The Rear-Guard

By Siegfried Sassoon 1886–1967 Siegfried Sassoon


                (Hindenburg Line, April 1917)

Groping along the tunnel, step by step,
He winked his prying torch with patching glare
From side to side, and sniffed the unwholesome air.

Tins, boxes, bottles, shapes and too vague to know; 
A mirror smashed, the mattress from a bed;
And he, exploring fifty feet below
The rosy gloom of battle overhead.

Tripping, he grabbed the wall; saw someone lie
Humped at his feet, half-hidden by a rug.
And stooped to give the sleeper’s arm a tug.
“I’m looking for headquarters.” No reply.
“God blast your neck!” (For days he’d had no sleep.)
“Get up and guide me through this stinking place.”
Savage, he kicked a soft, unanswering heap,
And flashed his beam across the livid face
Terribly glaring up, whose eyes yet wore
Agony dying hard of ten days before;
And fists of fingers clutched a blackening wound.

Alone he staggered on until he found
Dawn's ghost that filtered down a shafted stair
To the dazed, muttering creatures underground
Who hear the boom of shells in muffled sound.
At last, with sweat and horror in his hair,
He climbed through darkness to the twilight air,
Unloading hell behind him step by step.

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

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Poet Siegfried Sassoon 1886–1967

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Georgian

Subjects Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Mythology & Folklore, Heroes & Patriotism

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 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 . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict, Mythology & Folklore, Heroes & Patriotism

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Georgian

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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