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Dreamers
A Poem by Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Topic
Publication
Source of Inspiration
Poem and Notes
Interpretation, Theme
Literary Devices
Masculine, Feminine Rhyme
Reference to Cricket
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Sassoon Biography
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings.. 2010
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Type of Work and Structure

.......Siegfried Sassoon's "Dreamers” is a sonnet, a lyric poem with fourteen lines and a specific rhyme scheme. There are two types of sonnets: Petrarchan and Shakespearean. “Dreamers” is a Petrarchan sonnet, named after the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), known in English as Petrarch. A Petrarchan sonnet consists of an eight-line stanza (called an octave) and a six-line stanza (called a sestet). The first stanza presents a theme or topic, and the second stanza develops the theme or topic. 
.......Sassoon observes Petrarch's stanza format but ignores his rhyme scheme. Petrarch's scheme in the first stanza of his sonnets is abba, abba. In the second stanza, it is cde, cde (or cdc, cdc; or cde, dce). By contrast, Sassoon's rhyme scheme in the first stanza is abab, cdcd. In the second stanza it is efefef.

Topic

......."Dreamers" is a war poem centering on the thoughts of foot soldiers facing enemy fire in the First World War (1914-1918). 

Publication

.......“Dreamers” was published in New York in 1918 by E.P. Dutton & Company as part of “Counter-Attack” and Other Poems, a collection of Sassoon's works.

Source of Inspiration

.......Sassoon's own experiences as an English soldier in France during the First World War inspired the poem. An infantry officer, he fought in brutal trench warfare, performing heroically under heavy fire. He was twice wounded and was awarded a medal for rescuing a wounded comrade. Sassoon wrote many poems about the horror of war and the folly of regarding it as a glorious enterprise for young men.


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Dreamers
By Siegfried Sassoon

 Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land,1
   Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.2
 In the great hour of destiny they stand, 
  Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows. 
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win 5
  Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.3
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin 
  They think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives. 

I see them in foul dug-outs,4 gnawed by rats, 
  And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,   10
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,5
  And mocked by hopeless longing to regain 
Bank-holidays,6 and picture shows,7 and spats,8
  And going to the office in the train.

Notes

1...death's . . . land (line 1): The battlefield.
2...Drawing . . . to-morrows (line 2): Unable to count on the promises of a future life, for they may die in battle.
3...Soldiers . . . lives (lines 5-6): Society expects soldiers to fight bravely with patriotic fervor and, if necessary, die in a glorious moment (flaming, fatal climax).
4...dug-out (line 9): Hole or trench dug in a tract of land or a hillside. 
5...balls and bats (line 11): The leather balls and flat bats used in cricket.
6...Bank-holidays (line 13): Weekdays on which banks close for a legal holiday or another reason.
7.picture shows: Movies.
8...spats (line 13): Cloth or leather material worn by fashionable men over the the middle part of the shoe to cover the instep and ankle.

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Interpretation and Theme

.......Society frequently depicts war as an exciting adventure offering opportunities to prove one's mettle and win glory. But, says Sassoon in presenting his theme, war is a brutal ordeal for soldiers in muddy, rat-ridden trenches facing bullets and artillery bombardment--and the sight of bloody uniforms, torn limbs, and twitching bodies. At such times, what occupies their minds is not thoughts of heroic deeds but dreams of what really matters in life: "firelit homes, clean beds, and wives" (line 8) and other ordinary, mundane activities. 

Literary Devices

.......Examples of literary devices Sassoon uses in "Dreamers" are the following.

Alliteration

Soldiers are citizens (line 1)
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows (line 2)
Soldiers are sworn (line 5)
flaming fatal climax (line 6)
balls and bats (line 11)
Repetition
Lines 1, 5, and 7 each begin with "Soldiers are."
Irony

.......Young men ordinarily dream of participating in extraordinary events and becoming part of history. But, facing the reality of war, they dream of participating in ordinary events of little consequence historically.

Masculine and Feminine Rhyme

.......All of the end rhymes in the poem except one are masculine. Masculine rhyme occurs when only the final syllable of one line rhymes with only the final syllable of another line. Feminine rhyme occurs when two syllables (or more) in one line rhyme rhyme with two syllables (or more) in another rhyme. The feminine rhyme in "Dreamers" occurs in lines two and four:

Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land,
   Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand, 
  Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Reference to Cricket

.......The reference in line 11 to the game of cricket calls attention to "civilized" war. The ball is a missile, and the bat is a striking weapon. Like war, the game takes place on an open field. The suggestion here may be that humankind should learn to confine its aggression to controlled athletic contests and similar activities.

Study Questions and Writing Topics

1. Sassoon wrote "Dreamers" in the second decade of the Twentieth Century to counteract the view that going to war was a a great adventure. Do some people today still glorify combat? 
2. If you were a recruiting officer for the armed forces, what approach would you use to persuade soldiers to enlist?
3. Should all citizens be required to serve in the military?
4. Are you a veteran of battlefield combat? If so, describe for your class your thoughts when you faced the enemy?
5. Write an essay describing a typical day for a soldier taking part in trench warfare in France or another country in World War I. 
6. Write a short poem on a war theme.

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