By: Bryan Ricardo Marini Quintana
Siegfried Sassoon’s “They” is a realistic poem that questions The Great War’s righteous cause, contemplating the scars veterans will bear for the rest of their lives. The poem begins with a soldier saying: “The Bishop tells us: ‘When the boys come back / They will not be the same; for they’ll have fought / In a just cause: they lead the last attack” (Sassoon). Here, the Bishop gives a rousing speech to stir the men about why they should be proud of their service to defend the homeland. Then, he finishes with words of praise because “They have challenged Death and dared him face to face.” (Sassoon). However, this comment doesn’t express sorrow or pity for these lost souls who’ve been forced to march beyond the refuge of a barbed wire trench to face their doom on a barren wasteland. Instead, the Bishop absurdly hails these brutal acts of violence as glorious deeds of bravery and honor. All that matters to him is that these soldiers have gained heroic renown on the battlefield, disregarding the physical and psychological wounds they’ve obtained in No Man’s Land.
Afterward, the men respond furiously: “We’re none of us the same!”… / ‘For George lost both his legs; and Bill’s stone blind; / Poor Jim’s shot through the lungs and like to die; / And Bert’s gone syphilitic…” (Sassoon). By giving a voice to these stories, the poet records the horrific experiences of soldiers who’ve endured unceasing winters in the muddy ditches of the western front. Primarily, Siegfried Sassoon expresses his frustrations in a somber poem that ponders these men's grim future when they return home to the post-war world. While meadows will heal and towns rebuild, these soldiers will never be the same again, unable to mend their injuries. Continuing, the men utter: “…you’ll not find / A chap who’s served that hasn’t found some change.” (Sassoon). This is the outcry of haunted soldiers who’ve lost a part of themselves for the righteous cause of The Great War. Overall, Siegfried Sassoon reveals that these fearless knights are ordinary men whose lives have become maimed by the torment they’ve stomached on the western front, with their pleas being snubbed by the Bishop who answers: “…‘The ways of God are strange!” (Sassoon).
(John Singer Sargent, Gassed, 1919)
Sassoon, Siegfried. “They.” 1917. George Mason University,