It steals their youth and murders their laughter, if not robbing them of life itself. The crowd, openly smug but secretly sneaking home, wilfully refuse to acknowledge the pain and senselessness, because this would be to acknowledge their own part in creating the war.
The poem as a whole both juxtaposes and compares general society with the suffering of the soldiers. Society as a whole ignores the suffering of war, but in this very act lies its own suffering. The senseless suicide is ignored only because society is not able to handle the full extent of the horror that led to it. The young solder was filled with "empty joy." In many ways, the joy society feels when their "heroes" are hailed upon their homecoming is similarly empty. It is a joy that understands the suffering that underlies it. When the suffering overtakes the joy, a young man commits suicide. It is to protect their empty joys that those who remain behind will not acknowledge the pain of war.
The structure of the poem as it relates tot its content is also significant. The poem is regularly structured, with the rhyme scheme occurring in pairs. There are four quatrains, all sharing the same rhyme scheme. One is almost presented with a visual representation of a march. This could have two possible interpretations. Firstly, and most obviously, it signifies the military precision of the soldiers who march home. On amore subtle level, it indicates the carefully constructed, but empty, lives and joys of the citizens. It is a structure initially experienced by the young soldier with his empty joys.
The trenches however rob the soldier of his construct and consequently his life. In this
way, the poem's structure serves to both compare and contrast with the content of the poem. It compares with the emptiness of the soldier's initial happiness, as well as the careful structure of society and the fabric that holds it together. On the other hand, it contrasts with the chaos caused by war. Whereas marching soldiers indicate structure and order, the pain that causes the same marching soldiers to take their own lives is utterly chaotic. It is only by ignoring this chaos, as represented by the suicide, that citizens can preserve the structure of their lives.
If one were to interpret the poem somewhat more deeply, one could compare the soldiers to a sacrifice. Those who lose their lives to the chaos of war are sacrifices for the sake of the peace of mind of those who remain behind. It is however a shameful sacrifice. It is one that the crowds are not proud of, but cannot admit to either causing or requiring. These are the many aspects of suffering caused by the war.
According to Patrick Campbell (77), this is one of the poems in which Sassoon took a more global view of the war than his personal experience. He appears to leave aside his own opinion in order to provide focus upon the suffering of the soldier. In order to do this with suitable poignance, he uses his own experience in the trenches.
Even today, almost a century after the First World War, it is difficult not to be seduced by Sassoon's style, diction and often shocking construction. The poem "Suicide in the Trenches" serves as an excellent example of how the poet succeeds in using the elements of poetry at his disposal to provide a truly unusual poetic experience. In only a few lines, the poet has successfully conveyed the full extent of the horror experienced by soldiers in the trenches. Without even rum to comfort them, it is not difficult to understand how a bullet could seem like a comforting alternative to the suffering, even while those at home use prayer and self-deception as their modes of life-negating comfort.
The most devastating shock is therefore not so much the suicide itself, but rather the reaction of a society protected by soldiers who suffer alone and unacknowledged.
Campbell, Patrick. Siegfried Sassoon: a study of war poetry. Jefferson, North Caroline: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 1999.
Gomez Minguez, Sandra. "Suicide in the Trenches" 2006. Retrieved from http://mural.uv.es/sangomin/Sassoon.html
Gordon, Lois G. Nancy Cunard: heiress, muse, political idealist. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.