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Sassoon's changing attitude towards war. From pro-war feelings to anti-war stances

Seminararbeit 2013 13 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of Contents


1 Poetry as Biography

2 Interpretation of Two of Sassoon's Poems
2.1 Analysis of "Absolution"
2.1.1 Form
2.1.2 Style
2.1.3 Summary
2.2 Analysis of "Survivors"
2.2.1 Form
2.2.2 Style
2.2.3 Summary

3 Development of Sassoon's Style

4 Sassoon's Transformation as a Possibility for a Change in the Reader's Attitude

5 Works Cited


This term paper is concerned with the thesis that Siegfried Sassoon's attitude towards war changed during the years of World War I. In the following the question on how this transformation affected his poetry will be examined. Based on the analysis of the poems "Absolution", which Sassoon wrote before any front line experience, and "Survivors", written two years later, it is investigated how they differ in form, style and content. The results are interpreted as evidence for a change from pro-war feelings to anti-war stances. It is furthermore suggested that Siegfried Sassoon's changing attitude towards war is an advantage for the reader in regard to his ability to get an idea how life-changing the experience of war is.

1 Poetry as Biography

Siegfried Sassoon once wrote "my real biography is in my poetry" (Sassoon "Poet's Pilgrimage" 15). Facts about his life are easy to find: He was born in Kent in 1886 (URL 2) and enlisted as a trooper in 1914, as soon as the Great War broke out (Moeyes 29). When he came to France at the end of 1915 "he was put in charge of several working parties that were sent up to the front-line on repair duties" (Moeyes 29) and therefore he "spen[t] most of his time in relative safety" (Moeyes 29). Before March 1916 Sassoon had been to the front- line trenches only for short terms (Moeyes 29) and it was then just one year later that he made a public call against the war with his "A Soldier's Declaration" (URL 1).

This action already gives an idea of the great change the young man has undergone. Robert Graves, a soldier and poet who was known for his realistic depiction of war, recalls a meeting with Sassoon back in that time when Sassoon had not yet been to the front. He showed Siegfried some of his poems. In Goodbye to All That he describes Sassoon's reaction as follows: "He frowned and said that war should not be written about in such a realistic way. […] Siegfried had not yet been in the trenches. I told him, in my old-soldier manner, that he would soon change his style." (Graves 174)

Graves was right. What Sassoon experienced later affected his poetry. To find an answer to the question how his different attitude towards war is perceivable in his poems, two pieces of his literature will be analyzed.

Section 2 of this term paper focuses on "Absolution" - a poem, written before any front- line experience. Then the poem "Survivors", which was written two years later, after his famous declaration against war, will be examined. For the analysis, the effect of form, style and content of the particular poem will be taken into account, followed by an interpretation. Section 3 will be briefly concerned with the comparison of what was found out in Section 2. In conclusion, the final part of this paper will give a prospect on how the analysis and its results can gain the reader a deeper insight and a greater understanding of the life-changing experience that war is.

2 Interpretation of Two of Sassoon's Poems

2.1 Analysis of "Absolution"

"Absolution" was written during Sassoon's officer training at Litherland in Merseyside, UK (Quinn 169) and published in The Westminster Gazette in March 1916 (O'Neill 826).


The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes

Till beauty shines in all that we can see.

War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise, And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.

Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,

And loss of things desired; all these must pass. We are the happy legion, for we know Time's but a golden wind that shakes the grass.

There was an hour when we were loth to part

From life we longed to share no less than others.

Now, having claimed this heritage of heart,

What need we more, my comrades and my brothers?

(A1 )

2.1.1 Form

The poem consists of three stanzas; each with four lines. It has an iambic pattern with cross rhymes. The rhyme scheme is therefore abab cdcd efef. Only in the first stanza do the rhymes have high vowels, which are /aɪ/ and /i:/. As high vowels have a positive connotation, this stresses the favorable status of wisdom (A 3) and freedom (A 4).

The second stanza continues with dark /oʊ/ and a long dark /a:/, stressing the negative meaning of the words "foe" (A 5) and the difficult as well as painful task of letting something pass (A 6).

The long /a:/ sound occurs also in the third stanza. In contrast to the previous stanzas, the rhymes "others" (A 10) and "brothers" (A 12) are the only ones that have a short stem vowel. Furthermore they are the sole rhymes that have two syllables which especially emphasize the tenth and twelfth line in that they have a female cadence. This brings special attention to the words just mentioned, emphasizing the difference between the "brothers" (A 12), namely the soldiers, and those, who stayed at home, the "others" (A 10). This classification draws a clear border between these groups, stressing the unity and community of the soldier's comradeship, whereas the non-combatants do not belong to them. This includes the soldiers' families and friends as well.


1 Quotations from Siegfried Sassoon's "Absolution" in Collected Poems: 1908 - 1956 (London: Faber and Faber, 1961, p. 11) will be cited parenthetically in the text.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
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Institution / Hochschule
Universität Augsburg
sassoon pro-war anti-war change attitude war poem Absolution Survivors Siegfried style content form



Titel: Sassoon's changing attitude towards war. From pro-war feelings to anti-war stances