Dead Musicians – Siegfried Sassoon – Analysis

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, was an English poet, writer, and soldier. Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he became one of the leading poets of the First World War. He is best remembered for his angry and compassionate poems about World War I, which brought him public and critical acclaim.

Dead Musicians.

I

From you, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart,
The substance of my dreams took fire.
You built cathedrals in my heart,
And lit my pinnacled desire.
You were the ardour and the bright
Procession of my thoughts toward prayer.
You were the wrath of storm, the light
On distant citadels aflare.

II

Great names, I cannot find you now
In these loud years of youth that strives
Through doom toward peace: upon my brow
I wear a wreath of banished lives.
You have no part with lads who fought
And laughed and suffered at my side.
Your fugues and symphonies have brought
No memory of my friends who died.

III

For when my brain is on their track,
In slangy speech I call them back.
With fox-trot tunes their ghosts I charm.
‘Another little drink won’t do us any harm.’
I think of rag-time; a bit of rag-time;
And see their faces crowding round
To the sound of the syncopated beat.
They’ve got such jolly things to tell,
Home from hell with a Blighty wound so neat…
. . . .
And so the song breaks off; and I’m alone.
They’re dead … For God’s sake stop that gramophone.

Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967)

This poem is in three distinct parts remembering that Sassoon was very much involved on the battlefield and after returning to England lived into his eighties.

S1 … This stanza is all to do with Sassoon’s appreciation of the great composers Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. And his soul stimulation when a youth is described in terms of fire, cathedrals, and citadels. These dead musicians meant much to him in his formative years. He was a member of the upper class and such music common to his ear.

S2 … These great composers are meaningless to the rank and file soldiers who strived towards peace in their youth in the Great War. And they are equally meaningless to Sassoon when he recalls the dead soldiers he fought with. The metaphorical cathedrals and citadels are in ruins. This is a memory stanza as Sassoon reflects back perhaps after many years.

S3 … The music associated with his soldier compatriots is defined in terms of fox-trot tunes and rag-time jazz. And moreover the together times of jolly mate ship is remembered, especially of those who returned even though they were wounded. A Blighty Wound was serious enough to require recuperation away from the trenches, but not serious enough to kill or maim the victim.

S4 … Time to stop the music, the music playing in his mind. He is alone all his mates long dead. And very appropriate to say – stop that gramophone as though it is outside his control.

The dead musicians that are significant to Sassoon are not Beethoven, Bach or Mozart.

Gramophone

life a recording
expanding from the center 
playing its music
lost notes of the departed
needle the mind of the living

Siegfried Sassoon on Wikipedia

Your word in my ear ...

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