Siegfried Sassoon

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Siegfried Sassoon was a decorated British officer who spent much of World War I at the front. His poetry not only graphically describes the hellish madness of the battle front, but also is known for its bitterness, as the men around him died for absolutely nothing but for the egos of the political classes of Britain and Europe (and later the United States).

Does It Matter?

Does it matter? — losing your leg?…
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does I matter — losing your sight?…
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

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 that you’ve fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.

Counter-Attack

We’d gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.
The place was rotten with dead green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and groveled along the saps;
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began, — the jolly old rain!

A yawning soldier knelt against the bank,
Staring across the morning blear with fog;
He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamor of shells he watched them burst.
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell,
While posturing giants dissolved in drifts of smoke.
He crouched and flinched, dizzy with galloping fear,
Sick for escape, — loathing the strangled horror
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead.

An officer came blundering down the trench:
"Stand-to and man the fire-step!" On he went…
Gasping and bawling, "Fire-step…counter attack!"
Then the haze lifted. Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
"Oh, Christ, they’re coming at us!" Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rifle…rapid fire…
And started blazing wildly…then a bang
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans…
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death. The counter-attack had failed.

June 27, 2003

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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