Repression Of War Experience Siegfried Sassoon Analysis Essay

Unit 4: Poetry of World War I and Its AftermathWhile poets experimented with new poetic forms and styles, Europe was consumed by war. In this unit, you will chart the progression of attitudes toward the war as expressed through poetry, beginning with the patriotic verses of the early war years and continuing through some of the bitterer, disillusioned lyrical poems of the late war years. You will study changes in form, tone, and style, all the while noting the degree to which the war’s major poets adhered to traditional (19th-century) conventions and hypothesizing reasons for that allegiance despite the explosion of avant-garde trends. In this unit, you will study poems by Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Rudyard Kipling, and e.e. cummings.

Unit 4 Time Advisory
Completing this unit should take you approximately 18.5 hours.

☐    Subunit 4.1: 1.5 hours

☐    Subunit 4.2: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 4.3: 4.5 hours
☐   Reading: 2.5 hours

☐   Lecture: 2 hours

☐   Subunit 4.4: 7.5 hours

☐   Subunit 4.4.1: 2 hours

☐   Subunit 4.4.2: 1.5 hours

☐   Subunit 4.4.3: 0.5 hours

☐   Subunit 4.4.4: 1.25 hours

☐   Subunit 4.4.5: 2.25 hours

☐   Subunit 4.5: 3 hours

Unit4 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you should be able to: - identify the most important English poets who wrote about the Great War; - compare and contrast as well as discuss poems written by English poets before, during, and after World War I; - identify poetic devices which helped romanticize war in early 20th century English poetry, and relate trends in poetry to their historical context; - analyze the ways in which English poets like Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and others grappled with the brutality of modern warfare and its psychological effects; - characterize and analyze Georgian poetry; and - compare and contrast wartime poetry in England with early modernist poetry (Imagism and Vorticism) in England and the United States.

4.1 Off to War – the Chivalric Ideal  - Reading: Voices Education: Siegfried Sassoon’s “The Dragon and the Undying” Link: Voices Education: Siegfried Sassoon’s “The Dragon and the Undying” (HTML)

  • Reading: Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” Link: Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read Brooke’s poem, “The Soldier.” As you read this poem, consider the following study questions and writing prompt: Does this poem attempt to provide a realistic depiction of modern war? What words and phrases point to a romanticized vision of battle? What emotional effects does this poem produce in the reader? Why might this poem be considered the chivalric ideal? How do you think English audiences reacted to this poem during the time of World War I? How does Brooke’s poem compare and contrast to Sassoon’s poem? Write a few paragraphs that respond to these questions and that aim to compare Brooke’s and Sassoon’s poems. Consider posting your written response to the ENGL408 Course Discussion Board, and respond to other students’ posts.

    Reading this poem, answering the questions above, and completing the writing activity should take approximately 1 hour.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

4.2 Realities of Modern Warfare  - Reading: BBC: Dr. Stephen Badsey’s “The Western Front and the Birth of Total War,” Dr. Joanna Bourke’s “Shell Shock during World War One,” and Dr. Ruth Henig’s “Versailles and Peacemaking” Link: BBC: Dr. Stephen Badsey’s “The Western Front and the Birth of Total War” (HTML), Dr. Joanna Bourke’s “Shell Shock during World War One” (HTML), and Dr. Ruth Henig’s “Versailles and Peacemaking” (HTML)

4.3 The Great War and Poetry: Reflection, Disillusionment, and Bitter Critique  - Reading: The Poetry Foundation: “Biography of Wilfred Owen,” “Biography of Thomas Hardy,” “Biography of Siegfried Sassoon,” and “Biography of Isaac Rosenberg” Link: The Poetry Foundation: “Biography of Wilfred Owen” (HTML), “Biography of Thomas Hardy” (HTML), “Biography of Siegfried Sassoon” (HTML), and “Biography of Isaac Rosenberg” (HTML)

  • Lecture: Yale University: Professor Langdon Hammer’s “Lecture 7: World War I Poetry in England” Link: Yale University: Professor Langdon Hammer’s “Lecture 7: World War I Poetry in England” (Adobe Flash, QuickTime, HTML, Mp3)

    Instructions: Watch this lecture on World War I poetry in England. Take notes on Professor Hammer’s analysis of the poems of Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, and Isaac Rosenberg.

    As you watch this lecture, consider the following study questions: How would you characterize the most important differences among these writers? How do the readings in subunit 4.2 help you understand the poems analyzed by Professor Hammer in his lecture?

    Watching the lecture, pausing to take notes, and answering the questions above should take approximately 2 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyrights and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

4.4 Poets’ Indictment of the War and European Civilization4.4.1 Siegfried Sassoon  - Reading: Siegfried Sassoon’s “Repression of War Experience” and “The Rear-Guard” Link: : Siegfried Sassoon’s “Repression of War Experience” (HTML) and “The Rear-Guard” (HTML)

Instructions: Read Sassoon’s poems, “Repression of War Experience” and “The Rear-Guard.” For each poem, consider the following study questions and writing prompt: What do these poems say about the soldier’s experience in war? What do these poems tell us about World War I? Who is the intended audience? How would you characterize the poet’s relationship to that audience? How would you explain the sources of these various poet-audience relationships? Collectively, what do these poems say about European culture? Write one to three paragraphs to summarize your insights and analysis. Consider posting your paragraph to the ENGL408 Course Discussion Board, and respond to other students’ posts.

  • Reading: AftermathWWI.com: Siegfried Sassoon’s “On Passing the New Menin Gate” Link: AftermathWWI.com: Siegfried Sassoon’s “On Passing the New Menin Gate” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read Sassoon’s poem, “On Passing the New Menin Gate.” As you read this poem, consider the following study questions and writing prompt: What does this poem say about World War I and war in general? Who is the intended audience? How would you characterize the speaker’s relationship to that audience? What does this poem say about European culture? Write a few paragraphs to summarize your insights and analysis. Consider posting your written response to the ENGL408 Course Discussion Board, and respond to other students’ posts.

    Reading this poem, answering the questions above, and completing the writing activity should take approximately 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

4.4.2 Wilfred Owens  - Reading: The Poetry Foundation: Wilfred Owens’ “Arms and the Boy,” “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” and “Dulce et Decorum Est” Link: The Poetry Foundation: Wilfred Owens’ “Arms and the Boy” (HTML), “Anthem for Doomed Youth” (HTML), and “Dulce et Decorum Est” (HTML)

4.4.3 John McCrae  - Reading: John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” Link: John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” (HTML)

4.4.4 Rudyard Kipling’s Change of Heart  - Reading: Web-Books.com: Rudyard Kipling’s “Epitaphs of the War” Link: Web-Books.com: Rudyard Kipling’s “Epitaphs of the War” (HTML)

Instructions: Read Kipling’s poem, “Epitaphs of the War.” As you read, consider the following study questions: How does this poem compare and contrast to Kipling’s poems that you have read earlier (see subunit 1.3.2)? How does Kipling’s approach to patriotism in “Epitaphs of the War” differ from the poems in subunit 1.3.2?

  • Reading: Great War Literature Magazine: W. Lawrance’s “Rudyard Kipling – Author, Poet, and Quintessential Englishman” Link: Great War Literature Magazine: W. Lawrance’s “Rudyard Kipling – Author, Poet, and Quintessential Englishman” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read this article to learn about the events that changed Kipling’s view of the war. Then, go back and re-read “Epitaphs of the War.”

    As you read this article and review the poem, consider the following study questions: How does this article inform your analysis of “Epitaphs of the War”? How would you describe Kipling’s change of heart, or changing attitude?

    Reading this article, re-reading “Epitaphs of the War,” and answering the questions above should take approximately 45 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

4.4.5 e.e. cummings  - Reading: Poets.org: e.e. cummings’ “i sing of Olaf glad and big” Link: Poets.org: e.e. cummings’ “i sing of Olaf glad and big” (HTML)

Instructions: Read cummings’ poem, “i sing of Olaf glad and big.” e.e. cummings spent time as a volunteer ambulance driver at the front in World War I, similar to Ernest Hemingway. He returned with a far more negative position than Hemingway and was very active in articulating his position during the lead up to World War II.

As you read this poem, consider the following study questions: How is this poem a pacifist poem? What is the speaker’s position on war? How might one read this poem as an anti-war poem? How does this poem compare and contrast to Kipling’s “Epitaphs of the War” in terms of the genre of war poetry?

Reading this poem and answering the questions above should take approximately 45 minutes.

Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: The Literature of Poetry: e.e. cummings’ “next to of course god america I” Link: The Literature of Poetry: e.e. cummings’ “next to of course god america I” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read e.e. cummings’ poem, “next to of course god america i.” Also, read the commentary that follows the poem. Finally, listen to the recording of cummings reading this poem.

    As you read the poem and listen to the recording, consider the following study questions: How is this poem a pacifist poem? What is the speaker’s position on war? How does the speaker reconcile patriotism and anti-war sentiments in this poem? How does this poem compare and contrast to Kipling’s “Epitaphs of the War” in terms of the genre of war poetry?

    Reading this poem, reading the commentary, listening to the recording, and answering the questions above should take approximately 45 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: Harvard Magazine: Adam Kirsch’s “The Rebellion of E.E. Cummings” Link: Harvard Magazine: Adam Kirsch’s “The Rebellion of E.E. Cummings” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read this article about the range of cummings’ anti-establishment perspective. Then, go back and re-read the poems by cummings in this subunit.

    As you read this article and revisit the poems in this subunit, consider the following study question: How does this article inform your reading of these poems?

    Reading this article, re-reading the poems in this subunit, and answering the question above should take approximately 45 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

4.5 Post-War Georgian Poetry and the Emergence of Modernist Poetry  - Reading: Poetry X: Walter de la Mare’s “The Truants” Link: Poetry X: Walter de la Mare’s “The Truants” (HTML)

  • Reading: Literature Study Online: Stephen Colbourn’s “The Georgian Poets and the War Poets” Link: Literature Study Online: Stephen Colbourn’s “The Georgian Poets and the War Poets”(HTML)

    Instructions: Read this essay on the Georgian poets and war poets. After reading this essay, re-read Mare’s poem in this subunit.

    As you read this essay and revisit the poem, consider the following study question and writing prompt: How does this essay inform your reading of “The Truants”? Write a paragraph that links the experience of World War I and the emergence of a distinctive modernist poetic style. Consider posting your paragraph to the ENGL408 Course Discussion Board, and respond to other students’ posts.

    Reading this essay, answering the question above, and completing the writing activity should take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

Unit 4 Assessment  - Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 4 Assessment” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 4 Assessment” (PDF)

Instructions: Consider the essay prompts for this assessment, and craft an essay founded on your readings from this unit. After writing your essay, use the “Rubric for Effectively Written College-Level Essays” (PDF) to self-evaluate your writing.

Tips and Suggestions: If you have an ePortfolio account, then it may be beneficial to upload or link to your essay from the Work Samples section of your profile. In combination with the Study Groups function or the ENGL408 Discussion Forum, using your ePortfolio profile may be a good way to receive peer feedback on your written work. If you do not yet have an ePortfolio account, you can create one here, free of charge.

Completing this assessment should take approximately 3 hours.

Doctor W. H. R. Rivers worked was an English psychiatrist whose pioneering work was the treatment of war neurosis – i.e. shell-shock – in soldiers underneath his care at Craiglockhart Hospital. He treated poet Siegfried Sassoon, with whom he developed a friendship, and in 1917, a year before the end of the war, delivered a paper on the treatment and pathology of shellshock to the Section of Psychiatry of the Royal Society of Medicine. In it, he went through what he called the ‘process of repression’: that is, illustrating the difference between the ‘state’ of repression, and the ‘process’ of repression, wherein one was harmful and the other was an educational, protective measure.

His piece de resistance was an illustrating case on the very habits of shellshock. Rivers wrote, ‘the first case is that of a young officer who was sent home from France on account of a wound received just as he was extricating himself from a mass of earth in which he had been buried. When he reached hospital in England he was nervous and suffered from disturbed sleep and loss of appetite. When his wound had healed he was sent home on leave where his nervous symptoms became more pronounced, so that at his next board his leave was extended. He was for a time an out-patient at a London hospital and was then sent to a convalescent home in the country. Here he continued to sleep badly, with disturbing dreams of warfare, and became very anxious about himself and his prospects of recovery. Thinking he might improve if he rejoined his battalion, he made so light of his condition at his next medical board that he was on the point of being returned to duty when special inquiries about his sleep led to his being sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital for further observation and treatment.
On admission he reported that it always took him long to get to sleep at night and that when he succeeded he had vivid dreams of warfare. He could not sleep without a light in his room because in the dark his attention was attracted by every sound. He had been advised by everyone he had consulted, whether medical or lay, that he ought to banish all unpleasant and disturbing thoughts from this mind. He had been occupying himself for every hour of the day in order to follow this advice and had succeeded in restraining his memories and anxieties during the day, but as soon as he went to bed they would crowd upon him and race through his mind hour after hour, so the every night he dreaded to go to bed.’ Sassoon’s poem, Repression of War, can be read in full here.

 

Repression of War Experience Summary

Perhaps aping the title of his infamous paper, Siegfried Sassoon’s poem Repression of War Experience deals with precisely what W.H.R. Rivers wrote about: a soldier whose attempt to repress his memories is manifesting itself in acute shellshock. In it, the soldier, unnamed and on leave, attempts to convince himself that he is right as rain, before succumbing to the memories of his war experience.

 

Repression of War Experience Analysis

Interestingly enough, soldiers who were accused of suffering from shellshock were, for a time, considered to be cowards, and in 1915, the British army was instructed to mark out cases of shellshock with ‘S’: Shell-shock and shell concussion cases should have the letter ‘W’ prefixed to the report of the casualty, if it was due to the enemy; in that case the patient would be entitled to rank as ‘wounded’ and to wear on his arm a ‘wound stripe’. If, however, the man’s breakdown did not follow a shell explosion, it was not thought to be ‘due to the enemy’, and he was to [be] labelled ‘Shell-shock’ or ‘S’ (for sickness) and was not entitled to a wound stripe or a pension’. It was only later on in the war – 1917 – that the British Army began treating shellshock with the seriousness that it required.

Siegfried Sassoon takes the disjointed, broken mind of the soldier, and applies it to poetic form in this poem. He uses no rhyme scheme – the soldier’s mind is far too shattered for this – and every image that he uses within the poem comes attached to a memory, giving it the feel of something almost alive. The poem sways between the reality and the present, leaving the reader unaware at what is actually happening within the poem itself. Siegfried Sassoon was infamously a patient at Craiglockhart, where he was diagnosed with shellshock himself, along with Wilfred Owen; one can almost imagine that this poem is drawn from biographical elements.

In the first stanza, Sassoon’s benign focus on the moth morphs into the image of flame on the battlefield (one can take this as remembrance of flamethrower usage – the first flamethrower was used in Verdun in 1915). ‘No, no, not that,—it’s bad to think of war, / When thoughts you’ve gagged all day come back to scare you;’, Siegfried writes, and the soldier shuffles away to try and keep his mind occupied.

All throughout the poem, the soldier attempts to keep his broken mind from folding in on itself with memories of war. He looks at the books in his shelves, but he’s unnerved by the image of a moth again, bumping against the ceiling – ‘And in the breathless air outside the house / The garden waits for something that delays.’, again showing the war mentality, the idea of fluttering malevolence, and waiting all day for an attack, or for the ‘push’, the call to go over the top of the trenches and face the German army.

The phrase ‘old men with ugly souls’ could refer to the military censors, the press, anyone who profited from the war, and thus hid the true nature of it from the public, which again forms the circular theme of repression. Not just the soldier, then, whose mind has been warped, but also the British public, led to believe that those suffering from shellshock were cowards or otherwise undeserving of treatment.

Near the end, the soldier’s descent into madness strikes a jarring chord with the reader. If perhaps the reader has been unaware until this point that the soldier is, as he writes, ‘stark, staring mad’, the final stanza exposes the fraught state of his mentality, and allows the reader to feel pity for him, to understand what he is going through, and to be angry on his behalf.

 

Siegfried Sassoon Background

Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were among the few war poets in England who saw it as their civic duty to expose the cruelties of the war that other poets – most notably Rupert Brook, who never saw action – merely papered over with glory.

Sassoon later wrote a trilogy about his experience called the Sherston trilogy, which won high acclaim, most notably Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, which took the Hawrthornden Prize for literature in 1928.

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