This is here because Beth and others who watch this site asked me about this poem, read at the Anzac Eve Memorial Service.

Siegfried Sassoon’s The Death Bed was written by the British soldier-poet from a Jewish family during the Great War in which he fought as an officer. He lost his brother and many friends at Gallipoli. After witnessing the carnage of the Western Front, wrote a letter of protest to the British Parliament. His public stance was an embarassment to the government, who handled it by having him admitted to an asylum (supposedly suffering shell shock). He was eventually 'cured' and returned to the front. Pat Barker has written a great trilogy about this. For thirty years after the war, he found renewed meaning in life through his religion. When his later poetry was less well received, Sassoon said it was not understood that all his poetry was religious.

The Death Bed intrigues me because although it is about the death of a young soldier, its creation imagery (wind, water, light and deliverance)suggests birth. The idea of a 'boat' and a passage down or across a river or weir reminds me of Noah, and the old Ferryman myths of the Celts and Egyptians etc. There is another dimension, a sacred one, to what Sassoon witnesses at the bedside; it is not an ending, rather another beginning, in “silence and safety’. Or at least the possibilityY of a new beginning.

I think Sassoon is pointing at the possibility of change. There is a sense of movement through death into life in the poem. There are symbols of mercy (rain, gentleness, the poet's own compassion) together with the vision of what might be possible if collective renewal/change (breath, light - more imagery of renewed life of the spirit) was to take place. These (divine) attributes of compassion, movement, change and life animate the poem for me, at the same time as they stand in contrast to the image of a West stuck fast in its war mentality. No matter what horror is caused, in the poem's brutal and honest last line our guns go on thudding. As they still do.

It is a present-day story, as I realise each Anzac Day after the collective paean of regret is broadcast from our politicians about lives lost in past wars, and then the next news item declares the latest horror in the latest conflict. Sassoon suggest we do have choices, but we don't change. That it is us who empower "that evil thing", the pain and the death which, ironically, is portrayed as 'choosing' the young man.

No wonder they locked him up!