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Suicide in the Trenches

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I knew a simple soldier boy

Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye

Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Siegfried Sassoon


Source: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/jtap/tutorials/intro/sassoon/suicide.html

Siegfried Sassoon

Source: http://www.sassonery.demon.co.uk/

To begin with this essay Id like to talk about S.L Sassoons life which I consider extremely important to
understand his work. Siegfried Sassoon was born in Kent, England, in 1886. He studied both Law and History at
Cambridge before leaving without taking a degree. After leaving Cambridge, Sassoon lived the life of a sportsman,
hunter, rider, player of cricket until the outbreak of the war. Although he wrote poetry before The War, he was no
more than a Georgian Poet. He finally enlisted two days before the British declaration of war, and joined as a
trooper but after a riding accident when he got a badly broken-arm, Sassoon was commissioned in the Royal Welsh
Fusiliers. On November 1915, he suffered his first personal loss of the war. His younger brother was mortally
wounded and buried at the sea. Later, his friend Tommy was hit in the throat by a riffle bullet and died of the wound.
After these deaths, Sassoon became determined to get his revenge on the Germans. Years later he was sent
home from France after an attack of trench fever. In his convalescence he also spent some time in London with
Robert Ross who encouraged him to write satirical war poems. Again was he wounded I the shoulder and wrote a
good deal of poetry and the material he wrote at that time appeared in Counter-Attack and other poems, where I
think this poem belongs to. Sassoon eventually realised that his protest had achieved nothing, except to keep him
away from his men. In February 1948 he was posted to Palestine where he found himself in the front line. Much of
Sassoons poetry written during the War was satirical in nature. Several poems are aimed at those on the Home
Front. He used his poems to hit out at Home whom he considered to be making a profit out of the War, or those
whom he felt were helping to prolong the War. (Siegfried Sassoon, Biography).

At this point Sassoons poem Suicide in the Trenches evokes the image of a young man, a child, in despair.
According to the title of the poem, we realize that it refers war. The title suggests the suicide of somebody in a
trench. The words soldier boy stated at the end of the 1st verse, criticise the early age of the soldiers in the First
Wold War. The poem is separated into three stanzas that have four verses each. The verses rhyme with the next in
pairs of two (a-a-b-b, c-c-d-d, e-e-f-f) and all the verses have eight syllables. Some of the youngsters that enlisted in
the army had no aspirations for the future and thought a good option to go to war and come back, with a good range
in the army. The empty joy in verse 2, tries to explain the lack of aims in life that these extremely young soldiers
had and, which is more important, the sadness, though a contrast, and verses 3 and 4 show his loneliness and his
inability to rest at night as stated in verse 3 slept soundly, which is another contrast. The rhythm words dark and
lark give us an obscure view of the situation and both could mean death because of the dark atmosphere they
create for the reader.

The soldiers mood is well defined in verse 5 cowed and glum and those words show us that this child, unable
to find solace in the trenches, is unhappy and desperate. Bad conditions soldiers suffered in the war are stated in
the 6th verse; Crumps and lice were very common among soldiers and here the poet is using this word to criticise
the dreadful hygienic conditions.

Another important aspect Sassoon remembers in verse 6 is the lack of rum. Rum was the soldiers relief and
best friend, because it made them forget the bad moments and the images of war. But, as everything in war, rum
started to be scarce, and only a few soldiers could drink it. This increased the suicides of soldiers as told in the 7th
and 8th verses.

The last stanza from verses 9 to 12, is a satirical view of Sassoons greatest criticism and determination to
revenge of those smug-faced crowds, in verse 9, who cheer when soldiers march by, in verse 10. He hated those
who considered to be making a profit out of the war and those who were happy and proud their children going to
serve their country: A patriotic feeling.

The 3rd quatrain also remarks the crowds hypocrisy and apparent patriotism. For Sassoon war is evil and thats
why he uses contrasting tones, pathos and judging eye. These literary resources help him to emit his hate towards
war and its consequences. To end up with this analysis Id like to point out that the author tries to create sorrow
towards the young soldier (in the reader) and this is the main reason why the author uses connotations of dark
colours, contrasts and an ironic tone when he send them home to pray recriminating them not to know the hell
where the soldiers laughter and youth goes being Hell a metaphor of war.

Finally, in my opinion, the poem is a good view on the war and its worst consequence: suicide, but I think that
Sassoons real intention when writing this poem was to criticise health conditions, loneliness, patriotism and the lack
of resources the soldiers faced in the trenches.


Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), Paul Groves, 1996

http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/jtap/tutorials/intro/sassoon/ 19.04.06

Counter - Attack: Biography of Siegfried Sassoon, Michele Fry, 1998

http://www.sassonery.demon.co.uk/ 21.04.06