Lamentations: Poem Analysis
The poem Lamentations by Siegfried Sassoon is about a man who witnessed a soldier crying over his dead brother. It remained true to the title, describing the grief associated with death and quite possibly the death of patriotism at the time. Sassoon uses powerful verbiage in this poem that makes it is a short but astoundingly moving piece.
Some of the verbiage in the poem include moaned, shouted, and sobbed, among others which allowed us to see fully the soldier’s devastation in the scene. He is described to be kneeling half-naked on the floor which can be seen as an act of ritual or prayer and also desperation. Being in such a physical position could denote that one had lost all hope and being half-naked emphasizes the soldier’s vulnerability. This is one aspect, the emotional one, of lamentations true to the word and its meaning. The other aspect is that of lamenting patriotism. Under such terrible circumstances, one could certainly “lose patriotic feelings”, the exact words were even used in the last line of the poem. It expresses sympathy for the bereaved and also encourages understanding in a way that lifts blame from people who are suffering such pain to be thinking about concepts such as patriotism in their most trying times. It teaches readers to be humans even though that is not in any way directly stated in the poem. That sadness and mourning should be given their due time and not be seen as a strangeness or weakness, rather an inherent human reaction to loss. The soldier is also said to howl, turning into some type of animal and gives us a view of how people seem to become uncivilized when they are in pain but in no way does that make them any less human.
The poem is written in a manner that is told by an eyewitness to a very particular event. Its structure helps in the storytelling because it is less organized or measured. The run-on lines allowed the author to create a sense that the narration is being done from memory as though someone is telling a story naturally with no specific form as in a regular conversation. Still, there is a rhyme that brings the poem together that even with no formal structure, it still sounds coherent and even persuasive. The language is simple but is used efficiently and effectively, using the word “him” instead of giving the grieving man a name. This creates a sense of anonymity so that he somehow represents all soldiers who have gone through the same experience whether it is the mourning of a family member or a brother in arms. Some of the words can also be understood in two ways. Aside from suggesting that the man is uncivilized and vulnerable by being half-naked, it also suggests that he is highly disappointed in the way that his country may have failed him. There was also a brief description of a sergeant watching the man in a “puzzled, patient face” as though this reaction came as a surprise since such scenarios are to be expected and so seeing someone break down like this is out of the ordinary, adding to the sad tone of the entire poem. Sassoon makes a bold statement in the ending saying that such men have lost their patriotic feeling. It is difficult to blame someone for feeling that way after losing so much. Lamentations therefore refers not only to the grieving man’s laments but also to the death of patriotism.
Despite the direct wordings used in the poem, there are a few euphemisms used such as the brother “gone west” which is another way to talk about someone dying. The sun sets in the west which makes someone going west a symbol for dying. The expression also shows how naturally death comes to people. The sunning setting on the west is something that happens everyday and like death, it is quite common and natural. However, it is clear that the man’s brother died in a brutal way. It shows the dehumanizing effects of war as was described in the sergeant’s expression upon witnessing the grieving man. We can see how hard it was for him to understand why someone would react in this way.
Lamentations is an account of a man’s great grief after seeing his brother dead and helpless. In not so many words, Sassoon expressed so many emotions and explored different concepts without using complicated forms or meters or formal structure. The poem flowed freely but it still had a certain rhythm that makes it unique and compelling whether it is read in silence or aloud. It suggests that death is not unusual and shows us the reality of war while getting a closer look at someone’s grief.