Glory of Women – Siegfried Sassoon

"You make us shells."

NOTES

This poem accuses British women of gaining vicarious pleasure from the war, and glorying in the fighting of soldiers abroad.

Glory of Women: ‘Glory’ is a religious word; a divine light that shines from the sacred. Something glorious is something worthy of honour, or praise— here, this poem purports to write about the honour or praiseworthiness of women. In this poem, therefore, the ‘Glory of Women’ is considered ironically.

STRUCTURE: ‘Glory of Women’ is a sonnet. The choice of a sonnet is again ironic— sonnets, of course, being traditionally associated with love. The poem is not necessarily a traditionally structured sonnet, however. The ‘volta’, or ‘turn’ of meaning or focus in the poem occurs before the sextet, as is traditional. There is a turn from detailing what Sassoon takes to be British women’s attitudes towards soldiering and war to a more savage imagery that shows the women to be deluded. There is also, unconventionally, an even more pronounced turn that occurs in the final three lines, as the shocking ending turns from British women to the German mother.

“You love us when we’re heroes…”: from the first, this poem has a confrontational,  accusatory tone, with the direct address of ‘you’ from a notional ‘us’; the voice of a male soldier. The idea of conditional love here— “when we’re heroes”— is the first sign of an accusation of hypocrisy leveled at women.

“Or wounded in a mentionable place”: the suggestion is that female loyalty depends on the wound that a soldier sustains, and that it must not be socially embarrassing for women to relate.

“You worship decorations”: the essential superficiality of the feminine viewpoint is suggested by the idea of worshipping “decorations”— another name for medals.

“you believe / That chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace.”: Sassoon suggests that women romanticise the war, focusing on “chivalry” and honour. The war, meanwhile, is described as being precisely dishonorable: it is a “disgrace”.

“You make us shells.”: women, Sassoon suggests, are complicit in the violence, because they are involved in the manufacture of weapons.

“You listen with delight, / By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled.”: the strong rhythm imparted by the alliteration here— “delight”, “dirt”, “danger”— gives a sense of a compelling parlour narrative.

“You crown our distant ardours…And mourn our laurelled memories…”: the most sarcastic lines in the poem, employing commonplace, romantic phrases and suggesting this is the limit of women’s understanding of war. To “crown… distant ardours” means to be the focus of the men’s desires; the “laurelled memories” talked of are the thoughts of the men killed and victorious (thus presented with laurel wreaths) in battle. Note the repetition of ‘our’ here; the opposition of men and women is particularly strongly sustained in these lines.

“You can’t believe that British troops ‘retire’”: The beginning of the ‘sextet’ or final six lines of a sonnet. The poem turns from romantic images of men prevalent at home to the true actions of men in war. To ‘retire’, here, is a euphemism for retreat.

“Hell’s last horror… Trampling the terrible corpses— blind with blood”: The alliteration here accentuates the vicious and desperate retreat of the men. The aspirate ‘h’ sounds recall the heavy breath of the running men, the harsher ‘t’ sounds the crushing of bones underfoot, while the plosive ‘b’s almost mimics the projection of blood itself.

“O German mother dreaming by the fire…”: the sudden turn to the presentation of a German mother at home is surprising for the reader, after the focus on the insensitivities and moral complicity of British women in the war. In some ways she is presented more sympathetically than British women: her “dreaming”, because not elaborated on, doesn’t seem as immediately corrupt as that of British women.

“While you are knitting socks… His face is trodden deeper in the mud.”: The final couplet is deliberately shocking. The contrast between the thoughtful domestic scene and the utter savagery of a human head being stood on is horrifying, and meant as a corrective to the illusion that dominates the poem. The brutal truth, Sassoon insists, is a factual corrective to delusion.

[ANTHOLOGY NOTE: This is a poem that always prompts massive debate in my classes and its misogynistic tone well justifies it. ‘Glory of Women’ needs, however, to be fairly considered with those other poems that Sassoon writes at this time, in which he seeks to angrily identify those who hold some responsibility for the war. Outside of the anthology, ‘Glory of War’ contrasts interestingly with Jessie Pope’s upbeat ‘War Girls’, of course; within the anthology WWI selection, where women’s voices are massively unrepresented, it is interesting to compare this poem with Elizabeth Daryush’s ‘Subalterns’ (p.219) and May Wedderburn Cannan’s ‘Rouen’ (p.220).]

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7 thoughts on “Glory of Women – Siegfried Sassoon”

  1. This poem of Sassoon is well written but disliked by me! Women at the time of world war one were not protected from the horrors of war but the poem hints they were. Here is a poem by May Herschel Clarke which I would like to share; my heart cries tears of blood every time I read it.
    ‘Nothing To Report’
    One minute we was laughing me en’ Ted,
    The next he lay beside me grinnin’- dead.
    ‘There’s nothin’ to report, ‘ the papers said.

    Isn’t it extremely powerful, this poem? And its so short we can learn the whole poem for the exam 🙂

    And here is another poem that proves that women were even effected after the war. Many men died whereas the women had to attend the “many mens” funerals. this poem would go really well with Dulce Et Decorum Est! BTW this poem was written in 1921 so after the war.

    Dulce Et Decorum?
    We buried of our dead the dearest one-
    Said to each other, ‘Here then let him lie,
    And they may find their place, when all is done,
    From the old may tree standing guard near by.’

    Strong limbs whereon the wasted life blood dries,
    And soft cheeks that a girl might wish her own,
    A scholar’s brow, o’ershadowing valiant eyes,
    Henceforth shall pleasure charnel-worms alone.

    For we, that loved him, covered up his face,
    And laid him in the sodden earth away,
    And left him lying in that lonely place
    To rot and moulder with the mouldering clay.

    The hawthorn that above his grave head grew
    Like an old crone toward the raw earth bowed,
    Wept softly over him, the whole night through,
    And made him of tears a glimmering shroud.

    Oh Lord of Hosts, no hallowed prayer we bring,
    Here for They Grace is no importuning,
    No room for those that will not strive nor cry
    When loving kindness with our dead lay slain:
    Give us our fathers’ heathen hearts again,
    Valour to dare, and fortitude to die.

    Hmm…Perhaps I put down too much in this comment, I will be careful next time.

  2. To my suprise i actually really enjoyed this poem.’Glory of women’ is a great poem in terms of standing out in the Oxford book of war poetry in no disrespect to any of the other poems as i like all the poems in the book, i think this poem is a nice change from the poems that are just about the soldiers on the front.I think that many people while reading these poems forgot about the women, just because they were not on the front line does not mean they were not invloved because they were! Even though this poem is negative of women and therefore stereotypically i should not approve, i actually really like the poem.I think this poem really shows the reality of how SOME women felt about war and how they felt about their men while they were at war.

    1. Hello Emma. Didn’t your mum ever tell you to mind your Ps and Qs?

      In answer to your unfortunately phrased request, I’ve a policy of not writing students’ homework for them. So unless another contributor tries to help you, you’re out of luck.

  3. Hello,

    actually i disagree with your notion that “Glory” is a Shakespearian sonnet. It starts as one, first two quatrains, but then uses the form of the italian sonnet with efg-efg. So we should call it a mixture of both forms. Or am I mistaken? This feature of mixing several forms of the sonnet has been one of the most outstanding features of war poetry, at least to my knowledge…
    Feel free to correct me.
    Regards

    Jan

  4. I would have to disagree with your analysis. Though I do think Sassoon is in an odd way saying that women were to blame for part of the war, I believe it is a comment on the propaganda that operated during the war and how powerful it could be. The women were unaware of the horrors, but the propaganda told them the troops were fine. Thus, the knitting of the socks while the sons’ “face is trodden deeper in the mud” is the demonstration of perception versus reality formed by propaganda.

  5. Fantastic poem, can’t get enough of it! Your analyses of these poems have proven invaluable for my revision. When I first read “They make us shells”, I understood it as something along the lines of “they turn us into shells” because of their worshipping of mere “decorations” and the superficial qualities of the soldiers, rather than a literal statement, as you have noted (though I realise both interpretations work)

    Thank you very much for these notes

    Michael 🙂

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