Siegfried Sassoon presents his personal experience in the war in Counter- Attack with raw brutal imagery of the battlefield.

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By considering one of the poems that you have read, explain how the poet presents their view of the conflict – ‘Counter-Attack’

Siegfried Sassoon presents his personal experience in the war in ‘Counter- Attack’ with raw brutal imagery of the battlefield, the numerous sensory feelings provoking terror and outrage at the war, coupled with the stark contrast of report-like statements to ultimately convey the futility of the conflict, and the massive waste of life.

Sassoon immediately establishes the sense of emotional detachment in the conflict; the opening lines simply state that they had ‘gained (their) first objective hours before’, provoking horror at the fact that soldiers were forced to fight in inhumane conditions and ultimately were made to detach themselves from the terror of watching their friends being murdered. A semi-omniscient narration is maintained to establish the collective horror of the war, the fact that all soldiers would almost always face the same fate as the previous had and remains set throughout the poem as the contrast to the emotional detachment presented. The poet describes how at first even before the attack begins the soldiers are already ‘blind with smoke’, yet they are made to continue to work as soon as ‘dawn’ begins; all the soldiers are immediately forced to join in with the ‘clink of shovels’, a sign of the hard conditions of living in the trenches, while the militaristic onomatopoeia coincides with the perceived orderliness, such as the ‘bombers posted’ and ‘Lewis guns well placed’. The poet therefore establishes the horror of the almost methodical methods to which the war was fought, and that the death that would come later made to seem almost mechanical. Sassoon also emphasises that these soldiers are simply normal men, many whom are young and forced to fight when he describes how prior to the counter-attack, there was ‘a yawning soldier [kneeling] across the bank’; in order to keep their morale up, they are forced to become sardonic, sarcastically describing the weather as ‘the jolly old rain’, yet serving to reinforce the message that the conflict has forced people to become detached from their emotions and feelings.

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The horror of the battlefield is also clearly defined; Sassoon describes the average life in the trenches even before the counter-attack to be one ‘rotten with dead; green clumsy legs’. The use of ‘rotten’ inherently suggests that the battlefield is full of bodies, many of which are likely to be decomposing which only heightens the horror in which these soldiers must live their daily lives. They are in effect also forced to separate themselves from the sights; death is a normality in warfare, and the raw description of various soldiers ‘sprawled and grovelled’ along the trenches defines the sheer brutality ...

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