How does Sassoon present his views on religion in "Christ and the Soldier"?
Christ's appearance in Christ and the Soldier is ambiguous. Throughout the poem we question whether his appearance is real or a hallucination caused by exhaustion, or possibly desperation. Sassoon aims to show to how much the war can affect the mental state of a soldier. This anonymous soldier is desperate for some kind of help or strength.
For Sassoon, as it was for many soldiers during the First World War, religion raised more questions than it answered. Soldiers might pray for their own survival, or for the safety of their loved ones, but Sassoon did not turn to religion, instead, he questioned it. Sassoon's early attitude towards religion was quite reverent, in his 1915 poem, 'Absolution', Sassoon talks of a "Golden wind"1, which could be considered a religious reference, much like in 'Christ and the Soldier' when the image of Christ stands between "Two splintered trees"2 blatant imagery of the two crosses placed either side of Christ when he was crucified. As the years progressed, Sassoon's poetry became grimmer, and less poetic. Sassoon's reverence turns into exasperation with religion, after seeing what mankind is capable of. This exasperation is evident in ‘How to die’, “But they’ve been taught the way to do it, like Christian soldiers; not with haste”3 as he mocks the way that the soldiers were taught to be ‘Christian’ and walk in lines towards the enemy.
‘Christ and the Soldier’ opens with the image of "A straggled soldier"4 halting and then "clumsily dumped down on his knees"5. The alliteration of the ‘s’ creates a harsh sound which emphasizes the strain that this soldier is under physically, whereas the assonance of the ‘u’ emphasizes this slow clunky movements, highlighting his exhaustion. This conveys the image of a soldier, not as a glorious hero; but ragged and exhausted. Sassoon shows a clear contrast in status between Christ and the Soldier. The Soldier is on his knees looking up at Christ, which is imagery often reserved for the glorious soldiers of war poetry. This difference in status is emphasized through their language, as the soldier uses informal slang such as "I'm beat!"6 And "Bleeding fight"7 similar to the soldier in ‘Twelve months after’, “What ‘Opes?”8 And “Old soldiers never die; they just fade a-why”9. In contrast, Christ uses formal, biblical syntax "my son, behold these hands and feet"10. His common language makes him representative of all soldiers, while Christ’s language suggests the common soldier may not understand the concepts and language of religion, for example, words used by Christ “shrives”11 and “Paraclete”12. Sassoon hints how hard it must have been for a soldier to find faith during the war.
The soldier looks Christ up and down, "The soldier eyed him upward, limb by limb"13 Sassoon implies that the brutal mutilation that the soldiers have witnessed has stopped them from looking upon things of beauty in a sense of awe; the soldier doesn't see Christ, but limbs. Alliteration of the ‘g’ in line four suggests how Christ feels no emotion towards the soldier; the letter ‘g’ creates a cold, emotionless tone, “Gazing downwards, grieving and ungrim”14 While many men may have emotionally invested in religion, the lack of answers from God showed how little religion returned this emotion. Stanza two ends with Christ reassuring the soldier that "I made for you the mysteries, beyond all battles moves the Paraclete."15 Sassoon means that if there is a God, then it will be present during times of hardship, but the holy spirit’s significance is more important than any battle, this is comparable to ‘They’ by Sassoon, which ends “And the Bishop said: 'The ways of God are strange!’”16
The second section begins with the soldier dropping his pack, and chucking his rifle into the dirt. Sassoon uses the word 'and' instead of a comma, which gives the soldier's actions a sense...
Bibliography: Primary source: Sassoon, Siegfried. War poems (Kent: Faber and Faber, 1983)
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