Sigfried Sassoon´s 1919

Wirers’and ‘Trench Duty’.

A soldier’s everyday life in the battlefield during the First World War through the eye of a poet.

Poesía Inglesa Siglos XIX-XX

Curso 2005-2006

Profesor: Vicente Forés

Alumno: Alfredo Carbonell Rico

TRENCH 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 chilled,

10Or crawling on their bellies through the wire.

11"What? Stretcher-bearers wanted? Some one killed?"

12Five minutes ago I heard a sniper fire:

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 they attack.

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 number thirteen.

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 general.

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.



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(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 2004.


(4) NORTON.COM The Norton Anthology of English Literature. ‘Representing the Great War: Text and Context’. © 2003 - 2006 W.W. Norton and Company.


(5)THE VALVE- A LITERARY ORGAN ‘Texture Words and Data Mining: Two Examples (Woolf and Sassoon)’. Editor: John Holbo. January 2006