I found him in the guard-room at the Base.
From the blind darkness I had heard his crying
And blundered in. With puzzled, patient face
A sergeant watched him; it was no good trying
To stop it; for he howled and beat his chest.
And, all because his brother had gone west,
Raved at the bleeding war; his rampant grief
Moaned, shouted, sobbed, and choked, while he was kneeling
Half-naked on the floor. In my belief
Such men have lost all patriotic feeling.
• Patriotism – love or devotion to your country; if you are patriotic, you would be willing to die for it. Early war poems can be described as patriotic.
• Euphemism – an indirect expression for something which is considered too harsh to be spoken about directly. Often used for death e.g. “passed away”
• Lamentation – a passionate cry of grief or sorrow
What is the poem about?
The speaker stumbles upon an ordinary soldier sobbing and wailing uncontrollably following the death of his brother. The speaker and the sergeant watching the soldier are unable to understand his grief and misery, but the speaker concludes at the end that it is such experiences as this that have caused patriotism to die.
• The poem is intended to be an eyewitness account of an event
• How does the poet’s use of enjambment (run-on lines) help to create a sense of this being something recalled from memory? – it sounds just like someone telling a story, with little organisation. You wouldn’t tell someone a story in perfect verse; neither does Sassoon!
• The rhyme however is regular which helps to bring the poem together as a whole and makes it more coherent (sound more ordered and persuasive).
The grieving man is never given a name, referred to as “him” which gives him both a sense of anonymity (as though no one can be bothered to find out his name) but also makes him representative of all the soldiers: he could be anyone and everyone. The speaker “blundered” in, suggesting a lack of care and also shows the lack of privacy in the war; this man is unable to deal with his grief on his own. The man is shown to be completely devastated, through the use of powerful verbs: “Moaned, shouted, sobbed and choked”. He “beat[s] his chest” like someone completely uncivilised, almost animal-like, and howls. He is also “Half-naked on the floor”, against suggesting he is uncivilised, but also very undignified (like grief) and vulnerable. The fact he is “kneeling” could refer to his innocence, as you kneel when you pray, and could also suggest a break-down in traditional religion; prayer is unable to give him any comfort now.
The speaker and the sergeant watching this seem quite hard-hearted. The sergeant watches with “puzzled, patient face” – he doesn’t sound completely horrible, but he is unable to understand why the man is behaving like this (emphasised through the alliteration). The death of a soldier happens all the time, and so it’s almost as though they expect the man to just get on with it.
The ending is quite a bold straightforward statement, and is quite difficult to argue with: could you blame anyone for losing their patriotic feeling when their brother has died and their grief is viewed as something quite strange? The title itself, “Lamentations”, could therefore refer not only to the man’s grief, but also possibly the death of patriotism.
• “And, all because his brother had gone west” – this is a euphemism for death – the sun sets in the west and therefore this a symbol for dying.
• Does that sound like a particularly violent death? The sun goes down every day, which makes it sound quite common and natural – when we know that the man’s brother has almost certainly died in a brutal way.
• This euphemism, and the off-hand way the poet puts it, makes the man’s reason for grieving and behaving in this way sound as though it is no big deal. The war has had a completely de-humanising effect on the speaker and the sergeant – they seem somewhat unable to understand why anyone would react in this way.
• An account of a man’s uncontrollable grief due to the death of his brother.
• Suggests that death is nothing unusual and that such wild grief is an unexpected reaction to such news.
• An ambiguous (unclear) title
• An exposure of the realities of war and an attack on the ideas of patriotism