Soldiers are citizens of death’s gray land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of fire lit homes, clean beds, and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
I love this simple “war poem” , a sonnet, by Sassoon born of his own experiences in a trench as a soldier fighting in the First World War.
The most striking images, to me, are:
Dividend: The soldier has invested his life in the capital of war, where there is neither capital appreciation for the investor nor dividends, but only for anonymous people who are supposed to get intangible benefits out of the enterprise of war.
Fatal climax: The soldiers are expected to fight with their lives to achieve a climax, which is supposed to be the outcome of the war which may or may not be favorable to the side he is dying for.
Dreamers: Love the sarcasm in the usage. The soldiers are not poets or dreamers of wistful other-worlds but merely dream of being ordinary people doing ordinary things like going to a movie, enjoying a bank holiday and even going to the office in the train.
There is no glory in the war inspiring them to sacrifice their lives for the country and even if it is, they will not live to enjoy it. If only they would let us go from these wretched holes into the arms of their wives and lead ordinary lives like all those others for whom they are supposed to be dying here.