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Analyse the poem "Does it matter" by Siegfried Sassoon.Please include themes, symbols,...

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zippybrown | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 26, 2009 at 1:27 AM via web

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Analyse the poem "Does it matter" by Siegfried Sassoon.

Please include themes, symbols, style, poetic technique (biography not necessary unless it is relevant to the poem)

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 26, 2009 at 6:41 AM (Answer #1)

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Does it matter?-losing your legs?...
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the 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 from the pit?...
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won't say that you're mad;
For they'll know you've fought for your country
And no one will worry a bit.

Critics have called the Sassoon's speaker "morbidly complacent."  His speaker uses a sarcastic tone, which Dalton Trumbo borrows in his novel When Johnny Got His Gun... The poem uses a question and answer structure which satirizes the uber-patriotic notion that it is noble to die (or, in this case, to become an amputee, a blind man, or a mad man) for one's country.

Using three abbca quintains, Sassoon's speaker contrasts a soldier's injuries against the cold sympathies of able-bodied "people."  He pits the wounded soldier against uncaring civilians in three post-war scenarios.  Each raises the question: "does it matter?"  The presumptive question is existential: does a soldier's quality of life matter after he is forever maimed in war?  Sassoon's answer, of course, is "no."

Contrasting imagery is used in the end-rhyme slots: "legs" vs. "eggs"; "sight" vs. "light"; and "pit" vs. "bit."  The first line shows the soldier's reality, and the last four reveal the civilians' apathy.  The first stanza, in particular, shows the civilians as a snobbish fox-hunting crowd who consume their English breakfasts with an airy respite.

 

 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 26, 2009 at 6:44 AM (Answer #2)

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Sassoon's poem begins with a rhetorical question which lends, not only a sarcastic tone to the poem, but also an argumentative proposal:  If it does matter, then people must react to this poem and do something about the absurdity of war.

In the first stanza, with a subtle sarcasm, Sassoon asks if it makes a difference whether someone loses his legs if people will be kind if the soldier appears to not mind when others, alive with activity and hunger, "come in from hunting/To gobble their muffins and eggs." Will it bother the maimed soldier when he cannot be a man? is the subtly persuasive question.

The sarcasm becomes even more prominent in the second stanza as the poet asks if it matters if the soldier loses his eyes when "There is such splendid (ironic word) for the blind;/And people will always be kind (also ironic)."  Then, the acridness of Sassoon's sarcasm becomes apparent as he creates the metaphor in which the maimed soldier is compared to having been reduced to plant-life:

As you sit on the terrace remembering/And turning your face to the light.

Continuing his verse, the poet pointedly asks,

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;


With the loss of part of his humanity, the soldier can no longer dream of the future.  In despair, he will drink and lull himself into a state of nothingness, a state in which no one will accuse him of irrational anger towards war:

For they know that you've fought for your country/And no one will worry a bit

Of course, in these last two lines there is bitter irony as Sassoon poses the true irrationality:  People believe that glorious war warrants any sacrifice.  However, the poet's rhetorical question leads the reader to conclude that war is inglorious (THEME) and it is not worth the sacrifice of life or of one's essence.  Man is meant for more that sitting and "turning ...to the light."

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