Siegfried Sassoon's poem "Does it Matter?" was included in his second volume of anti-war poetry, Counter-Attack . Sassoon was a captain in the British Army during the First World War. His experiences in the trenches earned him frequent mentions in dispatches, the Military Cross and Bar, and a recommendation...
Siegfried Sassoon's poem "Does it Matter?" was included in his second volume of anti-war poetry, Counter-Attack. Sassoon was a captain in the British Army during the First World War. His experiences in the trenches earned him frequent mentions in dispatches, the Military Cross and Bar, and a recommendation for the Victoria Cross—the highest military honor a person can receive as a member of the British Armed Forces. Although he was an accomplished soldier, he became an outspoken critic of the war. The bulk of his most famous poems were written in the war years and either explicitly or satirically decry the horrors of trench warfare and the futility of the war itself.
"Does it Matter?" is one of Sassoon's satirical poems. Sassoon asks the titular question of three separate survivors of the battlefield: one who has lost his legs, one who has lost his sight, and one who has lost his mind. I'll leave it to you to determine how Sassoon has used syntax to deliver the poem's message, and focus instead on the diction and the imagery.
Sassoon's diction here is informal and conversational, as if he is asking the question of ordinary people. The tone of false jocularity that he creates serves to emphasize the profound verbal irony of the poem. While the crippled man, the blind man, and the madman are all permanently disabled by their physical and mental injuries, Sassoon asks:
Does it matter? [...]
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind...
The poem's use of platitudes strengthens its conversational tone, as these are the sorts of things people say when they don't know what else to say. The repetition of "people will always be kind" is paired with the careless assertion that "there's such splendid work for the blind." Sassoon urges his interlocutor to "drink and forget and be glad," as if this is even possible for combat veterans. And if things are ever slightly awkward as a result of the veterans' blindness, lameness, madness, etc., it's all right:
...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.
Sassoon uses simple, stark imagery to show the contrast between the soldiers he's addressing and the civilian population. The crippled soldier will never walk again—he has no legs. What this means in the grand scheme of things is the loss of freedom, of normality, and of social interaction. Sassoon conveys this in two lines:
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
The crippled solider is "in" where "the others" have been "out" hunting; they have worked up an appetite and "gobble" their food while the soldier presumably sits without joining them. The use of the word "gobble" is particularly evocative—it means to consume something quickly and noisily, and it implies a lack of manners. "The others" are stuffing themselves after engaging in recreational activities, heedless of the fact that their friend can no longer enjoy such things with them.
The blind soldier, meanwhile, faces permanent unemployment as a result of his disability, and the threats of homelessness and starvation are now constant. The cheery response that "there's such splendid work for the blind" is presumably of no comfort to the soldier in the hospital,
As [he sits] on the terrace remembering
And turning [his] face to the light.
It is easy to say that "people will always be kind," but the blind soldier will now and forever rely on the alleged kindness of people in order to survive. He can feel the sunlight but not see it, and he can only regain his vision in his memories.
The shell-shocked soldier's plight is portrayed in the single phrase "those dreams from the pit." The pit in question may be a physical hole in the ground, such as a trench or a foxhole on the battlefield, or the more allegorical Pit of Hell. Sassoon deliberately invites the comparison by using the word "pit," which also evokes sensations of being trapped and needing to escape. The exhortation to "drink and forget and be glad" is worthless advice, as "those dreams from the pit" are a horror that this soldier cannot escape, even in his sleep.