Dreamers

The poem Dreamers – written by Siegfried Sassoon – is an anti-war poem. Written by a man who once volunteered as a soldier for the British army during World War I.

Siegfried Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon

Source: Wikimedia Commons

From soldier to critic

Before the war started in 1914, Siegfried Sassoon wasn’t well-known. His book The Daffodil Murderer wasn’t that original. It was a parody of the book by John Masefield (The Everlasting Mercy). Then the war started and Sassoon decided to volunteer.

In 1915 he fought battles in France. He turned out to be a rather heroic officer and was awarded the Military Cross, after being wounded twice. This didn’t stop him from seeing that young men were sacrificed during this war. Young men that should be doing other things than dying in some field far away from their homes. Dreamers tell us about this death’s grey land. A land where there is no real escape. There is no way that these young men could return to their loved ones. Sassoon was able to get out, but not after he was (again) wounded.

In 1917 he arrived in Somerville College, Oxford, to recover. He met the poet Wilfred Owen and after long consideration, he decided to refuse to go back to France. This wasn’t an easy decision to make, because it felt like he betrayed those who were still fighting. The most important reason to protest against the war by refusing to go back was the death of his good friend, David Cuthbert Thomas.

Sassoon even wrote a letter to his commanding officer entitled Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration. Bertrand Russel and Lady Ottoline Morrell – who were also against the war – inspired him to write down his protest in a letter. This letter was, later on, send to the press and read in the House of Commons in London. He could have been court-martialed for this. Instead, he was diagnosed with shell shock in a hospital in Edinburgh. From that moment on, he began to show more anger towards everything that had to do with war. His Military Cross ended up in the River Mersey. Years later, it was recovered. By that time, Sassoon was already dead.

In 1918 he learned that his good friend Owen died. A week later, the German troops would surrender. This was the evidence that there wasn’t anything good about this war. Eventually, he made his way back to the front in 1918 too. Before that, he was assigned as being part of the British troops in Palestine. The irony of this all: he was shot by a Britsh soldier, who confused him for a German soldier. In 1919, after the war was over, Sassoon – by that time promoted to captain – was finally able to leave the army.

Dreamers

Dreamers

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,

Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.

In the great hour of destiny they stand,

Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.

Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win

Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.

Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin

They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.

 

I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,

And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,

Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,

And mocked by hopeless longing to regain

Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,

And going to the office in the train.

Siegfried Sassoon

 

This poem, a sonnet, tells us in fourteen lines that there isn’t a thing that is good about war. On fields far away from their homes, men fight endless battles. In a death’s grey land. There is nothing but the longing for that what is left behind, at home. Basically, this poem tells us what he saw and probably what he wished he didn’t have to.

Title
Dreamers
Article Name
Dreamers
Summary
A protest about the war from one who was in it
Author
Publisher Name
The Ministry of Poetic Affairs

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