Attack by Siegfried Sassoon- Revision Notes

Attack by Siegfried Sassoon

Context:

  • One of the most famous of all the war poets. He joined the army initially with enthusiasm as an infantry officer, fighting on the Western Front. The bravery he displayed in the trenches earned him the nickname “Mad Jack” and the Military Cross in 1916.
  • Grew disillusioned with the tactics employed in pursuit of the war, in particular trench warfare in which the combatants fought for disputed territory from a complex system of trenches which were dug into the landscape.
  • These tactics led to massive loss of life. For example in the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, 60,000 men were killed or wounded in the first day. One million soldiers died in the four months of the battle for the gain of a few miles of ground.
  • It was a terrifying theatre of war in which both sides bombarded each other relentlessly with artillery before infantry regiments went “over the top” to try to claim the opposing trench

 

Theme

  • In one of his diary entries Sassoon made reference to the “vile landscape” and “hideous noises” which made “everything unnatural” – a feature of trench warfare he attempts to capture in this poem, together with the terror and heroism of the soldiers.

Tone

  • The poem blends a sense of horror with sympathy for the soldiers. The caesural pause in the final line emphasises the desperate cry of despair that brings the poem to a dramatic conclusion

Words and Phrases

  • The poem opens with a rhymed couplet to describe dawn as it breaks over of the battlefield. Daybreak is conventionally a dazzling picturesque scene but Sassoon’s description strips it of any romantic glamour and gives the battlefield  a more threatening, unnatural  aura

–          The use of colour to describe the sun – “wild purple” – creates a dark , sinister intensity

–          The personification of the sun as “glow’ring” transforms the conventional image of sunrise to make the scene seem more menacing

–          Using personification and sibilance to describe the ridge as a “scarred slope” captures the savage destruction of the landscape

  • Use of imagery: Sassoon stresses the dereliction and destruction of the scene by focusing on the smoke  – he uses sibilance in lines 3&4 to perhaps create the hissing sounds of its burning embers and emphasise the harshness of the scene
  • He uses the verb “shroud” metaphorically because of its association with death – bodies are wrapped in a shroud as part of burial ritual – thereby creating a more macabre and gloomy scene
  • Onomatopoeia is used to capture the deafening sound of the artillery fire as they bombard the enemy trench in preparation for the men going over the top – “the barrage roars
  • The visual image of the men as “clumsily bowed”  and the repetition of “and” stresses  the weight of their kit
  • Pity and horror is created when he uses a euphemism to describe that they “climb to meet the bristling fire” implying their heroic sacrifice  and  the terrifying ordeal
  • The image of time ticking “blank and busy on their wrists” helps capture their panic and the meaninglessness of their lives at this time
  • Hope is personified in the last two lines to link the death of hope with the death of the soldiers. The particular choice of adjectives furtive eyes” and “grappling fists” captures the frantic panic of the soldiers as they face certain death
  • The verb “flounders” in the last line confirms the futility of their attack and reflects the poet’s bleak despair at the slaughter of so many men

 

Structure

  • The first six lines describe the “vile landscape”;  the next six lines describe the soldiers as they go over the top
  • Using only one verse gives the descriptions greater intensity
  • It is written in the present tense to create a sense of immediacy as we, the reader, relive the experience with the poet as it happens
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Comparing The Badger and Death of a Naturalist

Comparing ‘The Badger’ and ‘Death of a Naturalist’

 

‘Death of a Naturalist’ and ‘The Badger’ are two poems which address the theme of nature, showing both the natural world in a positive and negative light along with showing the human world in the same way. ‘Death of a Naturalist’ shows the speaker’s changing feeling about nature from a child who is excited by nature and exploring the flax-dam to an adult who returns to the flax-dam and is horrified by the frogs. In ‘The Badger’, Clare shows his feelings about nature when he describes an incident of badger baiting. ‘The Badger’ by John Clare represents the frequent battle between nature and man. Clare emphasises the unremitting battle and nature is represented in this poem by the Badger. This is similar to ‘Death of a Naturalist’ which focuses on human opinion to nature. Heaney portrays his love and later his fear for nature through the metaphor of a frog, similar to the Badger.

In the first ten lines of the poem Heaney uses vivid imagery to describe the setting and its sights, smell and sounds. The phrase ‘flax-dam festered’ in the opening line combines assonance and alliteration, and begins to create the atmosphere of decay. ‘Heavy headed’ at the end of the second line again uses assonance and alliteration in one phrase to describe the flax that had rotted. The heaviness is emphasised further in the third line, where the flax is ‘weighted down by huge sods’. The idea that hot weather has caused the decay is expressed in line four: ‘Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun’, a personification of the oppressiveness of the sun. A gentler image focusing on sound is created in ‘Bubbles gargled delicately’ in line five. The movement of flies is described with a metaphor: ‘bluebottles / wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell’, a fascinating image combining different senses. Line seven hints at the beauty of the scene with its ‘dragonflies, spotted butterflies’. In a similar way, Clare uses imagery to bring across the sounds and smells of the situation such as when the hare “buzzes” by.

Lines fifteen to twenty-one are a very childlike account of how the schoolteacher, Miss Walls, taught Heaney’s class about frogs and frogspawn. Simple, childish language features in this section, such as ‘the mammy frog laid hundreds of little eggs’; there are four clauses each joined by ‘and’ in this sentence, just as though it were written by a child. The final sentence of the first stanza continues in the same style, telling us that frogs are yellow in sunny weather but ‘brown / In rain’. The last, brief two-word line of the first stanza seems to underline the fact that this is the end of a period of innocence and that a change is forthcoming. This is similar to John Clare’s simple tone throughout his poem. This is no surprise as Clare was known as the ‘Peasant Poet’ and is shown through his less educated and romantic style. This greatly affects his work as he relies on repetition for emphasis in ‘The Badger’ such as his view on the strength of both forces.

As Heaney approached he heard a ‘coarse croaking’ that was a new sound in that setting; in line twenty-six he uses the metaphor ‘The air was thick with a bass chorus’ to describe how the sound filled the place. This is similar to “The Badger” which uses the metaphor of the badger’s death as a way of representing Clare’s own fall from favour during his life. This transition is also shown in Heaney’s poem which represents his change from child to adult.

Frogs are everywhere and they are ugly, ‘gross-bellied’, pictured with assonance in the phrase ‘cocked on sods’. Their flabby necks are described by Heaney with the simile ‘pulsed like sails’. The sound of their movements is expressed by onomatopoeia: ‘slap and plop’, which obviously disgusted Heaney who felt that these were ‘obscene threats’. In line thirty their stance is described by the simile ‘Poised like mud grenades’, an image that echoes the war-like connotation of the word ‘invaded’ in line twenty-four. Heaney again voices his distaste for the sound of the frogs in the phrase ‘their blunt heads farting’. He could not face them, and in line thirty-one he ‘sickened, turned and ran’, such was his revulsion. He personifies them as ‘great slime kings’ and in the following line states that they had assembled at the flax-dam for revenge: ‘gathered there for vengeance’ for stolen frogspawn. Heaney’s final line expresses how far his imagination as a child took hold: ‘if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it’. This is a nightmare image where the spawn becomes powerful and grabs the child, reversing the original roles.

The use of straight forward language in Clare’s poem is easy to understand while his limited vocabulary see’s the most basic elements emphasised. This is unlike ‘Death of a Naturalist’ which is full of techniques to help drive the poem forward while retaining a deeper meaning. However, both poems do use verbs to show the dislike to nature in both poems.

These poems shows a true was between man and nature while showing both the positive and negative of the situation. The poets use a wide range of techniques to show a true emotional epic between the warring sides.

 

Death of a Naturalist Essay

Below is an essay for Death of a Naturalist, which is a poem studied in one of the CCEA anthologies.

Death of a Naturalist

Heaney’s poem ‘Death of a Naturalist’ focuses on his experience of collecting and watching frogspawn as a child, and his reaction when the spawn turned into frogs.

In the first ten lines of the poem Heaney uses vivid imagery to describe the setting and its sights, smell and sounds. The phrase ‘flax-dam festered’ in the opening line combines assonance and alliteration, and begins to create the atmosphere of decay. ‘Heavy headed’ at the end of the second line again uses assonance and alliteration in one phrase to describe the flax that had rotted. The heaviness is emphasised further in the third line, where the flax is ‘weighted down by huge sods’. The idea that hot weather has caused the decay is expressed in line four: ‘Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun’, a personification of the oppressiveness of the sun. A gentler image focusing on sound is created in ‘Bubbles gargled delicately’ in line five. The movement of flies is described with a metaphor: ‘bluebottles / wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell’, a fascinating image combining different senses. Line seven hints at the beauty of the scene with its ‘dragonflies, spotted butterflies’.

In line eight Heaney makes the first mention of frogspawn with the metaphor ‘warm thick slobber’, which as a child was ‘best of all’ to him among the offerings of nature. In line nine he uses the simile ‘grew like clotted water’ to describe his impression of it. The poem then switches to an account of how Heaney collected frog spawn every spring, filling ‘jampotfuls of the jellied / specks’, imagery that again combines alliteration and assonance. The jars were arranged both at home and at school, then carefully observed as the specks turned into ‘nimble-/swimming tadpoles’ another example of assonance.

Lines fifteen to twenty-one (the end of the first stanza) are a very childlike account of how the schoolteacher, Miss Walls, taught Heaney’s class about frogs and frogspawn. Simple, childish language features in this section, such as ‘the mammy frog laid hundreds of little eggs’; there are four clauses each joined by ‘and’ in this sentence, just as though it were written by a child. The final sentence of the first stanza continues in the same style, telling us that frogs are yellow in sunny weather but ‘brown / In rain’. The last, brief two-word line of the first stanza seems to underline the fact that this is the end of a period of innocence and that a change is forthcoming.

The second stanza of twelve lines is much shorter than the first and has a very different tone; the feeling of change is signalled by the opening phrase ‘Then one hot day’… Unpleasant imagery begins with fields described as ‘rank / with cowdung’. At the end of line two and the beginning of line three the frogs are seen as ‘angry’ and have ‘invaded the flax-dam’: they have taken over in a war-like gesture. As Heaney approached he heard a ‘coarse croaking’ that was a new sound in that setting; in line twenty-six he uses the metaphor ‘The air was thick with a bass chorus’ to describe how the sound filled the place. Frogs are everywhere and they are ugly, ‘gross-bellied’, pictured with assonance in the phrase ‘cocked / on sods’. Their flabby necks are described by Heaney with the simile ‘pulsed like sails’. The sound of their movements is expressed by onomatopoeia: ‘slap and plop’, which obviously disgusted Heaney who felt that these were ‘obscene threats’. In line thirty their stance is described by the simile ‘Poised like mud grenades’, an image that echoes the war-like connotation of the word ‘invaded’ in line twenty-four. Heaney again voices his distaste for the sound of the frogs in the phrase ‘their blunt heads farting’. He could not face them, and in line thirty-one he ‘sickened, turned and ran’, such was his revulsion. He personifies them as ‘great slime kings’ and in the following line states that they had assembled at the flax-dam for revenge: ‘gathered there for vengeance’ for stolen frogspawn. Heaney’s final line expresses how far his imagination as a child took hold: ‘if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it’. This is a nightmare image where the spawn becomes powerful and grabs the child, reversing the original roles.

The structure of the poem, where the first stanza is almost twice the length of the first, resembles that of Heaney’s ‘Blackberry-Picking’. Both poems describe an enjoyable childhood experience in the first stanza which turns sour in the second, linking form to meaning. The feeling of disillusion and disappointment following pleasure is a common theme in these two poems. ‘Death of a Naturalist’ links language to meaning as well, the vivid imagery of the second stanza creating a marked contrast with the simple, childlike wording of lines fifteen to twenty-one. There is a wealth of description here and we can sympathise with the child’s disgust of the creatures that evolved from his precious jars of frogspawn.

Analysing Attack and In Westminster Abbey- Comparing and Contrasting

Look again at Attack by Siegfried Sassoon and at In Westminster Abbey by John Betjeman, which both deal with the theme of war.
With close reference to the ways each poet uses language, compare and contrast what the speakers in the poems say about war. You should include relevant contextual material. Why poem do you prefer? Give your reasons.

“Attack” was written by Siegfried Sassoon subsequent to World War One. This poem deals with trench warfare during the War and how soldiers remembered their revulsion of the needless war just after it finished. Sassoon witnessed the war first hand and took part in many battles. He is telling is that death of his friend Major Robert Gregory. However, “In Westminster Abbey” has a very different background. IWA was written by John Betjeman, a man who has never been to war or witnessed it firsthand. It is set in wartime London during the Second World War and involves the satire of Upper-class attitudes to war.

Attack follows the story of an infantry attack during the First World War including dawn, artillery barrage, attack by tanks and finally infantry deployment. In Westminster Abbey reveals the thoughts of an upper-class woman and her selfishness, class and racial attitudes via a prayer to God asking him to kill the Germans.

There are also differences in the language and techniques used in both poems. Attack is written in the 3rd person and recounts a soldiers experience in battle. This is broken with a sudden 1st person prayer which occurs in the final line. Listing is used in the first line to represent the heavily burdened soldiers who are both physically and mentally drained. A caesural pause is obvious in the poem between the barrage and infantry attack. This pause gives a sense of timelessness and gives the effect of suspension in the battle. Americanisms and slang are obviously used to create the effect of realism, “Going over the top”.

The sense of suspension continues to the final four lines in which parallelism is also used to suggest that there final moments are being dragged out by their experience. “Time ticks blank but busy on their wrist” is a contrast itself as if the soldiers time is up but they still have to do their duty. This experience doesn’t end for the soldiers and they plead for it to do so. The poem follows a rhyme scheme of Iambic Pentameter.

In contrast to this In Westminster Abbey is a 1st person direct plea to God by an upper-class woman. The woman takes a condescending and complacent tone as if she is telling God what to do. This tone suggests she doesn’t turn to God often as she is hesitant at the start. The poem sounds like a prayer and uses a scheme which sounds heavenly like and suggests a hymn.

There is an evident contrast between the situation of War and the Woman’s safe lifestyle shows us the futility of the situation and how everyone turns to somebody at this time. The woman’s condescending tone continues into the fourth stanza in which she lists the Countries hallmarks and states her own interests and address. This shows us she thinks she can tell God to protect her.

There are few similarities in the tone and attitude of the speakers. Obviously both tones are worrying and are being said during heartbreaking wars. Also both speakers express a relationship with God in “Attack” the pilot pleas with God in the final line “O Jesus make it stop” and in “In Westminster Abbey” the woman says an entire prayer to God pleading with him to stop “the Germans”.

However there are also many differences. In Attack there is a feeling of danger for the pilot but in IWA there is a sense of safety even though she is praying for her life. In Attack the pilot makes an agonizing appeal to God just before his death but in IWA there is a patronizing attitude towards God and the reader thinks she is over him. The settings of the poems are opposites. In Attack there is a real sense of danger as it takes place in a plane during an aerial battle. A sense of worry and fret comes from this setting however in IWA it seems to be a Cathedral in a quiet night with no trouble or fighting.

In my opinion Attack is a better poem for both relaying the truth of War which was uncommon in the 20th Century and as it gives an interesting and remarkable insight into the life of a pilot during a battle. It uses brilliant imagery which allows you to imagine the scene in your head.

Attack- Siegfried Sassoon

One of many of the poems set in the CCEA specification, and part of the war section. This post shows a concise analysis of the poem and its themes.

Attack by Siegfried Sassoon

Sassoon’s ‘Attack’ depicts the horror faced by troops on the WW1 Battlefield. It paints an abysmal picture of what war was like for those on the front line by incorporating many techniques. Sassoon uses his own personal experience of being on the frontline to give a sense of realism when exploring the horrors of the incessant battle.

Sassoon uses an impersonal style of writing to give the sense of loneliness and solitude which the soldiers faced. The poem makes use of imagery to get across the futility of the War. This is obvious in many parts of the poem including- “Barrage roars and lifts” and “Bristling fire”.  The poem’s imagery sounds downtrodden and frightening adding to the feeling of hopelessness which is being conveyed throughout.

Personification is used in the poem. “Tanks creek and topple” is an example of this. The tanks are being given human like qualities and may be representing the soldier’s future. The soldiers are going over the top and being shot down by enemies. This process is shown in the above quote and it may insinuate that the soldiers are as important as tanks, therefore unimportant.

Repetition is used throughout. ‘And’ is repeated which gives the sense of the soldiers burden and the weight of fear that has been placed upon their shoulders. This is not only in a literal sense but in a mental sense also. The soldiers have been given the responsibility of beating their enemy for their own country and the pressure to do so is mentally stressing.

The use of third person throughout the speech gives a very impersonal and poignant view on the battle. This is continued throughout until the very end when a personal plea is given. This new narrative sounds as if all soldiers are wishing it and thinking it, therefore adds another arousing stir to poem.