Sunday, September 14, 2008

Explanation for "Survivors" by Sassoon


Survivors

No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’—
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,—
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride...
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

Craiglockart. October, 1917.
Siegfried Sassoon

A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is http://englishportal12.blogspot.in/?view=mosaic 

The poet, Sassoon, explores the effect of war on soldiers and indirectly criticizes the non-combatant’s complacent attitude towards war. He does this effectively using an underlying ironic tone in the poem by making statements (necessarily a non-combatant’s statements i.e. the common people or a politician’s) that seem to reassure the reader that the wounded and shell-shocked soldiers will be fine and that war is glorious, but immediately follows such statements with a graphic presentation of the physical and mental scars that war creates. This jolts the reader’s reassurance and makes the poem doubly effective. The poem is also powerful because it is auto-biographical. It was written while the poet was recovering from shell-shock at Craiglockhart Hospital.

The poem begins by giving the reader the misleading hope that the shell-shocked soldiers would surely recover (the view of the non-combatant) and breaks this hope when he describes how the shock and strain of war have caused these soldiers to stammer and to talk incoherently. It would take them a long time to recover from this and not ‘soon’. Again the statement that they are ‘longing to go out again’ and fight (statement of politicians, probably) makes us imagine that the soldiers are raring to go out to the war front again and fight. This is again negated by describing the soldier’s faces as ‘old’ and ‘scared’ showing how war makes these courageous men old before their time and afraid. Also the words ‘they are learning to walk’ could literally mean recovering physically from battle wounds or metaphorically mean getting back to normal life recovering from the psychological scars that they have received.

Once again the reassuring statement that they will soon forget their haunted nights is contradicted by stating what haunts them in their sleep. Their sleep is filled with nightmares of the ghosts of friends who died in battle and the scenes of killing and blood in the battlefield. When they are haunted by these how can they ever ‘soon’ forget anything? Finally, the poet is ironic when he says that the soldiers will be proud of glorious war which not only shattered their pride in fighting for their country but shattered their individual selves.

The last two lines convey the total effect of war, that is, it turns men who went to war, glad and serious about fighting for their country, returning reduced to the level of helpless children. They are completely broken psychologically and almost insane. They are also filled with hatred for the supporters of war namely, the politicians and the non-combatants. Thus, using irony, the poem poignantly exposes the sham of war and its effects on the combatants.


If you think this explanation has helped you, kindly donate money to the orphanage for girls that my friend runs. You can know about it at https://sites.google.com/site/annaineomianbuillam/

14 comments:

ASHIB said...

abe pat is a kewl onlyn nickname,sir..& da blog is kewl..but i m unable 2 add myself as 1 of ur team members.dunno y??......& coz of dis blog i got 2 kno bout an alarming fact--not alarming,but ,of course,an astonishimg fact....i hope u understood it..................................................................
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((((((((((44)))))))...


tc sir............................................
my mail id is monuashib27@yahoo.com

Abe Pat said...

hi ashib, i think u can become a team member only if i allow u. i've got to learn how to allow u. thanks for the comment. but what is the astonishing fact? i've noted ur email id.

Anonymous said...

hello.... sir ...i am one of ur students from ISA.... i hope u remember me ... the paki girl who joined in 11th uzma zahid!
well i was studying for my unit test exam n cudnt understand this poem... thot of surfing the net wen i found ur explanation.... thanks for ur explanation sir...

ashib said...

i m sory sir------i saw ma cmmnt wn sme1 rite nw postd anothr cmmnt about the helpfullness of ur explanatn------da "alarmin" fact wz ntttn but ur Bday-----

hope u r fine--------

Abe Pat said...

hi uzma,
glad that the blog helped u understand the poem. u can tell others in the class about it.

Anonymous said...

hello sir hoe r u? hope ypu are doing gud!! m in 12 std tathir fatima!! so poor in eng! :D....n i was strugglin 2 get d xplanation abt dis poem...tnxx a lot sir really a lot!!! @ last i'll sum gud markss in english!!!! =)

Anonymous said...

sir, thx writing d explaination....its awesome....bt plyz tell me the explaination of cowed subjectiion to...(this line)..also,plyz

diksha narula said...

hey sir i want to know about salley in our alley .. cn u plz help me with it!! i have an exam.. so its important.

Anonymous said...

sir i enjoyed your explanation for survivors...
thank you sir...
would you mind explaining "COWED SUBJECTION"?

taurus1591 said...

sir i have one question regarding the first stanza was the poet a non-combatant...???

Anonymous said...

No, Sassoon did fight in the war and even recived the MC for bravery when rescuing wounded soldiers. The first stanza is simply written in an ironic style, parodying pro-war poets such as Jessie Pope.

Midkitty said...

This blog is great! I've got my mid term exam tomorrow and you're explanations are such a help. Thanks you sir! :)

Anonymous said...

sir this actually a very good explanation.It has helped me in understanding the poem nicely.
Thankyou

Anonymous said...

not even one fucking soul used proper english to somment on your blog lamo!!! btw its pretty good :P