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What attitudes to World War One does Siegfried Sassoon display in his poetry?

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Introduction

What attitudes to World War One does Siegfried Sassoon display in his poetry? During the period from 1914-1918 one of the most tragic events to happen to mankind occurred in the form of World War One, in fact people have described it as, 'The war to end all wars'. Thousands upon thousands of young men and boys rushed to the front line to fight for their country feeling it was their honorary duty and would have been shunned if they did not, in what was called, 'The great and glorious war', which is so very ironic. Never has the contrast between fantasy and reality been so valid and revealing. To help emphasise the soldier's outlook many of them wrote about their experiences in the form of letters or poetry, of these, perhaps the best example to use would be Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon makes the readers aware of the horrors and the terrible things that happened to soldiers in World War One, using a matter of fact style of writing. He tells of how people at home thought it was brave and noble for a man to fight for his country, with little understanding of the tragedies and the horrors of war, of how the superior officers totally mishandled the war, letting it continue unnecessarily long, the hell like conditions, and of how many died the most horrific deaths imaginable. He tells us how men began to accept death, using euphemisms to shut out terror and emotions in their mind in such dreadful conditions. ...read more.

Middle

In this poem Sassoon eradicates any misconceptions that while in the trenches the men are totally safe, for as the man in the poem piles sandbags at the side of the trench, he is shot by the enemy's gun. In the trenches, the Germans were not the only enemy as the soldiers fought a battle against the dirt and disease in the 'bottomless mud' of the trenches, the mud fought the soldiers each and every step they took. The thick mud also rotted the soldier's boots, causing footrot through walking constantly 'ankle deep' in 'sludge', and not to forget the horrible creatures that lived in the trenches, and got at them particularly in their sleep, 'flea-bags'. The fleas would have made the conditions worse when the men needed the precious little sleep they were given, by keeping the fatigued men awake to totally uncomfortable conditions. Rats, ice and worms amongst other things were also living along side the men. These dire conditions are shown in 'Suicide in the Trenches' in these lines, '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'. We are told of a simple soldier boy who killed himself because of the sheer misery of war and life in the trenches. The first verse reveals a boy who enjoyed life and was happy, 'grinned at life with empty joy' but when he enters 'the hell were youth and laughter go', and is faced with the grim realities of war, his spirit is broken and eventually he is compelled to commit suicide. ...read more.

Conclusion

In 'Suicide in the Trenches' he shows that the 'smug-faced crowds with kindling eye' have selfish motive of prestige, cheering when soldiers march by, without knowledge of 'the hell were youth and laughter go'. In 'Memorial Tablet' the shame of not going to war and being 'nagged and bullied' finally forced the soldier to go and fight. Sassoon uses a bitter tone, reflecting his attitudes to those at home. He shows how once the soldier is dead and gone all that remains of his 'glory' is his 'gilded name' which receives an occasional 'thoughtful stare' from the Squire, who represents the civilians of war-time and beyond who will not remember the names of the dead, nor their sacrifice. Sassoon's poems, in conclusion, all reflect different aspects of the war, creating vivid pictures and descriptions of the graphic intensity of it. His anger is directed towards senior officers and those at home, both of whom had no idea of the horrors from which the soldiers suffered. Sassoon, along with most of the World War One soldiers, believed that they were a brotherhood who fought (and in many cases died) together for their country. The harsh reality is that they were just sad statistics on the war's death toll who died, as another war poet Wilfred Owen wrote, 'as cattle'. The sad fact is that the human race does not learn from its mistakes. We have seen that war causes nothing but suffering, yet it still continues to this very day. ...read more.

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