To My Brother
GIVE me your hand, my brother, search my face;
Look in these eyes lest I should think of shame;
For we have made an end of all things base.
We are returning by the road we came.
Your lot is with the ghosts of soldiers dead,
And I am in the field where men must fight.
But in the gloom I see your laurell’d head
And through your victory I shall win the light.
THE Bishop tells us: ‘When the boys come back
‘They will not be the same; for they’ll have fought
‘In a just cause: they lead the last attack
‘On Anti-Christ; their comrades’ blood has bought
‘New right to breed an honourable race,
‘They have challenged Death and dared him face to face.’
‘We’re none of us the same!’ the boys reply.
‘For George lost both his legs; and Bill’s stone blind;
‘Poor Jim’s shot through the lungs and like to die;
‘And Bert’s gone syphilitic: you’ll not find
‘A chap who’s served that hasn’t found some change.’
And the Bishop said: ‘The ways of God are strange!’
‘JACK fell as he’d have wished,’ the Mother said,
And folded up the letter that she’d read.
‘The Colonel writes so nicely.’ Something broke
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. ‘We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers.’ Then her face was bowed.
Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt.
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy.
He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he’d tried 15
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.
Two Hundred Years After
TRUDGING by Corbie Ridge one winter’s night,
(Unless old hearsay memories tricked his sight)
Along the pallid edge of the quiet sky
He watched a nosing lorry grinding on,
And straggling files of men; when these were gone,
A double limber and six mules went by,
Hauling the rations up through ruts and mud
To trench-lines digged two hundred years ago.
Then darkness hid them with a rainy scud,
And soon he saw the village lights below. 10
But when he’d told his tale, an old man said
That he’d seen soldiers pass along that hill;
‘Poor silent things, they were the English dead
Who came to fight in France and got their fill.’
The Dragon and the Undying
ALL night the flares go up; the Dragon sings
And beats upon the dark with furious wings;
And, stung to rage by his own darting fires,
Reaches with grappling coils from town to town;
He lusts to break the loveliness of spires,
And hurls their martyred music toppling down.
Yet, though the slain are homeless as the breeze,
Vocal are they, like storm-bewilder’d seas.
Their faces are the fair, unshrouded night,
And planets are their eyes, their ageless dreams.
Tenderly stooping earthward from their height,
They wander in the dusk with chanting streams,
And they are dawn-lit trees, with arms up-flung,
To hail the burning heavens they left unsung.
In this paper, I am going to try to compare some
“war poems” by Siegfried Loraine Sassoon (1886-1967), to analyse his vision
about this topic and the effect that his poems provoke in the readers. Concerning
this topic (war), as we can see, the poems are very strong emotionally,
most of them, dealing with the topic of the disasters that the war generates.
in World War I (British Army) and the war affected him directly: He was
wounded several times and his brother was killed during the war. He was several
times decorated and his actions during the battles gave him the nick-name
of “Mad-Jack” among other soldiers. After an attack of trench fever (or
enteritis), he was sent home and he started to write some satirical war poems.
He went back to the front, but after a serious wound, he came back home and
during his convalescence, he started to make a strong campaign against the
war with some friends (Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen…).Their books of War poems
were very famous, enigmatic and personal (most of the poets participated
directly in the army). Sassoon survived the war and he continued publishing,
specially writing his autobiography and Memoirs. His most famous work concerning
the “war poems” is “The Old Huntsman and Other poems” (1918). (Counter-Attack: Biography)
Most of his
war poems are epigrammatic: “short poems with a witty turn of thought or
a wittily condensed expression in prose” (Counter-Attack:
Glossary) as we can appreciate in the poems I have selected to comment.
Along these poems, the author writes about the war from different perspectives.
I like these poems because the satirical and ironical point of view the
author uses, which shows obviously the absurdness of the war. These poems
I have selected are similar in several aspects. All of them are short and
shocking. They are formed by just one, two, or three short stanzas. The
rhyme and rhythm are maintained along all the poems, so these features make
these poems more impressive and easy to remember.
One of the most famous
poems by Sassoon is “To my Brother”, not only because it is directly dedicated
to his brother, but because the strong emotional content of the poem. The
poet relates an allegory or dream where he visualizes his brother, where
he asks his dead brother to help him (L 1-2) and where the author claims
that, despite his brother is now among the dead soldiers (L.5), the poet needs
his help because he is still in the battlefield fighting (L.6), and he needs
the courage and honour of his brother (and the other dead soldiers) to win
the battle and survive. So, the death is considered a metaphorical lesson
about glory and honour to those soldiers who are still fighting. The author
wrote this poem just after the death of his brother, when he witnessed the
war as something “positive” and “necessary” (He made personal military actions
against the Germans in order to avenge his brother’s death, and before he
started his anti-war campaign) (Counter-Attack: Biography)
On the contrary,
a poem like “They” shows a strong ironical and anti-military feeling. We
can appreciate along this poem the opposition that exists between the sup-posed
“good” motivations of the war: honour, just causes… (L.3) and the real conse-quences
which are exposed by the coming-back soldiers (death, mutilations, syphilis…Here,
the Bishop is presented as the ironic figure, who states a final sentence
that tries to justify the meaning of the not so positive consequences of
the war to the soldiers (L. 12)
this satirical perspective that claims the absurdness of the war and the
opposition between the “glorifying words of honour, courage…”and the real
consequen-ces of the war, we can analyse the poem “The Hero”. In this poem,
the poet creates a scene where he imagines himself (He had the nickname Mad-Jack
in the army) as a soldier who has fallen in battle and that his mother and
family receive the notification letter of his demise. The dramatic moment
can be appreciated when the mother reads those well written lines by the
Colonel (L. 3) claiming that all the family must be proud because Jack has
fallen as a Hero. However, the mother can not control her emotions and can
not stand the death of his son, so she starts desperately to cry. Then, The
Brother Officer tries to comfort her telling her “gallant lies” about honour
and triumph in order to make her be proud of the death of her son. But the
final Stanza shows the reality: how Jack, The Hero died trying to go back
home and accidentally treading a mine, and then he is not more than small
flesh bits with no honour in his death except for his old mother. In my opinion,
this poem is very dramatic, despite his satirical perspective, although
that satirical perspective reflects very well, the opinions and feelings
the author had about the war after all.
The last two
poems I would like to comment are quite similar (Two Hundred Years After
and The Dragon and the Undying). Both settle a parallelism between the
horrendous consequences of the war and the memory and honour of the dead
soldiers. Two Hundred Years After, in my opinion, can be interpreted from
two different pers-pectives. On the one hand, a man is wandering by Corbie
Ridge (“a commune of the Somme département, in northern France which
was on the margin of the battlefield of Villers-Bretonneux at which the
First Battle of the Somme (1918) of the Spring Offensive, came to a climax.”
and finds out the terrible scene of some lorries straggling files of dead
men, and surprised asks an old man, who replies him that those were English
soldiers who lost their lives two hundred years before in the battlefield.
On the other hand, the poet imagines that the war is still going on after
two hundred years; and that Two Hundred Years after it started, everything
is still the same: (Death, horror…). In both cases, the dead solders are
a symbol of the remainders of the war. It is a very disgusting image. The
Dragon and The Undying is a poem full of images and metaphors. The Dragon
is a symbol of the war as an entity that destroys and burns everything with
its “darting fires”. The result of the annihilation is an amount of “homeless
dead people”, who all raise themselves with the same voice. (L.7-8); and
the memory of their faces, eyes and specially their ageless dreams is still
present despite their death (L.10). The poet states that they will be forever
in the collective memory and in heaven to make us with their voice not forget
who they were and the stupidity of the war.
as we can observe, the poet usually shows a duality in his poems between
the horrendous results of the war and the concepts of glory, honour, courage…
that are usually involved with the actions, reasons or death during the
war. From my point of view, Sassoon mixes extraordinarily the dramatic perspective
and the satirical perspective along his poems to show the real ridiculous
motivations and consequences of the war, features that I find more interesting
than maybe those poems written by authors who only use the dramatic perspective.
Communes Of Somme, “Corbie”, Wikipedia.org,
Ed. Jimmy Wales, 3rd April 2006.
Counter-Attack: Biography of Siegfried Sassoon, First World War Literature,
Ed. Michelle Fry, 3rd April 2006
Counter-Attack: Glossary of Literary terms, First World War Literature
Ed. Michelle Fry, 3rd April 2006
TO A LADY
SHE WAS A PHANTOM OF DELIGHT
SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY