A Poem by Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings..© 2010
Type of Work and Structure
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.
......."Dreamers" is a war poem centering on the thoughts of foot soldiers facing enemy fire in the First World War (1914-1918).
.......“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.
.......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.
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.
.......Examples of literary devices Sassoon uses in "Dreamers" are the following.
Soldiers are citizens (line 1)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.
.......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,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
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?