility of the war even more greatly.
The pallor of girl’s brows shall be their pall”, Owen compares the customary pale cloth draped over the coffin in a funeral to the paleness and sickness of the victims’ family back home, presumably women. It suggests the reality of the sorrowful emotions the relatives have experienced due to the terrible effect of this tragedy. “… each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds”, compares the shutting of blinds in the house when a person has passed away to the shutting of the eyelids when someone is dying. Use of alliteration is used deliberately to bring the poem to a close.
Having the effect of continuing war sounds even after the deaths, shows no remembrance for the soldiers but the fighting carries on. Boey Kim Cheng has presented his ideas on the pointlessness of war in ‘Reservist’ through extended metaphor of the medieval era. Cheng uses this extended metaphor to liken the futility of war to the battles in the medieval time period. He does this by using themed words including “clarion”, “lordship”, “cavalier” and “joust”. The court martial language parallels the idea of the Singaporean government providing a military training scheme to discipline and control young men whilst learning to defend their country.
Call to arms… the king’s command” stresses that this is a requirement to all young men and there is no alternative choice. The monotony and futility of war preparation by the strict Singaporean government is conveyed through literary techniques including metaphors, similes and repetition in this poem. Diction also has importance in portraying this idea. Throughout ‘Reservist’, there is an abundant use of long sentences punctuated with commas and enjambment. This results in a repetitive form and constant cycle which is never ending.
Time again for the annual joust, the regular fanfare” suggests that there is a yearly event that all reservists are required to attend. By using the words “annual” and “again” shows that this is an ongoing situation. Furthermore, links to their age such as “creaking bones and suppressed grunts” hint that some of the reservists are old and “battle-weary knights” implies that they are physically exhausted. Suggestions of the government forcing civilians to come reservists is described in “ransack the wardrobes” showing that soldier’s armour is not their usual occupational outfit.
The simile likens the reservists to “children placed on carousels” suggesting that because of the government, the civilians are very obedient, following strict orders. Cheng suggests a cyclic motion, and the reservists likened to a child’s carnival ride which they have the inability to control. “We will play the game till the monotony sends his lordship to sleep” this metaphor means that the men will not give up, for they will continue to obey the government until they are not needed anymore.
The speaker explains the want to keep fighting and in turn “emerge unlikely heroes”. In addition with this idea, Cheng portrays the monotony of war in “we will keep charging up the same hills, plod through the same forests” as it justifies that the civilians complete the same training regime each year. Together with “rusty armour” connotes that the armour has been worn many times and thus implies that they people have continuously contributed in the repetition of war.
We will march the same paths till they break onto new trails, our lives stumbling onto the open sea, into daybreak” this summarises that the men will continue to be reservists until they find new happiness, presumably an overseas voyage similar of those personally experienced by Cheng himself. Both the poet’s approach to the destructive impact war has been thoroughly expressed. In ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, Owen has emphasised his opinion that war is idiotic. The young men that served are foolish as they cannot oversee the importance of their lives, but would rather die in vain.
However, those that died I the Western Front in World War One did not receive any dignified recognition and even in their death, the battles continued to destroy around them. Cheng’s poem ‘Reservist’ has portrayed his perspective on the pointlessness of the war and the monotony of it. These opinions remain relevant in the current society. According to nytimes. com, President Obama has admitted to the futility of modern war such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq. In this period, the costs vastly exceed the gains. Together, the two poets have expressed the ever-valid opinion of the absurdity of war.