Repression of War Experience

By Siegfried Sassoon 1886–1967 Siegfried Sassoon
Now light the candles; one; two; there's a moth;
What silly beggars they are to blunder in
And scorch their wings with glory, liquid flame—
No, no, not that,—it's bad to think of war,
When thoughts you've gagged all day come back to scare you;
And it's been proved that soldiers don't go mad
Unless they lose control of ugly thoughts
That drive them out to jabber among the trees.
 
 
Now light your pipe; look, what a steady hand.
Draw a deep breath; stop thinking; count fifteen,
And you're as right as rain ...
                                                       Why won't it rain? ...
I wish there'd be a thunder-storm to-night,
With bucketsful of water to sluice the dark,
And make the roses hang their dripping heads.
 
Books; what a jolly company they are,
Standing so quiet and patient on their shelves,
Dressed in dim brown, and black, and white, and green,
And every kind of colour. Which will you read?
Come on; O do read something; they're so wise.
I tell you all the wisdom of the world
Is waiting for you on those shelves; and yet
You sit and gnaw your nails, and let your pipe out,
And listen to the silence: on the ceiling
There's one big, dizzy moth that bumps and flutters;
And in the breathless air outside the house
The garden waits for something that delays.
There must be crowds of ghosts among the trees,—
Not people killed in battle,—they're in France,—
But horrible shapes in shrouds--old men who died
Slow, natural deaths,—old men with ugly souls,
Who wore their bodies out with nasty sins.
 
                         *          *          *
 
You're quiet and peaceful, summering safe at home;
You'd never think there was a bloody war on! ...
O yes, you would ... why, you can hear the guns.
Hark! Thud, thud, thud,—quite soft ... they never cease—
Those whispering guns—O Christ, I want to go out
And screech at them to stop—I'm going crazy;
I'm going stark, staring mad because of the guns.

Source: Counter-attack, and Other Poems (1918)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Siegfried Sassoon 1886–1967

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Georgian

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Humor & Satire, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Living, The Mind, Reading & Books

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

 Siegfried  Sassoon

Biography

Siegfried Sassoon is best remembered for his angry and compassionate poems of the First World War, which brought him public and critical acclaim. Avoiding the sentimentality and jingoism of many war poets, Sassoon wrote of the horror and brutality of trench warfare and contemptuously satirized generals, politicians, and churchmen for their incompetence and blind support of the war. His later poems, often concerned with religious . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Humor & Satire, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Living, The Mind, Reading & Books

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Georgian

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.