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What are the differences and similarities between "The Death Bed" by Siegfried Sassoon...

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waniefahmie | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted December 4, 2010 at 6:20 PM via web

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What are the differences and similarities between "The Death Bed" by Siegfried Sassoon and "The Call" by Jessie Pope in terms of literary analysis?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted January 24, 2011 at 3:58 AM (Answer #1)

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Jessie Pope's "The Call" has an essentially iambic rhythm ( ^ / ) that is varied by trochees ( / ^ ). Trochees are used for emphasis primarily in the stanzas’ first lines (e.g., Who's'  for^ / the^ trench' ) . It is built around diameter (two feet) but varied both by hypercatalectic unfinished third feet and by full tetrameter:

Who'll^ fol' / -low^ French'—    (diameter)
Will^ you', / my^ lad' / -die^?     (hypercatalexis: added unstressed syllable)
Who's^ fret' / -ting^ to' / be^ -gin',     (tetrameter)

In contrast Siegfried Sassoon's "The Death Bed," though also essentially iambs varied with trochees (Soar' -ing^ / and^ quive' / -ring^ in' / the^ wings' / of^ sleep'), is written in pentameter (five feet): Through^ crim' / -son^ gloom' / to^ dark' / -ness^; and' / for^ -got'.

"The Call" is a call to arms of war that uses prodding and "egging on" (from Old Norse eddja meaning to urge) to either inspire martial attitudes or to shame someone into martial attitudes--the enthusiastic are inspired (Who longs to charge and shoot— / ... / Who'll earn the Empire's thanks—) while the reluctant are shamed (And who wants to save his skin—). The last stanza describes the victorious procession ending the war. The second to last line adds some confusion, though. The phrase "bite his thumbs" sounds like the action of a shamed man gnawing on his nails out of guilt and humiliation. Yet, the English idiom "bite your thumb" has historically been used to insult the recipient to a great degree. Despite the confusion with this idiom, the context indicates that the "laddie" of the last stanza should be understood as biting his thumbs in shame, not as an insult to the victorious troops returning, as Pope was a noted war supporter.

In contrast, the story of "The Death Bed" is a lament for the death of an innocent young soldier (he is "young; he hated War") following the receipt of some horrible and painful wound: "The opiate throb and ache that was his wound." The lament takes the young soldier to the moment that, despite the plea to help the soldier fight for his life,

Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.

“death” comes to choose him and take him away to quietude:

But death replied: 'I choose him.' So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.

The tone of "The Call" is light and rousing (Who's keen on getting fit,); Pope was a propagandist for the war effort. In contrast the tone for "The Death Bed" is pained, ponderous and labored (he could hear it rustling through the dark), like the experience of the dying young man. The meters each poet chose and the variations to the rhythm contribute to these differing tones. Pope emphasizes the verbs of choice for war (earn, longs to charge and shoot, swell, begin, follow) while using little imagery. Sassoon in contrast emphasizes imagery, metaphor and simile (blowing the curtain to a glimmering curve; aware of silenced heaped; silence in the summer night; like a prowling beast; etc). One significant and ancient image Sassoon uses relates to the timeless ritual of providing the dying or the dead with candles to light their souls from the present realm to the next: "Light many lamps and gather round his bed."

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