Siegfried Sassoon: Does It Matter?

June 24, 2022

Does it matter? – losing your legs?
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.


Does it matter? – losing your sight?
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.


Do they matter-those dreams in the pit?
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won’t say that you’re mad;
For they know that you’ve fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.

Another poem from Sassoon designed to shock readers back home, more than anything else, I feel. Let’s start with the jaunty rhythm, the metre forcing you to sound jolly and cheerful as you read the poem aloud, even as the words themselves hint at real horror: such a mis-match between metre and subect-matter is both deliberate and very effective.

Three stanzas, and a repeated first line (more or less): repetition used to dramatic effect. Sassoon moves from the physical disability of being confined to a wheelchair to the arguably, for most of us, worse condition of blindness, onto the unseen mental horrors of shell-shock, nowadays hidden by the initials PTSD, which nobody thinks to unpick as they hear the letters.

The poem is about survivors – in a similar way to Owen’s Disabled, though the subject is treated in a totally different way. And the response of those around them is outlined in the shocking couplet that is the second and third lines of each stanza, the repetition in the second and third stanzas of the vague phrase people will always be kind. You need to stop and think: who are these people, and what does being kind mean, for a young person faced with the rest of their life in such a condition? The survivor’s life is then contrasted with the so very different lives of those back home, unaffected, in the final two lines of each stanza. Look particularly at the sadness implied in the last line of the second stanza, or the horrible effect of rhyming glad and mad in the final stanza.

Sassoon attacks the notion of patriotism in the final two lines, implying that the words fought for your country mean everything, while then implying that people soon forget.

It’s another very simple poem, in terms of language used: none of the complex and sometimes deliberately archaic language that Owen often uses, none of Owen’s very effective poetic devices either. It’s all done through suggestion and shock: the treatment of such a serious subject in such a casual and offhand manner stops the reader short; we are forced to reflect more deeply on the implications of what the poet is saying, of what lies behind the words. We are in the later years of the war here, and the early illusions everyone had at the outset have gone, only to be replaced by others,,,

One Response to “Siegfried Sassoon: Does It Matter?”

  1. penwithlit Says:

    Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    Fascinating- I see there has just emerged the film “Benediction” as well as a book on the history of the Sassoon family, “The Global Family”.

    Like


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