The Poets

April 05, 2010

A Mystic as a Soldier- A Sassoon Poem

A Mystic as a Soldier
I lived my days apart,
Dreaming fair songs for God;
By the glory in my heart
Covered and crowned and shod.

Now God is in the strife,
And I must seek Him there,
Where death outnumbers life,
And fury smites the air.

I walk the secret way
With anger in my brain.
O music through my clay,
When will you sound again?

Of the Poem:

The poem is essentially about the destruction of internal bliss as a result of exernal brutality- especially where warfare is concerned. We have three stages, therefore, to the poem:

1st stanza: an internal state bliss
2nd stanza: violence done to that bliss
3rd stanza: and, lastly, bliss in a crippled state

I lived my days apart
The idea of the consecrated life is immediately established in line 1, particularly with the word apart- a word that quite literally can be taken to mean sanctification (i.e. set apart by God).

Dreaming fair songs for God

Line 2 establishes the mystical depth of the poem by showing a desire to reach Deity by fair songs- songs, of course, being one of the highest and most internal displays of worship one can express.

By the glory in my heart* / Covered and crowned and shod
The poet, with lines 3 and 4, wishes to show the extent of the mystic's spiritual life- indicated by the phrase glory in my heart (which signifies the beauty of the mystic's internal life). The poet then uses polysyndeton
in line 4 to reinforce the idea that this glory permeates the mystic's life in every area: Covered and crowned and shod ... 

Now God is in the strife
Suddenly the mystic finds himself in the midst of war, a situation far removed from the rosy world spoken of in the previous stanza- in fact, the blatant transition from bliss to bleak most certainly depicts Sassoon’s poetic intention here: despite ethereal existence, world is utterly brutal.

Line 5 therefore seems to indicate that, though a soldier now in warfare, the mystic's center of reflection is still God- even in the trenches: I must seek Him there, he says in line 6.

But warfare's no joke:
death outnumbers life / fury smites the air

The third stanza speaks of the aftermath, the residual psychological condition within which the mystic finds himself- and it's not pretty.

I walk the secret way

Our mystic, despite the trauma of war and the hideous events thereof, still remains a devotee to that which is Transcendental, he's still among the ranks of the initiate (i.e. the secret way).

With anger in my brain
He hasn't, however, emerged unscathed. War's brutal aspect has robbed his peace of mind (line 9), and though he walks the secret way, he does so with a pain- an anger- that's foreign to him. His song, that aforementioned state of joyful worship, has diminished.

Poetic Parameters:

Stanza: quatrain
Meter: trimeter (
i.e. three metric feet, or six syllables)*
Rhyme Scheme: a.b.a.b.

*Line 3 of the poem actually has a seven syllable count, so technically the poem isn't entirely done in trimeter. I'd like to fancy poetic intent here and think, considering the number 7 is said to signify holiness, that the poet wanted to convey the depth of the mystic's spiritual state of sanctification.


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John W. May said...

Thank you for your comment, Leslie. I also love reading- particularly philosophy, history, and theology ... and poetry, I love reading and writing. How about yourself- do you write poetry? I'd love to read some if you do.

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As of April 9th, 2010