Certain people would not clean their buttons,
Nor polish buckles after latest fashions,
Preferred their hair long, putties comfortable,
Barely escaping hanging, indeed hardly able;
In Bridge and smoking without army cautions
Spending hours that sped like evil for quickness,
(While others burnished brasses, earned promotions)
These were those ones who jested in the trench,
While others argued of army ways, and wrenched
What little soul they had still further from shape,
And died off one by one, or became officers,
Without the first of dream, the ghost of notions
Of ever becoming soldiers, or smart and neat,
Surprised as ever to find the army capable
Of sounding 'Lights out' to break a game of Bridge,
As to fear candles would set a barn alight:
In Artois or Picardy they lie - free of useless fashions.
• Bohemians – people who do not wish to conform to society’s norms. Usually dress unusually and have quite radical ideals. Often do not have conventional jobs, but instead are artists or writers.
What is the poem about?
The speaker talks about people, bohemians, who don’t want to conform to what society considers to be normal. However, the war erodes all these differences as they are dragged in and forced to experience the same things.
· The poem is made up of only 2 sentences – sentence one is 16 lines long, whilst sentence 2 is only 1 line long.
· Sentence 1 describes the bohemian men and what they did and didn’t do – perhaps it is so long to emphasise how they break rules and conventions.
· The last sentence shows how they have become “free of useless fashions” just as they have always wanted – but they are also dead, just like everyone else. Ultimately, they have become the same.
· The poem also has a very strange rhyme scheme – words almost rhyme (buttons/fashions/cautions) – this is half-rhyme – and could again reflect the way the men try not to conform to normal things. There are some rhymes however, suggesting that the men had to conform in the end.
The speaker seems not to like the bohemians: “Certain people” sounds quite disapproving of them, whilst it is suggested that they are not particularly Godly: “what little soul they had” – perhaps also a reflection of the loss of faith men experience in war. The bohemians do many things “wrong” in the war – they don’t keep themselves looking neat and tidy, they narrowly avoid “hanging” for what they do, they prefer to play cards than talk about the war. However, they still “died off one by one” like any other soldier – or, ironically, become “officers” – they’re alive so they’re good enough to become officers! You could also see this as them being forced to conform.
• Deals with the fates of non-conformist members of society who were also forced into the war
• Irregular rhyme scheme and lengthy sentence
• Ultimately suggests that conforming is soul-destroying and you will end up dead either way.