Sigfried Sassoon´s 1919
A soldier’s everyday life
in the battlefield during the First World War through the eye of a poet.
Poesía Inglesa Siglos XIX-XX
Profesor: Vicente Forés
Alumno: Alfredo Carbonell Rico
DUTY by Siegfried Sassoon
1 Shaken from sleep, and numbed and scarce awake,
2 Out in the trench with three hours' watch to take,
3 I blunder through the splashing mirk; and then
4 Hear the gruff muttering voices of the men
5 Crouching in cabins candle-chinked with light.
6 Hark! There's the big bombardment on our right
7 Rumbling and bumping; and the dark's a glare
8 Of flickering horror in the sectors where
9 We raid the Boche; men waiting, stiff and
10Or crawling on their bellies through
wanted? Some one killed?"
12Five minutes ago I heard a
13Why did he do it?... Starlight overhead--
14Blank stars. I'm wide-awake;
and some chap's dead.
WIRERS by Siegfried Sassoon
1 "Pass it along, the wiring
party's going out"--
2 And yawning sentries mumble,
"Wirers going out."
3 Unravelling; twisting;
hammering stakes with muffled thud,
4 They toil with stealthy haste
and anger in their blood.
5 The Boche
sends up a flare. Black forms stand rigid there,
6 Stock-still like posts; then
darkness, and the clumsy ghosts
7 Stride hither and thither,
whispering, tripped by clutching snare
8 Of snags and tangles.
9 Ghastly dawn with vaporous coasts
10Gleams desolate along the sky,
night's misery ended.
11Young Hughes was badly hit; I
heard him carried away,
12Moaning at every lurch; no
doubt he'll die to-day.
13But _we_ can say the front-line
wire's been safely mended.
In this reading module we are going to analyse
two poems written by Sigfried Sassoon during the
First World War in which he fought for the United Kingdom against Germany.(1,
FIRST WORLD WAR.COM) (2, WIKIPEDIA). The two of the poems deal with the same
main topic, this is with the everyday life of a
soldier during the period that covered the so called Great War. As long as we
know that Sassoon took part in it, we can guess that he was highly affected by
the events that he had to life and that his literary work will take its
referents and sources from first hand and also that these effects would have
had an enormous effect on him.
The first aspect we are going to
look upon is the title of each poem, which are
obviously related to the theme of the poem they present. The first one, called
‘Trench Duty’ makes reference to the task the soldiers had to do in this part
of the battlefield. The second one called ‘Wirers’ can be easily related to the
topic we are dealing with as well, this is the work of putting wires in the
battlefield to defend a position from the enemy advance or to slow it in case
Formally speaking, both poems
present a very simple and clear scheme for the rhyme and the verses. The first
poem is built with fourteen verses of ten syllables each. The rhyme pattern is
also very simple and clear, following the AABB type for the first eight verses,
the ABAB type for the next four and a rhymed couplet for the two last verses as
a manner of conclusion. The second poem is divided into three stanzas with
four, six and three verses each. The rhyme for the first stanza follows the
AABB type. For the second stanza we find an irregular ABACBD and an AAD type
for the closing stanza. It is to be said that the verse number 10 rhymes with
The grammatical person used in
both poems is the first one. In the poem called ‘Trench Duty’, we can find the
pronoun ‘I’ in lines 3, 12, 14 and the pronoun ‘We’ in line 9. In the poem called
‘Wirers’, we just can find the pronoun ‘I’ in line 11 and the pronoun ‘We’ in
line 13 but we can guess the usage of the first grammatical person in the poem
also by the high comas showing quotations from the battlefield and for the
descriptions that only someone who was there could make so precisely.
I think that it is quite obvious
that the use of the first person in the narration implies that the writer was
exactly there at that moment and that he is using poetry to tell us about his
personal experiences.(1, FIRST WORLD WAR.COM) (2, WIKIPEDIA)
We can say about the use of the
language that both poems are constructed around two main semantic fields. The
two of them share the language of war, of course for they are war poems. But
they also have a secondary semantic field that deals with the aspect of
psychological depression and fear in the first poem and a language related to
wires in the second lyrical work. It is quite obvious that, as long as Siegfried
Sassoon was talking about two different themes in two different poems, he had
to clearly differentiate them, although they both talked about war.
In the poem called ‘Trench Duty’
we can find many terms related to war such as ‘trench’ and ‘watch’ in line 2,
‘bombardment’ in line 6, ‘raid’ in line 9, ‘wire’ in line 10 and ‘sniper fire’
in line 12. But we can also find a language related to fear and brutality in
terms such as ‘Shaken’ and ‘numbed’ in line 1, ‘gruff ‘ in line 4, ‘horror’ in
line 8, ‘stiff and chilled’ in line 9, ‘killed’ in line 11 and ‘dead’ in line
14 as the closing for the poem. In my opinion, Sassoon tries to transmit to the
reader the horror and fear that war brings to the fighters and to everyone in
In the poem that Sassoon called
‘Wirers’, we can find the semantic field of war as well in words such as ‘wiring
party's’ in line 1, ‘sentries’ and ‘Wirers’ in line 2, ‘stakes’ in line 3,
‘flare’ in line 5, ‘snare’ in line 7 or ‘front-line wire's’ in line 13. But we
can also find a semantic field related to the title in terms such as
‘Unravelling’ and ‘twisting’ in line 3, ‘tripped by clutching snare’ in line 7
and ‘snags and tangles’ in line 8. We must point out that’There is an
overwhelming tone of darkness, blindness, and paralysis in the poems, some of
which were written while Sassoon was in "recovery" at a mental
hospital in Craiglockhart, Scotland near the end of the war (of course, he was
never really sick)’ (5, THE VALVE). In my opinion, the use of this specific language personalises this poem in
relation to other ones and for me it is a kind of dedicatory to a specialized
group of people that fought in the First World War.
Finally, we are going to look for
evidences for the relation between the effects of World War I and the poetry
Siegfried Sassoon wrote. Actually, all
analysts agree on the big impact that the ‘Great War’ had on society. But
feelings towards the war changed as it was going on. In fact, people moved from
an enthusiastic position towards war to a total disappointment, as Sassoon did
in a very logical parallelism. He first supported the war, being one of the
first poets in joining the army (indeed, he described himself as a ‘happy
warrior’), switching to a position against it later on. We can find evidences
for this change in his poetry: ‘prior to the battle of Somme
he wrote in favour of the war. During the post-Somme/Craiglockhart
period he wrote against it and following the war he wrote against all war in general’
(3, AEGIS, page 31).Therefore we can even find the writer telling so to his
superiors in the army and to the Parliament. (4, NORTON).
Looking at the poem, we can find a very interesting explanation to
the ‘Sniper fire’ appearance in the poem, for one of these killed a friend of
Sassoon in action. (3, AEGIS, page 34).
Personally, I have really enjoyed
both the reading and the analysing of these poems, for they show a very simple
and clear vocabulary and structure and a straightforward meaning. I also think
that the poet perfectly transmits his personal experience, sensations and
feelings to the readers by all the literary devices explained before.
Web site copyright © 2003-2006
Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation — All Rights Reserved. Most recently updated: 2006-01-24 13:42:50.
(1) FIRST WORLD WAR.COM ‘Prose
and Poetry: Sigfried Sassoon’. Michael Duffy, site Editor
(2) WIKIPEDIA.COM ‘Sigfried Sassoon’
Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
(3) AEGIS, Humanities journal.
‘To any dead officer: A study of The War Poetry of Siegfried Sassoon’ by Nathan
Weller. Editors: Ashard Foley and Teresa Moore. Ohio. Spring
(4) NORTON.COM The
Norton Anthology of English Literature. ‘Representing the
Great War: Text and Context’. © 2003 - 2006 W.W. Norton and Company.