During World War I, there were several English poets who served in the war. They wrote almost extensively about their battle field experiences. Siegfried Sassoon was one of the most significant of these poets. His details about the horror of the foot soldier in the trenches have been called uncompromising and brutal. “Trench Duty”was written shortly before Sassoon was wounded and unable to continue in the fighting.
The narration is first person point of view with the poet as the narrator. He tries to bring the reader along with him to experience the horrors of the war. In this poem, he describes one experience when he was on watch.
Sassoon uses several literary devices to create the feeling of the trenches.
The poem is written in sonnet form. It has fourteen lines with three quatrains and a rhyming couplet. It follows a normal rhyme scheme.
“Shaken from sleep…" to indicate the soundness of the sleeping soldier.
”Crouching in cabins candle-chinked with light” is an especially clever use of the “C” sound to indicate all of the men sitting around candles crouched down looking for warmth.
There’s the big bombardment on our right
Rumbling and bumping
He portrays the sounds of the fighting using the ing words.
The poet compares the darkness of the night illuminated by the lights of the bombs’ explosions to a flickering candle of horrific scenes. This phrase is also an example of an oxymoron which uses to words that are in opposition: dark used in connect to the word glare.
the dark’s a glare
Of flickering horror
The poet is awakened from his sleep tired and insensate.
He goes out in the trench for a three hour stint on watch.
As he walks along, he hears the voices of the men in the cabins.
Suddenly, there is a bombardment of bombing sounds and the dark is lit up with the explosion lights.
The men hear and wait to go out into battle. Their bodies are stiff and cold. Some have to crawl to go under the wire that surrounds the trenches.
Blank stars. I’m wide awake; and some chap’s dead.
Someone calls for a stretcher. A man has been killed by a sniper. Now, the poet is fully awake.
The poem is typical of Sassoon’s war poetry. He despises war and its waste of human life. Struggling constantly with the horrendous things that he has seen, he writes to show the hopeless and senseless loss of man to war.
In the trenches when the battle is raging and bombs exploding all around, there is chaos in the trenches. When Sassoon asks, “Why did he do it?” he leaves the question open for interpretation.
Is the poet asking God why is this poor man dead? He may be speaking about the general view of why are people killing each other. In the end, the poet feels lucky that it is not he who has died.