Siegfried Sassoon

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The significance, effect of questions, and mood in Siegfried Sassoon's poem "Does It Matter?"

Summary:

The significance of questions in Siegfried Sassoon's poem "Does It Matter?" lies in their ironic tone, which highlights the indifference society shows towards the suffering of soldiers. The questions create a rhetorical effect, emphasizing the disconnect between civilian perception and the harsh realities of war, and contribute to a mood of bitter sarcasm and poignant critique.

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What is the significance of the title "Does It Matter" in Siegfried Sassoon's poem?

The significance of this poem's title hinges on its historical context: Siegfried Sassoon was one of a number of early twentieth-century writers whose work rose out of their experiences fighting in World War I. In much of Europe, this war created a sense of profound disillusionment with the modern world, both because of the role that modern nationalism had played in sparking the fighting and because modern weaponry had led to an unprecedented and horrific loss of life. On the broadest level, then, Sassoon's question echoes the pervading mood of the postwar era. The "it" in the poem's title is non-specific; although Sassoon goes on to mention several things it could refer to (lost limbs, blindness, etc.), we can also read it as a stand-in for the entire post-WWI world, where nothing seems to matter.

Digging deeper, however, it is clear that Sassoon thinks the war and its effects do matter. The repeated juxtaposition of the somewhat flippant question "does it matter?" with brutal images of war's violence (e.g. "losing your legs") is intentionally jarring; we instinctively feel that something so awful does matter, and we stop short (1). Sassoon further heightens our discomfort by writing in a sing-song (mostly anapestic) meter and employing words that feel trivial, empty, or overly cheerful in context; read against "losing your sight," for instance, the description of the available work as "splendid" comes across as sarcastic (6, 7). The poem's title, then, is bitter and ironic; Sassoon suggests that the things he describes do matter, as much as people would like to explain them away or minimize them as noble, patriotic sacrifices.

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What effect do the questions in Siegfried Sassoon's poem "What Does it Matter?" have on the poem?

The questions in this poem are rhetorical. They are not meant to be answered as the narrator provides us with his own answers to the questions.

The first question asked is:"Does it matter?-losing your legs?" The narrator then provides reasons why it might not, but clearly the narrator is showing the blow to one's pride and self-sufficiency would matter.

The second question asked is: "Does it matter?-losing you sight?" Once again, the irony of the narrator's voice is clear when showing the helplessness and dependency one might experience. Memories of sight would be all one had left.

The third question asked is: "Do they matter-those dreams in the pit?" Clearly, the dreams one must give up as a result of war do matter, even if no one is concerned with the consequences.

So the questions are designed to convey the irony of the narrators questions when juxtaposed with the narrator's true feelings.

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What is the mood of Siegfried Sassoon's poem "Does it Matter?"

The poem "Does it Matter?" by Siegfried Sassoon in many ways reflects his own disillusionment with war after his personal experience with trench warfare.  Sassoon was awarded the Military Cross for his heroism, which included saving many wounded soldiers after a raid at Mametz. After he was wounded at the Battle of Arras, he suffered what was then called "shell shock" (which we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder), and became an anti-war activist. The tone of the poem is deeply bitter and sarcastic, displaying his resentment of people who expect badly wounded and maimed soldiers to maintain a cheerful and positive attitude about their injuries. 

In the poem itself, we get an escalating sense of the types of damage war inflicts on soldiers. The first stanza describes a soldier with a missing leg, as people return from engaging in the sports he used to enjoy before his injury; the mood combines regret and resentment. He especially resents the way he is expected to feel grateful for the kindness of the uninjured.

The second stanza describes a soldier who has lost his sight in the war, sitting outdoors and feeling the light he can no longer see. While the mood is not explicitly stated, which is one of the great strengths of the poem, the image of a blind soldier facing the scenery he once loved in what appears to be the setting of a wealthy country house, evokes again both sadness and bitterness, and a sort of rage at the expectation that he should be grateful for other people's kindness, and act cheerful rather than despairing.

The final stanza makes the point that the worst damage is invisible, the mental damage from having experienced the horrors of war:

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.

The bitterness, resentment, and despair deepen in this stanza. The kindness of people towards injured soldiers is viewed almost as a way of avoiding responsibility for having voted for the government that sent them off to war. The narrator especially resents the lack of worry, or moral responsibility, on part of the civilians who think that minor gestures of kindness can somehow absolve them of the burden of guilt for ex-soldiers whose lives have been destroyed. He also, as we can deduce from biographical information, was angry at people who dismissed his anti-war attitudes as the product of PTSD and refused to take him seriously.

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