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

Futility – Wilfred Owen – Remembrance Day 2018

Today marks 100 years since the end of WW1 in 1918.

PoppiesWarMemorial

The hand-woven poppy display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Futility

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,—still warm,—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

Sonnet structure of two 7 line stanzas with slant rhyming scheme …

Wilfred Owen technique is to use slant rhyme; this poem is no exception. It has an AABABBB rhyming pattern in the first stanza, then alternating slant-rhyming lines in the last stanza. Slant rhymes (such as “sun” and “once”) are a subtle way of giving a poem unity, where the words may echo each other, without being an obvious rhyme. The reader gains a sense of coherence without, initially at least, being conscious of how it is done. However, in certain contexts, such as this poem, the near rhymes may signify discord, a rhyme that is not ‘quite right’. Refer – https://genius.com/Wilfred-owen-futility-annotated

S1 – Farm labourers had no comprehension of what they were in for when they enlisted in WWI. This poor fellow is mortally injured as his mates move him into the sun. It is cold as there is snow on the ground and the sun will provide warmth. The sun is personified as a healer capable of giving recovery. In England the sun has always been a friend to him waking him and giving life to his fields. Even in France it has been with him in the mornings. Perhaps ‘the kind old sun will know’ how to revive him.

S2 – The sun brings life to seeds and from the text it appears that it brought life to the universe – ‘woke, once, the clays of a cold star’ … and much has been achieved in the evolution of life and the advancement of humanity … ‘limbs, so dear achieved’ … so is it too much to ask the sun for help akin to asking a mate for help.

This is a poem about grief following what has happened to a rural worker enlisted in WW1, with anger vented at the creator and maintainer of life represented by the sun.

Is the sun an uncaring mate (sun=creator, son, God) ?

And the poem poses the question if life has been created by an uncaring unintelligent ‘sun’ then what is the purpose of life!

A link to Wilfred Owen on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Owen

Note – 

The Canberra Rotary Peace Bell is available today for residents and visitors to sound … see https://canberrapeacebell.org/ This is done in conjunction with reading the following words by the Chinese Philosopher Laozi … (the bell is sounded after each statement is read).

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbours.

If there is to be peace between neighbours,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

Bell