The Rear-Guard Essay

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War is brutal and unforgiving. ‘The Rear-Guard’ by Seigfried Sassoon is a poem in which the journey of a lost soldier is a cruel and merciless experience. The soldier in the poem is very tired and weary, and is desperately trying to find his way out of an endless complex of underground tunnels. It is only after he stumbles across an abandoned and destroyed camp and comes across a rotting, dishevelled body that he finds his way out. Sassoon singles out the journey of this persona to enhance the readers understanding of human nature. By examining certain language techniques, I will explore how human nature changes in times of challenge and uncertainty. Sassoon deliberately stresses caution in the poem as it grips the reader. For example the soldier starts off his journey: “Groping along the tunnel, step by step,” The writer inverts the sentence structure here to suggest that the soldier cannot see where he is going. The fact that the soldier is moving a ‘step’ at a time connotes carefulness. To make matters worse the soldiers torch is providing a ‘patchy glare’, which implies that he is only getting small glimpses of his surroundings. After that: “Tripping he grabbed the wall,” The poet uses inversion again here to imply that the persona’s journey is difficult. Also there is a deliberate word choice because the soldier has to grab the wall to stop himself from falling over. The word ‘grabbed’ sounds quite desperate. This adds to the impression pf care. Then: “Alone he staggered” This phrase dramatically adds to the vivid image in the mind of the reader by using the word ‘Alone’. This connotes vulnerability and leaves the soldier very exposed to attack. ‘Staggered’ connotes weakness, as if every ‘step’ is a challenge. A topic that is portrayed in the poem is prudence, which is a positive feature of human nature. Destruction is a major consequence of war
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