Wilfred Owen's ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’: ‘The poetry is in the pity’

Lesson rationale

Wilfred Owen’s poetry, which resounds with the horror of war, is all the more powerful because of its discipline and control. Much of Owen’s poetic craft was developed during his friendship with Siegfried Sassoon, which began while both were being treated for shell shock at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh in 1917.

These activities will enable students to explore the context of Owen’s poetry and to examine Sassoon’s influence on his work through comparing an early draft of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ with the version that has become one of the best-known poems of the First World War. This close reading of two versions of the poem will encourage students to reflect on the process of composition, and to consider how the discipline of the sonnet form enables Owen to communicate his emotions in a strikingly powerful way.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • Why were Sassoon and Owen at Craiglockhart?
  • What did they feel about the war, and in what ways did they express these feelings?
  • In what ways did Sassoon influence the writing of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’?
  • What is the significance of Owen’s use of the sonnet form in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’?