Siegfried Sassoon

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Discuss the poem "Glory of Women" by Siegfried Sassoon.

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"Glory of Women" is an example of apostrophe, which is when a speaker in a poem addresses an inanimate object, an animal, or an absent person or people. In this case, the narrator speaks to the women who are at home during World War I. He addresses both British and German women.

"Glory" is something honorable, bright, and wonderful—a point of pride and joy. But in this case, Sassoon uses the word ironically. Women want to glorify soldiers fighting for the "cause," while Sassoon wants them to understand that there is nothing glorious about war. He writes the poem to dispel their illusions. He also communicates that the women do the men fighting a disservice when they glorify war. He states that their fantasies make the men into "shells."

The word "shells" in this context is a pun. First, by assigning ideas of "chivalry" to the war and by delighting in "decorations," women reduce men to nothing but stereotypes: ie, outward shells of false heroism. This denies the reality of the men's lived, interior experience of war as a horror. Second, the women reduce men to the broken victims of shells (bombs), by contributing with their false narratives of glory to continuing a war that should be ended.

Sassoon wants the women at home and in Germany to bluntly understand the realities of war. War is their sons who are dead, with their faces "trodden" ingloriously into the mud, and the men in fright who run away from battle, trampling the corpses beneath them. It is not glorious in any way.

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This poem is a particularly misogynistic expression of the cynical contempt Sassoon grew to harbor towards those on the "home front" over the course of the First World War. Sassoon is one of WW1's most celebrated poets; he was a decorated officer who saw active trench warfare over the course of several years and was renowned as "mad Jack" for his bravery. However, he ultimately came to see the war as criminal and launched a protest against it, which resulted in his being sent to Craiglockhart Military Hospital as an alternative to being court-martialed.

Several of Sassoon's poems are critical of those at home who still seem to view war as being filled with "chivalry" and "heroes". In this poem, there is a particular focus on women. Sassoon's tone is tired and sneering; the title of the poem is clearly sarcastic, as there is no doubt that the speaker is judgmental about the "delight" with which tales of "dirt and danger" are received by women at home. The speaker criticizes women for mourning "laurelled memories" which he feels are false: he argues that the women do not want to acknowledge the reality of war, in which men "run," "blind with blood," not "heroes" at all.

Sassoon is at least equitable in his contempt—he notes that the "German mother" is as guilty of "dreaming" as the English women who equally fail to understand the reality of war.

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The title  "Glory of Women" draws readers in to enjoy a poem in which the poet speaks to the wondrous, female sex.  The reader will certainly be surprised.  The word "glory" in the title  often has the spiritual connotation of miraculous or magnificence.  Not the meaning Sassoon uses here. Ironically, he means to criticize how women act, perceive, and serve the war effort.

Another irony chosen by the poet is his use of a sonnet form.  Normally, a sonnet ascribes pleasant and loving feelings to the subject.  The sarcasm of the poem puts that aside in lieu of an indictment of females.  Otherwise, as far as the other tenets of the sonnet, Sassoon achieves them successfully.  

The poet uses several literary devices to achieve his effect. The following are examples from the poem:

alllusions--

  • chivalry-the Arthurian legend;
  • laurelled-the Greek wreathe of victory;
  • crowned-the British monarchy

alliteration-

  • ...by tales of dirt and danger
  • ...mourn our laurelled memories

Metaphor-

  • ...you make us shells ( a comparison between the lack of understand on the woman's part toward the emptiness this gives the man)
  • ...you crown our distant ardours while we fight (the woman thinks romantically about the love of her soldier while he is shooting and killing people)

The poet condemns women who wait at home while the men fight and die:

1. Women only love the heroes when they are home from the battle or if their wound can be discussed.  For example, Sassoon suffered from battle fatigue and was hospitalized for it.  The injuries of the mind would not have been discussed.

You worship decorations. you believe

That chivalry redeems the war's disgraces...

2. The women would listen to the battle stories. They were like made-up stories told for entertainment.  The soldiers lived this reality and women did not seem to understand the truth.

3.  Naive would be a word that Sassoon would choose to describe women who sent their men to fight heroically without thinking of the consequences: death, maiming, killing.  The reality of the situation again escapes the women. Patriotism includes understanding what is really happening and supporting the men in practical, meaningful ways.

4. Finally, Sassoon paints the picture that he knows of the actualities of war:

When hell's last horror breaks them and they run,

Trampling the terrible corpses--blind with blood...

Obviously, Sassoon had seen some horrific tableaux in his war experiences.

His last comment illustrates that it not just the British women who do not face the authenticity of war...the German women sit at home making socks for their men while they too die a horrible death in war.

While women are concerning themselves with the frivolities of life, men are out there dying in the mud. Their bodies no longer discernable; they become just another dead body on a large field of other dead bodies, while women  sit at home knitting.

Siegfried Sassoon was born in 1886. He was an English poet, author, and soldier in the British army. He became of the most popular poets from WWI. Injured several times during the war, Sassoon was changed after the war emotionally and this carried through to the  tone of his writing. His earlier writing was rromantic, but his war poetry exhibits the ugly truths of war. He wrote about rotting corpses, limbs, and cowardice during the battles.

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