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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 crumps 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.
The opening lines of this powerful anti-war poem establish the tension between the innocence of the boy-soldier new to war and the boy, later on, whose innocence has been crushed by experience.
The reality of life in WWI trenches in France: the sound of artillery shells being fired; lice all over a soldier's body; no comforts of home.
Another sad reality of war: when a soldier dies or is killed, he no longer exists in the minds of his fellow soldiers. Human compassion, along with bodies, just disappears.
Sassoon points out to his civilian readers that they truly do not understand, or want to understand, the horrors of war that claim "youth and laughter."