Base Details is a war poem written by Siegfried Sassoon in 1918. The year of 1918 was a crucial one in the First World War, and Base Details seeks to explore some of the bitterness and cruelty of the war era, expressed from the point of view of a common soldier. The poem consists of a single stanza, with ten lines. The rhyme scheme is pretty straight forward and consistent, utilising a standard “A,B,A,B” format throughout the poem.
The stylistic devices used are, however, quite distinct. Unlike many poems, metaphors don’t seem to play a vital part – in fact, the poem doesn’t have a single metaphor. Instead, there’s quite an excessive use of subjective adjectives, which greatly helps setting the tone and message of the poem. Most notable is perhaps how the author chooses to purposely understate serious issues, in order to suggest patriotic and sympathetic feelings for the reader. An example of such an understatement would be line 7 which says:
“Yes we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.” “Scrap” in this context means “battle”. However, we’d normally see “scrap” used in context with normal, unimportant fights, and even used as another term for “junk” or “garbage”. This implies that the ‘major’ who articulates this line is obviously understating and fails to acknowledge the consequences, dramatic events, and horrors of the particular battle, thus making the reader feel disgusted about this ‘major’ character.
Another example of this would be adjectives such as “guzzling”, “gulping”, and “toddle”, which really explores the laissez-faire and immaterial attitude of the ‘major’ character. “Guzzling” and “gulping”, depicts a rather obese, uniformed army official in midst of a greasy meal, which definitely doesn’t imply any sympathy for this ‘major’ character. “Toddle” excels at describing the laid-back and ignorant attitude of aforementioned character.
This ironic tone consists throughout the entire poem. The author seizes the role of a major, and portrays this character as an upper-class, laissez-faire, and ignorant kind of person, who enjoys his managing office while neglecting and understating the sacrifices made by the youth on the battlefield. This irony easily leads to bitterness, and it’s quite easy to imagine that the author’s experiences in the war might not have been amongst the easiest. (A quick research on “Siegfried Sassoon” shows that he suffered the loss of a dear brother and several horrific incidents as a Field Commander himself, which could point towards Base Details being his reaction and protest of his war-years.)
Siegfried Sassoon achieves a great mix between telling an actual story with his poem, as well as portraying strong feelings. The story puts the recipients in midst of the war seen through a majors eyes as he runs through the “Roll of Honour”. This may not seem like a lot, but this actually creates quite a lot of connotations for the reader to digest along with the other literary devices. The feelings portrayed are, however, most prominent. A clear sense of bitterness, irony, regret, and anger towards the ‘major character’ is strongly portrayed, and leaves the reader with a feeling of pity, shock and despair in form of great empathy.
Compared to Rupert Brooke’s poem “The Soldier”, this approach is vastly different. In fact, “The Soldier” is quite the opposite, as it leaves the reader with a feeling of somewhat (national) pride and respect as these are the main feelings reflected by the narrator of “The Soldier”. The two poems together does, however, clearly shows the distinct characteristics of a two-faced war; on one hand, the soldiers are regarded as national heroes and saviours, but on the other hand, they’re also just another name on the “Roll of Honour” who’d been used as a tool by their superiors. The common soldier of WW1 was a loser as well as winner, and Base Details is definitely portraying the ‘losing side’, by getting a message of bitterness and regret through to the audience – including the ‘major characters’ for whom this poem is obviously aimed at as well.