In “First March,” Ivor Gurney presents the soldier's experience as monotonous with overtones of anxiety and even a bit of fear, yet also with a touch of unexpected pleasure.
The speaker and his fellow soldiers are on their first march, and they are trying to get used to the bodily pain and drudgery of kilometer after kilometer of marching. They are so new to soldiering that they hardly even know what to think about yet to distract their minds through the long journey. They are not settled in to thinking of home or music or poetry. Their eyes and minds are still fixed on the gray sky and the flat country. Their march is monotonous.
Then, after a couple halts, they move into “spoiled country.” This suggests that these soldiers are getting a glimpse of the ravages of war now. Still they march along, and apparently, they are getting tired because “few were in fettle.” The soldiers are not yet in shape, and it seems to be cold, too, or at least it has been, and frostbite is an issue.
The speaker then turns to himself. He has revived but then “dulled down again.” He wants comfort somehow, yet all he can do is look at the sky. The march is grinding, painful, and monotonous, and by this time, he seems to be moving automatically, just trying to keep going and reach the destination.
Then, though, the speaker catches a glimpse of beauty in snowdrops in a ruined garden. This is a poignant scene, for the garden is neglected and abandoned, yet it still gives pleasure even if only for a moment. It offers a “gracious touch” in the wilderness of war and the march. The soldiers must keep going, but they have received a touch of hope.