Siegfried Sassoon

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Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were both British poets. What themes or similarities do they share in their writings? What poems from these writers show the themes they share?

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Sassoon and Owen were both British poets who wrote about their experiences as British army officers during World War I. After facing the horrors of the war, including trench warfare, they were hospitalized together for shell shock at a hospital near Edinburgh. There, they became friends, and they wrote about the horrors of the war, along with the great responsibility they personally felt for fighting.

The poems they wrote during this time were similar. For example, Owens's "Dulce et Decorum Est" describes a ghastly gas attack on a line of soldiers. Most of the men are able to don their gas masks, but the narrator sees one poor soul "drowning." Owens writes, "In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, /He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning." He describes the dying man reappearing before him as if in a bad dream, and he tells the reader that if he or she could have seen this man's death, "My friend, you would not tell with such high zest /To children ardent for some desperate glory,/ The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est /Pro patria mori." The last line means that it is a lie that it is sweet and glorious to die for one's country. Owen means that if people could truly see the useless and horrific way war is conducted, they would never tell young people that it is an honor to die in war.

Owen, who lay underneath the body of a fallen soldier while in the trenches, had turned against the war. "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is another Owen poem that speaks about the horrors of war and the way in which fallen soldiers do not receive proper burials or honors. Instead, the soldiers' deaths are marked only by "the monstrous anger of the guns." In other words, the soldiers' deaths are meaningless, as the war marches on without purpose. 

Sassoon wrote similar poems that dealt with the horrors and futility of the war. In his poem "Sick Leave," he speaks of the ghosts of the dead, "the homeless ones, the noiseless dead" who gather about his bed while he is sleeping. They ask him when he will return to his battalion: "'When are you going out to them again? Are they not still your brothers through our blood?'” Like Owen, Sassoon wrote poems in which he relives seeing other soldiers die. Their poems express the way in which these memories haunt them. Owen's and Sassoon's works are a means by which they relive some of the trauma of the war and express their conflicted feelings about the war. While they know the war is purposeless, they feel a responsibility to their fellow soldiers. 

Both poets were bothered by what we today know as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which was then only beginning to be understood by doctors, and they wrestled with their conscience about whether to return to the war. Sassoon was wounded again and returned home, but Owen was sadly killed in action on November 4, 1918--merely one week before the armistice that ended World War I.

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