Compare and contrast the treatment of war in “The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still” by Siegfried Sassoon and “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke. “The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still” is written in alternating seven and six line stanzas.
The lines are all pentameters, but there appears to be no rhyme system. Its structure seems less formal than that of “The Soldier”. The opening line acts as a shock, bringing images of death and destruction. In only a few words, you seem to be transported to a battlefield. This opening line also serves as the poem’s title. I was unable to discover whether the poem was originally untitled, and therefore known by its opening line, or whether this was a deliberate repetition.
Nevertheless, the repetition seems to increase the impact of the poem’s opening. The line “And I remember things I’d best forget. ” seems to express a longing for the images to be forgotten. Farther on in this stanza, tents are described as “hives”, which draws a comparison between the soldiers and insects, as though they too are part of a collective. In the next stanza, the lines “Gun-thunder leaps and thuds along the ridge; / The spouting shells dig pits in fields of death,” seem to recreate the sounds of the weapons.
The shells dig pits in the fields as though ready for the wounded men to fill. The poet expresses the hope that anyone he cares for could be spared this experience, and that they get back home wounded, but alive. The lines “It’s sundown in the camp; some youngster laughs, / Lifting his mug and drinking health to all / Who came unscathed from that unpitying waste:- / (Terror and ruin lurk behind his gaze. )” are deeply touching, a man tries to hide his fear behind a facade of bravado, but it is all too clear in his face.
The words “unpitying waste”, used to describe the indiscriminate slaughter they were part of also seems to imply that the author viewed the deaths as a waste and of no purpose. In the last stanza, the poem points out that war causes everyone involved pain and loss, and that each side is made up of people who all have the same kinds of feelings: “Then I remembered someone that I’d seen Dead in the squalid, miserable ditch, Heedless of the toiling feet that trod him down. He was a Prussian with a decent face Young, fresh and pleasant, so I dare to say. No doubt he loathed the war and longed for peace And cursed our souls because we’d killed his friends. “”The Soldier” is written in a variation of the Petrarchan sonnet, whose form is usually abbaabba cdcdcd.
However, “The Soldier” uses an interlaced rhyme scheme, ababcdcd efgefg. The octave is in the form of an English sonnet, while the sestet is a variation of that of a Petrarchan sonnet, and it, typically, forms a separation from the octave. At the volta or turn, the poem’s mood changes, becoming more spiritual. Another similarity to an English sonnet is the poem’s seven rhyming pairs whereas true Petrarchan sonnets have only four rhyme sounds.
Lines are written in iambic pentametersThe title is the only direct reference to war, if you take the title away, and ignore any knowledge of its context, it could have possibly been the musings of a homesick traveller. In this way, the title confers much of the poem’s meaning. It contains many references to England, in an attempt to stir patriotic, nationalistic feelings (which, unfortunately, sounds almost like propaganda, when read today). The poem seems to offer consolation to those who have lost loved ones, or to those who run the risk of being killed in the war. It puts forward the view that soldiers killed in the war have not died in vain, there is a core spirit of ‘Englishness’ that they have taken with them and left where they died, which will affect the inhabitants of that other country.
In a sense, they may not have won the war, but they have advanced the cause of England. This is expressed in the words “That there’s some corner of a foreign field / that is forever England” The poet seems to fee! l that England is a kind of collective entity, made up of its people, rather than a place, and that the body of an English person constitutes a ‘piece’ of England, no matter where it is left. The words “There shall be / in that rich earth a richer dust concealed;” suggest that among the dead of all nations involved in the war, an English decaying body is better than any other. The line “A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware” suggests a sense of being part of England before being part of anything else, such as family or other social groups. It also seems to imply that England has created you, made you what you are, more than any other influence on your life.
Followed by the line “Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam”, the poem seems to impress on you the idea that your country has given you a great deal. In the sestet, the poem expresses hopes that his spirit can give something back in return. The expressions “English air”, “suns of home” and “English heaven” tie these symbols of freedom to nationalism. The poem presents a sanitised view of war, with the idea that death serves a purpose and is not futile, and the view that one nation is superior to others. It relies on stock responses, stirring up senses of nationalism, duty and a romanticised view of England and what it means to be English. It is harder to understand when read now, as attitudes to war have changed.
We now live in an increasingly globalised culture, in which the concept of nationality becomes less important in some societies. Perhaps the idea of individuality is more important to people now, rather than the sense of belonging to a nation. There are some similarities between the two poems. Both are written from a personal perspective on the subject of war. However, there are stark differences too.
“The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still” is descriptive of the events of a battle, whereas “The Soldier” concerns itself with abstract concepts such as duty, nationalism and heroism, its only reference to war being the title. The language used in “The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still” is harsh and conjures up vile images of brutality and loss. The language used in “The Soldier” is romantic and invokes images pride in nationality, beauty and fellowship. “The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still” describes the brutality and futility of war, whereas “The Soldier” offers a sanitised portrayal of war that views death with a sense of honour and duty.
“The Soldier” expresses a sense of nationalistic superiority that is not evident in the other poem. “The rank stench of those bodies haunts me st! ill” concludes with the humanitarian notion that despite arbitrary sides in a war, we all share common feelings and goals. Appendix 1The rank stench of those bodies haunts me stillThe rank stench of those bodies haunts me still And I remember things I’d best forget. For now we’re marched to a green, trenchless land Twelve miles from battering guns: along the grass Drawn lines of tents are hives for snoring men; Wide, radiant water sways the floating sky Below dark with thoughts of home and hours of sleep. Tonight I smell the battle; miles away Gun-thunder leaps and thuds along the ridge; The spouting shells dig pits in fields of death, And wounded men are moaning in the woods.
If any friend be there whom I have loved God send him safe to England with a gash. It’s sundown in the camp; some youngster laughs, Lifting his mug and drinking health to all Who came unscathed from that unpitying waste:- (Terror and ruin lurk behind his gaze. ) Another sits with tranquil, musing face. Puffing his pipe and dreaming of the girl Whose last scrawled sheets lie upon his knee. The sunlight falls, low-ruddy from the west, Upon their martial hair; they might have died; And now they stretch their limbs in tired content. One says ‘The bloody Bosches have got the knock; And soon they’ll crumple up and chuck their games.
We’ve got the beggars on the run at last!’Then I remembered someone that I’d seen Dead in the squalid, miserable ditch, Heedless of the toiling feet that trod him down. He was a Prussian with a decent face Young, fresh and pleasant, so I dare to say. No doubt he loathed the war and longed for peace And cursed our souls because we’d killed his friends. Siegfried SassoonAppendix 2The SoldierIf I should die think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is forever England.
There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware. Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England’s breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home. And think this heart, all evil shed away, A pulse in the eternal life, no less Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given; Her sights and sounds, dreams happy as her day; And laughter learnt of friends; and gentleness. In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.