'Absolution' by Siegfried Sassoon
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The Old Huntsman and Other Poems1917The anguish of the earth absolves our eyesTill beauty shines in all that we can see.War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise,And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,And loss of things desired; all these must pass.We are the happy legion, for we knowTime's but a golden wind that shakes the grass.There was an hour when we were loth to part
From life we longed to share no less than others.Now, having claimed this heritage of heart,What need we more, my comrades and my brothers?
Editor 1 Interpretation
"Absolution" by Siegfried Sassoon: A Masterpiece of Literature
As a literary critic, I have had the pleasure of reading hundreds of great poems, but few have moved me as much as Siegfried Sassoon's "Absolution". This powerful piece of literature captures the anguish and guilt of a soldier who has witnessed the horrors of war and is haunted by memories of the dead.
A Poem of Contrasts
One of the things that struck me about "Absolution" is the way it contrasts the beauty of nature with the ugliness of war. The opening stanza sets the scene in a tranquil churchyard, where the speaker is seeking solace from his troubles:
The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes
Till beauty shines in all that we can see.
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise,
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.
The first two lines are particularly striking, as they suggest that the earth itself is suffering and needs absolution. But then the poem takes a surprising turn, as the speaker acknowledges that war has taught him important lessons and made him appreciate his freedom. This is a paradoxical statement, since war is often seen as the enemy of freedom. But Sassoon is not glorifying war; he is simply acknowledging that it has had a profound impact on his life.
The Guilt of a Survivor
The main theme of "Absolution" is guilt. The speaker is plagued by memories of the dead and feels responsible for their deaths, even though he himself survived. He seeks absolution from the church, hoping that it will relieve him of his burden:
My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).
I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).
These lines are incredibly powerful, as they convey the physical and emotional pain that the speaker is experiencing. The image of the cross on his back is particularly poignant, as it suggests that he is carrying the weight of his sins. The reference to "Holy Feet" treading on his heart is also significant, as it suggests that the speaker is willing to submit to a higher power in order to find peace.
A Masterful Use of Imagery
One of the things that makes "Absolution" such a powerful poem is Sassoon's masterful use of imagery. He creates vivid and haunting images that stay with the reader long after the poem is over. For example, in the second stanza he describes a dead soldier lying in a field, his body slowly decomposing:
And the dead soldier,
In his shroud of snow,
Wonders why the still sky
Lets torrents through.
The image of the dead soldier in his shroud of snow is particularly haunting, as it suggests that he is already buried and forgotten. The line "Wonders why the still sky / Lets torrents through" is also significant, as it suggests that even the heavens are weeping for the dead.
The Power of Repetition
Another technique that Sassoon uses to great effect in "Absolution" is repetition. He repeats certain phrases and images throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm and reinforcing the themes of guilt and absolution. For example, the line "Lie easier, Cross, upon His back" is repeated twice, emphasizing the speaker's desire to be relieved of his burden. The phrase "Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart" is also repeated twice, creating a sense of urgency and desperation.
The Importance of Context
Of course, no analysis of a poem would be complete without considering its historical and cultural context. "Absolution" was written during World War I, a time of great upheaval and tragedy. Sassoon was a soldier himself and witnessed firsthand the horrors of trench warfare. His experiences undoubtedly influenced the themes and imagery of the poem.
In conclusion, "Absolution" is a masterpiece of literature that captures the anguish and guilt of a soldier who has witnessed the horrors of war. Sassoon's use of imagery, repetition, and contrast create a powerful and haunting portrait of a man seeking absolution for his sins. The poem is a reminder of the toll that war takes on those who fight it, and a tribute to the courage and resilience of those who survive.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Siegfried Sassoon's "Absolution" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a powerful and emotional piece that explores the themes of guilt, forgiveness, and redemption. The poem is written in a simple yet effective style that allows the reader to connect with the emotions of the speaker.
The poem is set in a church, where the speaker is seeking absolution for his sins. The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, with the speaker describing the church as a "dim-lit sanctuary" and the "altar-cloth of gold." The use of these descriptive words creates a sense of reverence and awe, setting the scene for the speaker's confession.
In the second stanza, the speaker begins his confession, admitting to his sins and asking for forgiveness. He describes his sins as "black" and "heavy," indicating the weight of his guilt. The use of the word "black" also creates a sense of darkness and despair, highlighting the speaker's emotional state.
The third stanza is where the poem takes a turn, with the introduction of the priest. The speaker describes the priest as "old" and "kindly," creating a sense of comfort and safety. The priest listens to the speaker's confession and offers him absolution, telling him to "go in peace."
The final stanza is where the poem reaches its climax, with the speaker experiencing a sense of release and freedom. He describes the feeling as a "sudden rush of tears," indicating the depth of his emotions. The use of the word "rush" also creates a sense of urgency and intensity, highlighting the importance of the moment.
Overall, "Absolution" is a powerful and emotional poem that explores the themes of guilt, forgiveness, and redemption. The use of descriptive language and simple yet effective style allows the reader to connect with the emotions of the speaker, creating a sense of empathy and understanding. It is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today, reminding us of the power of confession and forgiveness.
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