There’s this english mid term exam I need to give tomorrow, and after fooling around a lot during english classes, it’s time to study. So this poem, Survivors by Siegfried Sassoon in our Communicative English reader had me muddled up with our teacher making us write a long note on neurasthesia; I just Yahoo!ed up some stuff on it. Here’s an analysis of the poem I found on this great site, and putting it here because good stuff has a bad habit of getting lost on the
No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’ —
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,—
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride…
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.
Craiglockhart. October, 1917.
‘No doubt they’ll soon get well’
The opening line gives the reader a sense of misleading hope. The throw- away feeling emphasized by the assured ‘No doubt’ calls to mind the sinister complacency of Does It Matter?.
‘stammering, disconnected talk’
One of the symptoms of shell-shock or ‘neurasthenia’ (as it was then termed) is a stammer, and a failure to string sentences together coherently. The conditions of some of the patients at Craglockhart are described powerfully in Regeneration the opening book to Pat Barker’s WWI trilogy.
‘Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,”
Again the disassociated, unfeeling voice make its presence felt. The flippant remark, suggesting that all soldiers were willing to return to the front, is typical of the attitude Sassoon perceived in the non-combatants at home.
‘These boys with old, scared faces’
Sassoon contrasts the youth and innocence of the soldiers with the ageing process of the war. Yet, although these men are made old before their time, they are also reduced to infants (‘Children’) having to re-learn such basic processes as how to walk.
‘They’ll soon forget…of friends who died’
On Sassoon’s return to England in April, 1917, after receiving an injury earlier that year, his anti-war sentiments reached new heights. Angered by the attitude he perceived in the people who remained in England, and troubled by visions and nightmares in which he saw corpses littering the streets, he was moved to publish his famous declaration against the war, which ultimately led to his spell at Craiglockhart.
These nightmares continued during his convalescence at the hospital, and if it were not for the pioneering work by his psychiatrist, Dr. W. H. R. Rivers (neurologist and anthropologist), it is probable that his decline would have led to a total break-down.
The ‘cowed subjection’ of the dreamer calls to mind a similar sense of guilt expressed in the poem ‘Sick Leave‘. Here Sassoon, once again asleep, pictures ‘the noiseless dead’ who seek him out, reproaching him for not being back at the front with his Battalion.
‘– and they’ll be proud/Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride’
Again the poet presents us with a sense of hope, immediately reversed by a harsh reminder of brutal reality. The survivors, once they have managed to forget the nightmares and visions of their dead comrades, will then be able to reflect on the ‘glorious war’ with pride; but this, in turn, will remind them of their time spent overcoming the horror, when they had no self-esteem having been reduced to helpless children.
‘with eyes that hate you’
Sassoon ends the poem in an accusatory manner, no doubt directed at the supporters of the War, the people who can so easily push soldiers back to the front without ever knowing the horrors of trench warfare.