The poem “Aftermath” written by Siegfried Sassoon is a highly critical piece that discusses the emotional and materialistic costs of World War I. The reason for its criticality is that it was in effect a ‘plea’ to the world that we must never forget the traumatic events that occurred not only in World War I, but in all wars. The poem illustrates all the undesirable attributes of war to the reader, by constantly employing descriptive negative connotations. It then goes further by repeatedly asking the rhetorical question, “Have you forgotten yet?
”. This emotive suggestion to the reader richly portrays the overall message of how we must not ever forget what has occurred, as that is the only way to ensure a positive future for humanity. The main purpose of this text was to inform society how we mustn’t forget the tragic events that occur in war and in doing so not let history repeat itself. The reason I felt Siegfried wanted to inform society of this, is because the events that occur in wartime are of such repulsion that the only ‘just’ option is to not repeat them.
Events of such a horrifying nature were referred to numerous times throughout the poem and include the statements “corpses rotting” and “the doomed and haggard faces”. These statements along with numerous others highlight Siegfried’s main idea of which he was trying to portray to both the reader and eventually society. A quote that interested me was the final line of the poem, where it stated “Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget”. The quote intrigued me because it was the pinnacle of the poem; the point in which the overall message is hit home in its entirety.
The word “swear” I think is the strength of this sentence, as it implies that we as a society must swear that we will not forget what occurs in wartime. I think the reason Siegfried wants us a society to ‘swear’, rather then state we will not forget, is to ensure that we the readers recognize this is a serious issue and not one in which we should take lightly. This is because despite previous efforts for the idealism of ‘world peace’, there has been no conservative effort to prevent war and its associates in its entirety.
Therefore Siegfried believes if we as a society ‘swear’, it is more likely we will not forget, and consequently there is a heightened chance that we as a society may change to prevent such atrocities from occurring again. This is why the quote “Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget” and more specifically the use of the word swear interested me, as it highlighted the overall purpose of the poem and what we as a society ‘must’ do. Spring – new growth, new chance. Swearing on it implies that we’re being given a chance to be reborn out of the ‘dead of winter’ as such.
Rah de rah. Another important aspect of this poem is that Siegfried, talks from a point of experience. This means his comments and the rich emotive message portrayed in the poem isn’t one of fictitiousness. Siegfried experienced World War I in its entirety and as a result of the hardships he faced, had a mental breakdown that was ultimately detrimental to his life. The fact that Siegfried experienced war, saw and felt what it does to individuals, societies and nations shows that in no way were his comments unrealistic or over exaggerated.
As a result of this Siegfried’s response is one of overwhelming power and is why his message is not only taken aboard by the reader but taken to heart. This is due to him enforcing reality on us the reader, and makes us too; want to ‘swear’—‘lest we forget’. The poem “I Am” written by John Claire is a highly renowned piece that discusses the mental and emotional effects on someone that has been forgotten by society. It then goes further and shows the internal conflict that arises when such events happen to an individual.
The poem is based on John the author’s life, after his best friend had subjected him to a mental asylum, so he himself could run away with John’s wife. John claims complete sanity and wrote the poem “I Am” as a way to vent his helplessness; he never intended the poem to be read by anyone else, which adds to its overall effect. Right from the beginning, two main idea’s are portrayed to us the reader; firstly that the author is suffering and that this suffering is in part inflicted by himself; also there is the idea that there is a living impression to the poem.
In the first stanza the extent of the author’s unhappiness with life becomes painfully obvious. He evidently realises the vicious cycle that his life has become is somewhat self-inflicted, with his problems being given extra air time by his own psyche. This is emphasised with the phrase “I am the self consumer of my woes”. Furthermore, literary techniques such as alliteration, similes and metaphors in the opening stanza give the poem a living impression.
“Friends forsake me like a memory lost” – this simple use of a simile in conjunction with alliteration highlights the melancholy and lifelike tone to the poem. The two phrases “Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, Into the living sea of waking dreams” and “I long for scenes where man has never trod; a place where woman never smil’d or wept” are two that intrigued me. Whilst they both used different techniques with different direct messages behind them, there was a similarity between them that fascinated me.
The author’s greatest need and want is to be seemingly separate from all that defines human emotion and the processes involved in living a full life. With the first phrase, the complete contrast of reality with its appearance to the author shows how his life has become almost a parallel universe to him. He longs for a place where emotion is not defined, because it does not exist. In heaven, his ‘ideal’ world, there are no complications. There are no enormous highs or lows that swing our personalities into a place we don’t recognise.
The quote “above the vaulted sky” highlights this and creates the perfect end to a poem which is filled with such regret and wish for distance from his life. This use of metaphorical language portrays in a final flourish that all the author wants and needs, is to be locked away from the troubles of his life, never again to experience all the things that made him feel. By the author describing his life in this manner, we too, question whether or not he is in fact insane and or just depressed to the point of suicide. The truth is not we nor no one else will ever know the answer to this.
However, the poem then goes further and makes us question our beliefs into how we should treat and diagnose the mentally ‘insane’. This conflict is highlighted for us the human race when we consider all the past occurrences in history where we as humans have judged and consequently subjected innocent people to the likes of prison, asylums and concentration camps. Despite the modernisation of our planet have we really changed to the point we are fair to judge a person insane and make them suffer as a result? This is the ultimate question I feel the poem asked us as the reader.
The poem’s “Aftermath” and “I Am” were similar in the fact that they were both discussing highly emotive topics within our society and they both showed their respective internal effects on an individual. However the main difference was that in “Aftermath” Siegfried used a social platform and his respectability to enable his message to be projected to the world, while in “I Am” John uses the poem as a way to express his inner emotion, similar to that of a diary. His poem wasn’t intended for anyone else, he only wanted to express his unhappiness to himself.
This highlights the key difference of the poems. Although both sent strong emotive messages to the reader, “I Am” sent a slightly stronger message as it not only showed the effects depression has on an individual but that they can also no longer work in conjunction with society and therefore resort to themselves, as John did with his poem. I thoroughly enjoyed both poems and recommend both “Aftermath” and “I Am” to anybody that is both willing to be empowered by people of experience and willing to question society’s status quo’s.