About Siegfried Sassoon and the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’
Siegfried Sassoon was a Twentieth Century English poet, writer, and soldier. As a participant in the First World War, his works generally speak about the process and aftermath of war. ‘ Does It Matter? ’ is one such poem which he wrote based on his experiences as a soldier.
The poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’ was originally published in 1918 in the book ‘ Counter-attack and other poems ’. As a war poem, it emphasizes the devastating consequences soldiers face as a result of the fighting, as well as society’s ignorance of their hardship.
The poet, Siegfried Sassoon had just survived the First World War and uses the example of the soldiers’ suffering to condemn the whole idea of war.
The poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’ by Siegfried Sassoon
Does it matter?—losing your legs?…
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
Does it matter?—losing your sight?…
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.
Do they matter?—those dreams from the pit?…
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won’t say that you’re mad;
For they’ll know you’ve fought for your country
And no one will worry a bit.
Stanza-wise summary of the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’
In the first stanza of the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’, the poet describes the situation of a soldier who has just lost his legs while fighting in a war. Although society is kind to him and respects him for his sacrifice, they are oblivious to his ordeal and continue with their usual lives, expecting him to not mind and do the same.
In the second stanza, the poet uses another example – this time a soldier who has lost his eyes. Again, all that the people do is pity him for his suffering, even as he sits idly on the terrace remembering how it was before and regretting his decision to go to battle.
The consequences of war are not limited only to physical losses; it also leaves a psychological impact on the survivors. The soldier is vexed by nightmares of his experience of fighting in underground pits, and still, everybody expects him to drink, forget, and act normally.
They wouldn’t regard him as mad or criticize him in any way as he is revered for his noble service to the nation as if that were consolation enough for the trouble he is going through. If it was so easy for the soldier to get over his agony, do the losses war has imposed upon him matter?
Themes in the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’
The central theme of the poem
The main theme of the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’ is ‘ Society’s indifference towards soldiers’ plight ’. The poet has made an attempt to highlight the losses that soldiers suffer after war and the general public ‘s ignorance of the reality of their situation by sarcastically asking whether those sacrifices really matter to them.
This theme is justified in the first line of each stanza, where the soldier is asked ‘ Does it matter? ’. The society, blinded by it’s superficial perspective on the soldier’s ordeal, pities and respects him as if he is a proud survivor of a noble venture. Only the soldier understands the misery that war has caused for him.
Other themes in the poem
The devastating consequences of war and the society’s romanticization of it are the themes in the poem ‘ Does it Matter? ’.
Devastating consequences of war
The first theme in the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’ is ‘ Devastating consequences of war. ’ The poem speaks about the losses and trauma that a soldier suffers after fighting in a war. He may lose his legs, turn permanently blind, or even be subject to nightmares of his violent experience. War causes a lot of destruction and suffering in society.
The romanticization of war by society
The second theme in the poem is ‘ Romanticization of war by society. We can observe in the poem that the common public thinks war is a noble deed and treats the soldiers like heroes. Patriotism is attached to violent acts. But in reality, only the soldier understands its crudity, as all that war does is cause unnecessary misery and destruction in society.
Line by line interpretation of the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’
Does it matter?—losing your legs?… For people will always be kind,
Siegfried Sassoon opens the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’ by addressing a soldier with a question; does it matter to him that he has just lost his legs in a war? The people will always be kind to him and respect him for his noble deeds, so should he care?
And you need not show that you mind When the others come in after hunting To gobble their muffins and eggs.
You here refers to the soldier, whom the poet asks not to show his disappointment when he sees others return from outside hunting ( the very privilege he has been deprived of due to his deformity ) and eat their food contently, oblivious to his suffering. Why should he be upset so long as they treat him with sympathy?
Does it matter?—losing your sight?… There’s such splendid work for the blind;
The poet opens the second stanza of the poem by repeating the same question, but in a different context; does it matter for the soldier that he has lost his eyes in war?
The subsequent line, There’s such splendid work, is a sarcastic hint to the fact that there are no splendid prospects left for a person who has become blind to look forward to in life; War has snatched away almost all of his pleasures and ambitions, thereby depriving him of a fruitful future.
And people will always be kind,… As you sit on the terrace remembering And turning your face to the light.
Despite his blindness, why should the soldier care as the society would always sympathise with his situation. He alone understands his loss, and all he can do now is to sit on the terrace remembering the peaceful times before the war, when he could still see the world.
He can only turn his face to the light now, regretting his mistake of fighting and wishing that the war had never occurred.
Do they matter?—those dreams from the pit?... You can drink and forget and be glad,
War also damages the soldiers mentally; the psychological trauma that they face is even greater than the physical losses. In this context, once again, the poet asks the same question to the soldier; do his perpetual nightmares of his fretting experience fighting in underground pits during the battle matter to him?
Society expects him to drink, forget his pain, and be proud of his military deeds as in the people’s view, the mental agony is not at all a big deal against the backdrop of his accomplishments.
And people won’t say that you’re mad; For they’ll know you’ve fought for your country And no one will worry a bit.
Even in his traumatic state, the people wouldn’t judge him as a madman because they rever his sacrifice for his country and respect him for his deeds. Society does not worry at all about him as they think he is proud and content with his bravery, but only the soldier knows about the horror and misery it has wrought.
Analysis of the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’
‘ Does It Matter? ’ is a poem by Siegfried Sassoon which consists of fifteen lines divided into three stanzas of five lines each. It has a steady rhyme scheme of ABBCA, and follows the meter ‘ Anapaestic trimeter ’.
The poem has a sarcastic and cynical tone. The poet mocks society’s ignorance of the harshness of war by questioning whether the losses that soldiers suffer matter, since as long as people treat him with kindness, what stops him from continuing his life normally?
The poem is written in the second person narrative. The speaker in the poem is the poet himself, who, as a participant in World War I, can relate to every languishing survivor of the battle.
Each stanza of the poem begins with the question – Does it matter? Then a particular injury that he suffers, like his eyes, is mentioned. You here refer to one particular soldier who may represent all the war survivors of that time.
The subsequent lines in each stanza are statements satirizing the way society sees the losses inflicted upon him. For example, the line And people won’t say that you’re mad. If they treat him respectfully, does that compensate for his physical and mental agony?
Note that the line For people will always be kind has been repeated in the first and second stanzas. This is the poet’s way of saying that no matter what the situation, society will always respect a soldier.
The first two stanzas take examples of physical losses ( legs and eyes ), while the last stanza considers mental trauma – those dreams from the pit?… The poet has used these examples as a background against which the main theme- people’s treatment of soldiers -is cast.
The poet has emphasized the contrast between society’s romantic notions of war and its actual reality. The opening questions draw the reader’s attention to reality – losing your legs? , losing your eyes, and those dreams from the pit – and then the romantic ideals are raised – For they’ll know you’ve fought for your country, And no one will worry a bit.
Every statement made in the poem is an irony of what is. The question that has been raised and the title of the poem – Does it matter? – itself conveys that despite the so-called nobleness of war, the handicaps are what matter to the soldier.
Although the poem is about the losses of war, Sassoon has refrained from using violent imagery to depict it. Instead, we can observe imagery of regular and emotional things, as the poem speaks of events after the war is over and the soldier is back home. For example, muffins and eggs, and sit on the terrace remembering And turning your face to the light.
The poet has used losses of a soldier as a synecdoche for the overall negative consequences of any war. The ideas discussed in this poem are relevant even today, as we- the common people – only have vague notions as to the reality of battle and the life of soldiers. We tend to assume that they live proud and noble lives and overlook the sacrifices and hardships they go through.
The literary devices used in the poem ‘ Does It Matter? ’ are caesura, alliteration, enjambment, and synecdoche.
In few lines of the poem, the poet has made breaks in the middle of the sentence to pose a question first and then answer it. They are :
1 ) Does it matter?—losing your legs?… 2 ) Does it matter?—losing your sight?… 3 ) Do they matter?—those dreams from the pit?…
losing your legs?… – Here, the consonant ‘ L ’ has been repeated in the same line.
Some continuous lines in the poem are in fact the same sentence. They are :
1 ) For people will always be kind, And you need not show that you mind When the others come in after hunting To gobble their muffins and eggs.
2 ) And people will always be kind, As you sit on the terrace remembering And turning your face to the light.
3 ) You can drink and forget and be glad, And people won’t say that you’re mad;
4 ) For they’ll know you’ve fought for your country And no one will worry a bit.
Throughout the poem, the phrase people has been used, which actually represents the whole society in general.