I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumbs and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
- Siegfried Sassoon
“Suicide in the Trenches” by Siegfried Sassoon is an interesting poem to say the least. It brings up multiple ideas that are usually brought up in poems about war such as soldiers not being properly mourned and the ignorance of the people who aren’t in the war as well as the typical thought of what a soldier is.
I wouldn’t recommend this poem for those who cannot understand the meaning and power of this poem. It involves suicide which is quite taboo in today’s society and some people may either not understand its importance or find it too heavy of a topic apart from this I believe that year 12-13 students would enjoy this poem as it uses a combination of multiple language features and a nice easy-to-follow rhythm which is of a stark contrast to what the poem actually is about.
“Suicide in the Trenches” is a nice, short and simple poem that is about a “simple soldier boy” who “whistled early with the lark” which is interesting because a ‘lark’ is a small ground-dwelling songbird which is what the author is saying that the boy woke up early and whistled with these songbirds but there is an informal meaning which says that a lark is a person who gets up early and feels energetic early in the day which I am most certainly not. “Slept soundly through the lonesome dark” is saying that the boy is introverted and likes time to himself so spending it in the dark really is no bother which is why he is “sleeping soundly”. The second stanza is all the soldier killing himself, “In winter trenches, cowed and glum” tells the reader about this soldiers new peril where he is cowed (intimidated) by the enemy but also his surroundings and his situation and that he is glum or miserable where he is, this basically says that he is miserable and scared in the trenches which is what most soldier boy’s would’ve been like at the time. Constantly being bombed, constant rain, endless mud ,endless death, no escape from the stench of your rotting brethren its enough to make you mad let alone suicidal. “With crumbs and lice and lack of rum,” this is saying that he was starving only having crumbs to eat and had the constant annoyance of the lice sucking his blood out of scalp as the war was sucking the life out of him. As well as this the author says there is a lack of rum which is famous for raising moral and letting you ignore your conscience being dubbed “liquid courage” but with a lack of it the boy has nothing to distract him from the horrors of his situation. “He put a bullet through his brain” this is pretty self explanatory that he used his gun meant for the enemy on himself to take him out of that horrible place via suicide. “No one spoke of him again” this could be referring to one of two situations either his family and those he knew before the war knew he had committed suicide but because in those ages suicide was such a taboo subject and was considered to be against god and they would be sent to hell so for that they do not speak of him because of his unforgivable sin or it could be because he was just forgotten in the other large amount of other people who died so he could be considered MIA (missing in action) people may not know it was him when his body was found or maybe his body was never found. With him forgotten nobody would speak of him again as no one would remember him. This is covered in a poem by one of Siegfried Sassoon’s good friend Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem For Doomed Youth” where he talks of the men “who die like cattle” saying that these men are dying with little consequence and nobody really cares.
“You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye, Who cheer when soldier lads march by,” “Smug-faced” refers to the people welcoming back the soldiers when they return from war it refers to those patriotic people who are “smug” that Britain and the allies defeated Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire because their great nation (with a little of help from some other countries) had defeated the biggest threat to the world almost single-handedly. This people do not care about the journey to this victory or those that lay down their lives for this cause from a vast range of countries but only the fact that they won. “kindling eye” refers to the small bits of wood etc. used to start fires this could refer to the fact that all the cheering from these people could ‘ignite’ passion in the minds of these soldiers to get into more war or fits because they might get the same rush of everyone loving you. Or “kindling eye” could refer to the kindling a fire still in the soldiers mind but not one in the steam engine of passion and drive but an out-of-control monstrous fire destroying everything in its path tearing down the supports and structure of the soldier’s minds.
“Sneak home and pray you’ll never know, the hell where youth and laughter go.”. “Sneak home” is again referring to Britain’s large amount of patriots where going home when soldiers are returning from home is seen as disrespectful to the country as you should support your country in every way possible because it has given you everything. “pray you’ll never know” is alluding to the fact that while these people are ignorant to the horrors of war the author is telling the reader to “Sneak home and pray you’ll never know” these horrors because they are too horrible for any human to have to go through and then the mental illnesses that could come as a result of such trauma. “the hell where youth and laughter go.” for me this is a connection to “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen where Owen talks about the fact that the people who die in such horrible ways in the war aren’t mourned for and are forgotten in the ecstasy of winning the war which relates to “Suicide in the Trenches” in the way that it presents the idea that war is far from what people think it is or reveal the eternal truths of war.
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