Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967)
Study Questions and Activities
- Interestingly, Sassoon was entitled to write the initials M.C. after his name. What do these initials stand for? (Hint: it doesn’t mean “master of ceremonies.”)
- What does the image in line 8 of Stanza 2 describe? One critic is reminded of the Goya painting The Colossus, which described another war scene (the Peninsular War). What do you think? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Colossus_%28painting%29
- Note that in the published version of the poem (Collected Poems: 1908-1956, Faber), the lines 7-13 are indented. What is the effect or purpose of this indentation?
- What is the poem’s setting? See stanza 3.
Does It Matter?
- Who is talking?
- What type of irony—situational, dramatic or verbal, pervades the poem?
- What are the dreams from the pit?
- What is the poem’s theme?
- Identify the speaker.
- Why are the majors “scarlet”?
- Give all noun and adjective meanings for “base.” Eliminate those that are clearly unintended.
- Define “details.”
- Why did Sassoon use the word “scrap” and not “battle”?
- What is the effect of the spondaic foot (aka spondee) at line 9?
- Why did Sassoon use the word “toddle” in line 10?
In a brief essay, discuss how irony contributes to theme in “Does It Matter?”
How does diction contribute to theme in “Base Details”?
Contrast Sassoon’s early war poem “Absolution” with any of his poems in the Oxford tutorial or from Counter-Attack and Other Poems (Project Bartleby) http://www.bartleby.com/136/
Pay particular attention to diction.
- An excellent seven-page pamphlet by Ian Brinton on Sassoon, dealing with poems which Sassoon proudly referred to as “an antidote to the glorification of ‘the supreme sacrifice’ and such-like prevalent phrases”: https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/english-association/publications/bookmarks/WW1/5Sassoon.pdf
- “From Mametz Wood to the General”: An informative and wide-ranging podcast lecture by Professor Jean Moorcroft Wilson, biographer of Siegfried Sassoon. In it she mentions some unpublished Sassoon poems she recently discovered, one of which shows an uncharacteristically romantic attitude to war, reminiscent of Rupert Brooke’s “III: The Dead”.http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/first-world-war-poetry-digital-archive
- BBC In Our Time podcast on Siegfried Sassoon: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007mvl9
- Declaration against the war”: Read carefully this highly controversial manifesto of Sassoon’s (July 1917), which was read to the House of Commons in London and was considered by some to be an act of treason. Sassoon narrowly escaped death by firing squad for his actions.
- U.K. World War I recruitment posters: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/0/ww1/25332968
- Essays on Sassoon from Modernism Lab, Yale University: http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/Siegfried_Sassoon
- Sample student essay on a Sassoon poem (“Glory of Women”): http://www.haverford.edu/engl/english354/GreatWar/Sassoon/Sasskanay.html
Siegfried Sassoon by George Charles Beresford (1915) by George Charles (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Siegfried_Sassoon_by_George_Charles_Beresford_(1915).jpg) is in the Public Domain