Down in the hollow there’s the whole Brigade

Here is another World War 1 poem from Siegfried Sassoon, written while on active duty in France. He was an officer, but his poetry makes it very clear that he was highly conscious of the senselessness and suffering of the war. Probably writing poetry was a kind of therapy to help him get through the bad times and give expression to his real feelings. All his poems are very poignant. This one doesn’t give explicit space to the deaths and injuries and futile attacks, but contrasts a moment of rest with the ever-present threat of the horrors to come.
Carnoy is a place near the Somme, where some of the most destructive battles took place. I believe there is a military cemetery there, dating from this time.

At Carnoy

Down in the hollow there’s the whole Brigade
Camped in four groups: through twilight falling slow
I hear a sound of mouth-organs, ill-played,
And murmur of voices, gruff, confused, and low.
Crouched among thistle-tufts I’ve watched the glow
Of a blurred orange sunset flare and fade;
And I’m content. To-morrow we must go
To take some cursèd Wood … O world God made!
July 3rd, 1916.

From <;

The poem is short and most of it sets the scene of a large grouping of soldiers resting in the evening in their campsite, talking quietly, enjoying the sunset, playing music and perhaps singing, perhaps writing letters home or composing poetry. It is almost an idyllic scene of peace, contentment and tranquillity, and the poet feels contentment. Then come the final line and a half which kick against all that has gone before. Tomorrow there will be action, fighting over some wood, probably of no importance, but cursed to these men – the world is indeed a terrible place.

It is only later that you start to see the technical elements of this poem – the regular rhyme scheme, 10 syllables to each line. It is somehow comforting that Sassoon was able to maintain his craft while at the same time being able to express his feeling about the awful circumstances of life at war.

The Poetry Dude


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