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They by Siegfried Sassoon Essay

The poem exists out of two stanzas, with a rhyme pattern of ababcc dedeff. The tone of the poem appears to be a little sarcastic and mocking. The poem is a direct conversation between a Bishop and boys (soldiers), it can be seen by the use of the double quotations. I assume for the boys to be soldiers as they know the other soldiers by their names.

In line 1-6 the Bishop, is telling the boys that when the soldiers return from the war, they will not be the same again, and he states the reasons why. The boys’ response to this can be seen in line 7-11. The boys are of the opinion that yes they will not be the same again, but not for the reason the Bishop has listed. The Bishops only response to this is to say that “the ways of God is strange” as can be seen in line 12.

In the first line the Bishop starts a conversation with the soldiers. The semicolon that is used in line 2, forces the reader to take a longer pause, as what follows is an explanation of why the soldiers will not be the same again. As the Bishop is of the opinion that the soldiers have fought in a cause (line 2), the cause being the war. In line 4 a colon is used to list the reasons why they have changed.

The reasons being, “they lead the last attack On Anti-Christ” (line 3), the word last is used to indicate that they were the survivors of the war and were the ones to be part of the last attack on the enemy. The Bishop refers to the enemy as the Anti-Christ, perhaps the opposing party had different ritual believes than they.

The Bishop further goes on, saying that the blood meaning the deaths of their friends and other fighters (comrades) gives the soldiers the right to have children, the Bishop uses the words “new right to breed” as can be seen in line 5. As if you have to earn the right to have children. The last reason the Bishop gives is because they “have challenged Death and dared him face to face” (line 6). Here the poet made use of personification as death is written with a capital letter. Death has become a living object as the soldiers have “dared him face to face”, the poet has assigned death qualities such as a face that only living objects have.

In the second stanza the boys’ response to what the Bishop has said
previously. The use of the word ‘boys’ throughout the poem can mean a few things such as that the listeners are truly young boys or that they are being patronized by the poet by calling them boys, when they are actually men (Griffiths, 2011). One would have thought that the war would have made them men. They agree that the war changes the soldiers, but the speaker is pointing it out to the Bishop, not because of the reasons he provided.

The speaker responds by mentioning other reasons why these soldiers have changed. The poet has made use of semicolons after each reason instead of commas; it forces the reader to really take in the changes and the consequences of these changes on the soldier. The speaker states in line 8 that George has lost both his legs and that Bill is blind, nothing can be done for them to bring back their ability to walk and see, the speaker also lists a few other changes occurred. The poet has made the poem more personal, by calling the soldiers by their names.

Sarcasms is noticeable here as the speaker is trying to tell the Bishop that these soldiers are people, who have lives, they are not peons in your game of power. The speaker goes further to say that you will not find one soldier who has not changed (line 11), he uses the word “some” in italics to emphasize that everybody changes, although not all the changes can be specified. The speaker refers to his fellow soldiers as chaps, and not boys like the Bishop. This just emphasizes that the Bishop is patronizing the soldiers by calling them boys.

The Bishops response to the speaker previous statement is that “the ways of God are strange” (line 12). The Bishop does not blame the reality of the war for these changes; instead he blames God’s will for it. The poet made use of an exclamation mark at the end to emphasize that God is to blame, as we do not always understand his reason.

As stated previously the poem is a conversation between the Bishop and soldiers, the conversation itself is taking place in the present tense as can be seen in line 1 “tell us” and in line 7 “boys reply”. I have noticed that in the last line, that it is not in present tense, but instead it is in past tense, as the “Bishop said”, it emphasizes the Bishops words that it was Gods decision that these soldiers cannot see or walk. The poet also makes use of alteration throughout the poem to add to the rhythm of the Bishops statements (Griffith, 2011), an example can be seen in line 6 “Death and dared him face to face”.

It is really heart breaking that society blames God or Religion for things that go wrong, instead of taking responsibility for their own actions and decisions. I am writing this essay on the 12 year anniversary of 911, and I cannot help to think about all the innocent people that have died and have been injured in the attack. Not to mention the soldiers that had to leave their families behind to go and fight for their country.

So many people have lost their loved ones, or returned injured or is suffering from post dramatic stress, and what the government do not understand no amount of money, therapy or kind words will be able to undo these changes, these deaths or injuries.

Griffiths, G. M. 2011. They – Siegfried Sassoon. Available at: http://movehimintothesun.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/they-siegfried-sassoon/ [Accessed: 20 August 2013]

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