Siegfried Sassoon

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Analyse the poem "Does it Matter?" by Siegfried Sassoon. Please include themes, symbols, style, and poetic technique (a biography not necessary unless it is relevant to the poem).

The tone, style, and literary devices of "Does it Matter?" by Siegfried Sassoon all reinforce the poem's theme that war is a tragedy that lingers long past the day the fighting stops. The poem conveys a tone of bitter irony using simple, straightforward language and a regular rhyme scheme. Literary devices include apostrophe, repetition, and imagery, all of which emphasize the difference between the magnitude of the soldiers' disabilities and the triviality of the civilian response.

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The theme of this bitter and ironic anti-war poem is that the suffering of disabled soldiers matters and lingers on well past the end of the fighting. The physical and mental maiming and lost life potential of these men should not simply be swept under the carpet with platitudes. Sassoon...

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The theme of this bitter and ironic anti-war poem is that the suffering of disabled soldiers matters and lingers on well past the end of the fighting. The physical and mental maiming and lost life potential of these men should not simply be swept under the carpet with platitudes. Sassoon attacks the people who "don't worry" about this suffering: everything possible should be done, the poem implies, to assure that wars like World War I don't happen again.

The poem is written in three five-line stanzas in iambic tetrameter (the meter slowed down with an extra beat in some of the lines in the final stanza). The last words in the first and fifth lines in each stanza rhyme, as well as the final words in the second and third lines. The language is simple and straightforward, using words that are easy to understand.

Literary techniques Sassoon use include apostrophe and repetition, as well as imagery. In apostrophe, the poem's speaker addresses an absent person or inanimate object. In this case, the apostrophe adds to the poem's immediacy and power by addressing two soldiers badly damaged by the war: one has lost his legs and the other is now blind. By addressing them, the speaker makes them visible and brings them closer to the reader.

Repetition also adds emphasis to certain ideas: Sassoon repeats the rhetorical question, "Does it matter?" as well as the line "people will always be kind." The question and the repetition of "kind" bring home that these disabilities do matter and that people's pitying kindness is an inadequate response. The triviality of people's responses to the soldiers' suffering raises our indignation at the inadequacy of society's grappling with the magnitude of the disaster the war has been. Imagery, such as of people who "gobble their muffins and eggs" in the face of the soldiers' plight, also acts to indict blithe dismissals of the cost of warfare.

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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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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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