Repression of War Experience
Personification in Siegfried Sassoon’s “Repression of War Experience” After wartime, soldiers can suffer from not only physical injuries, but from psychological damage as well.They become victims of PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which, according to Medicinenet.com, is “an emotional illness that develops as a result of a terribly frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experience.
” Considering the horrors that these soldiers are witnesses to, it is no wonder that PTSD can overcome them.
In Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, “Repression of War Experience,” Sassoon uses personification to emphasize the psychological damage sustained by soldiers after war. In the first two lines of the poem, Sassoon starts off by painting a rather dismal picture. He begins lighting candles and pauses to watch a moth, which he then describes to the reader. He finds it ridiculous that it flies toward the candle even though it’s headed right for the flame and will end up dying. He expresses this thought by commenting on, “What silly beggars they are to blunder in, /And scorch their wings with glory, liquid flame” (lines 2-3).
Of course, moths are not beggars; they are not poor citizens, but Sassoon uses personification to further develop the moth’s behavior. These lines imply that moths beg for their deaths by flying toward the flame of the candle, just as soldiers beg for their deaths by signing up to fight. Moths are drawn to the flame of a candle because of the light, but do not realize that they are headed towards their death. Perhaps soldiers are attracted to war in the same way–they are tempted by the false promise of glory and honor for their country–but unknowingly march toward their own deaths as well.
Sassoon links both moth and man by making such comparisons, and suggesting that both end up embracing death. Further along in the poem, and this is a very short part of the poem, indeed, Sassoon comments on the rain and asks, “Why won’t it rain? ” (line 12). Without warning as to why he does so, Sassoon changes topic and says, “Books; what a jolly company they are, /Standing so quiet and patient on their shelves” (lines 16-17). One can guess as to why he suddenly goes off about books–he cannot bear any reminders of war, and desperately tries to keep his mind occupied with the things he sees around him.
The mentioning of books being a “jolly company” indicates that Sassoon is alone and perhaps has just a few objects with him in his room. It is strange to address books as though they are people or companions, as if they can carry a conversation. Sassoon then develops this unusual view further by commenting on how the books are “Dressed in dim brown, and black, and white, and green” (line 18). Perhaps this is another accidental reference to war because it hints at the soldier’s camouflage-colored uniforms of green and “dim brown” but one cannot be sure.
In regard to the books “standing so quiet and patient”; it is true that books can stand on their own, perhaps on a shelf or a desk, but how can they be patient? Books cannot feel anything, nor can they have opinions. This personification suggests that Sassoon’s mind is slowly moving away from clear thought and logic, and that war has negatively affected his mental state. Sassoon continues comparing normal everyday sights to living things. He writes that “in the breathless air outside the house, /The garden waits for something that delays” (lines 26-27). The comment of the “breathless air” is again, strange.
Air cannot be breathless because it does not breathe. Only people and animals breathe air, and without it, they will die within minutes. However, during a war, poison gas is often released into the sky, making it impossible for soldiers to breathe properly. Such attacks were especially common in World War I, which Sassoon fought in from 1914 to the end of the war in 1918. His line was most likely a reference to the poison-filled air in which no one could breathe. In the last few lines of the poem, Sassoon has failed to completely ignore thoughts of war thus far, for he says that “You’d never think there was a bloody war going on! (line 34). He abandons all attempts to repress his memories and continues his monologue about “Those whispering guns–” (line 37). Obviously, guns cannot speak, and strangely, Sassoon writes that they “whisper” rather than yell or scream.
The latter would be more sensible, considering that there are no quiet gun attacks. However, the description of the hushed weapons suggests (even further) that Sassoon is haunted by his memories, perhaps every night, and can never fully forget them. He himself seems to “lose control of ugly thoughts” (mentioned in line 7, in which Sassoon pities those oldiers who cannot repress their memories) and again, seems unable to distract himself with what he sees around him, as he had done throughout the entire poem until this point. He makes the exclamation of “O Christ, I want to go out, /And screech at them to stop” (lines 37-38). At this point, Sassoon has indeed lost control of himself and wants to scream at the guns to stop firing. Guns do not fire by themselves, nor can they fight a war without soldiers pointing the guns–Sassoon would have to screech at the soldiers to stop fighting–but this personification of the weapons further emphasize the psychological damage from which he suffers.
Personification is a major literary element in “Repression of War Experience,” and it lets the reader understand just how psychologically wounded Sassoon has become. His comparisons range from moths to books to guns, and he jumps from subject to subject in order to show Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His various personified objects are scattered throughout the poem, and they allow the reader to truly understand how he has suffered from his experience at war.