Everyone Sang – Siegfried Sassoon

A message of joy: the war at an end.

NOTES

‘Everyone Sang’ relates Sassoon’s ecstatic— almost religious— joy on hearing soldiers singing, and is a song of praise for the men’s resiliance.

Everyone Sang: Communal singing was common in the trenches. Sassoon was an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Graves notes that whereas in other regiments singing was often limited to music hall numbers, Welsh soldiers sang hymns, often in Welsh. This singing, perfected in Chapel and Church, was often powerfully moving. It is possible that it is this kind of singing that Sassoon refers to. Critics have suggested that ‘Everyone Sang’ describes to soldiers’ reactions to the Armistice (Robert Graves interprets the poem in this way in ‘Goodbye to All That’). Others follow Sassoon’s own account in ‘Siegfried’s Journey’ that the poem is, rather, a more abstracted paean to change and the singing represents ‘social revolution’ (see W. Lawrence’s fascinating comment to this post, above).

STRUCTURE: ‘Everyone Sang’ is comprised of two stanzas of five lines length, rhyme scheme ABCBB.

“Everyone suddenly burst out singing;”: the “Everyone” of this poem refers to a group of men singing and celebrating. The emphatic description of ‘everyone’ singing captures the broader tone of celebration of the human spirit that this poem contains.

“I was filled with such delight / As prisoned birds must find in freedom”: the conventional symbolism— that of a freed, flying bird embodying the human spirit— nonetheless captures the sense of release that the singing brings.

“Winging wildly across the white / Orchards and dark-green fields;”: the alliteration introduces a wheeling rhythm to the end of the stanza, until we gain the perspective of the freed bird, looking down on the countryside below. There is a real sense of the expanding horizons that the singing- and coming of peace- brings.

“on— on— and out of sight.”: a ponderous and deliberately slowed passage that reintroduces the listener as one gazing out at the freed bird as it flies away.

“Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;”: Repeating the literal phrasing of the poem’s first line, the beginning of the second verse is both literal and metaphorical. The voices sing higher and louder, but the ‘lifting’ of the voices here also suggests elevation here— a transcendental tone. This metaphor of “lifted” voices logically follows on from the prior image of flight.

“beauty came like the setting sun:”: Sassoon again uses conventional imagery, here that of the beautiful, setting sun. Sassoon uses a language here that in other hands might seem hackneyed or clichéd, but manages to convey a purity of experience. The simpler and more archetypal the imagery, perhaps, the better to evoke the emotional power of the singing men. The “setting sun” here suggests death, sublime beauty– and an end.

“My heart was shaken with tears: and horror drifted away…”: the emotional and spiritual power of the song moves the listener so that their worst thoughts and memories of the war “drifted away”. Through the singing they escape the war and rediscover their common humanity. This lifting of horror, like mist or fog, is captured in the pause denoted by the ellipses.

“O, but Everyone / Was a bird;”: the suggestive capitalisation of “Everyone” here seems to suggest that ‘everyone’ in the poem have for a short while have assumed the freedom of transcendence, of becoming more than themselves. Note the building intensity in this verse, as sub-clause follows sub-clause, leading to the cry of ‘O’, and sense of profound emotional release in the last two lines.

“and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.”: The sense that the listeners experience is sublime and timeless is profound; moving beyond words, to suggest here a religious image of the eternal singing of men.

 

 

[ANTHOLOGY NOTE: This poem certainly has the most religious or spiritual tone of Stallworthy’s selection of Sassoon’s poetry. Stallworthy elsewhere praises ‘Christ and the Soldier’ as a dramatic example of Sassoon’s war poetry: and makes the keen observation that “his poetry, early and late can be seen to justify the label he attached to himself… ‘I am a religious poet’”. The question of the presence or otherwise of God during the war is a profound one, and is also tackled in Isaac Rosenburg’s ‘On Receiving News of the War’ (p.183). Outside the anthology, there are other poems similarly written about the power of song at war: ‘First Time In’ by Ivor Gurney, about encountering Welsh singers on arrival in the trenches; or to Robert Graves’ ‘Sospan Fach (The Little Saucepan)’, about Welsh soldiers singing a traditional Welsh song.]

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5 thoughts on “Everyone Sang – Siegfried Sassoon”

  1. I love this poem, Sassoon may be contradicting his poem Glory Of Women by saying”everyone”. By this he shows that everyone was involved in the war; not only men. This poem reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms. In this book the main character Tenete is a volunteer ambulance driver from the united states. Tenete falls in love with Catherine Barkley a British voluntary aid nurse. Tenete falls in love with Catherine. Catherine becomes pregnant. At the end after a long and painful labor their son is still born. Catherine begins to hemorrhage and soon dies. Catherine’s chief heroism is to accept pain of childbirth, Catherine has been consistently ignored as a code hero, probably because she is a women. Although Henry had been successful in escaping the war he has not gotten what he wanted.

    It’s quite a nice book, I would recommend it though I am not sure whether anyones keen on reading it as I told you the end. But it’s very good for wider reading!!

  2. Everyone Sang is often included in anthologies of First World War poetry, but in reality, Sassoon wasn’t writing solely about the end of the war but also about the celebration of peace. According to his autobiography, “Siegfried’s Journey”, the poem was written one evening, when Sassoon had been feeling lethargic and ‘depressed’. He found that the words came into his head ‘from nowhere’ and he wrote the poem down quickly before going to bed. The next morning, he decided that he liked what he had written and sent copies to some of his literary friends for their opinion. It met with almost universal approval – the only noted critic at the time being Robert Graves, who commented acidly that everyone ‘did not include me’.

    The problem with this poem appearing in so many FWW anthologies, lies in the fact that many analysts and editors assume that Sassoon is celebrating just the end of the war. This is not really the case, as in “Siegfried’s Journey” he says that the ‘singing’ to which he refers in the poem is the ‘Social Revolution’ which he hoped and believed would come about. Some others, possibly including Graves, misinterpreted the message behind the poem and it quickly became categorised as relating to the armistice celebrations. Sassoon’s initial pleasure at the composition and its popularity, waned over the years, probably due to these misunderstandings and the constant requirement of explaining what he had really meant when he wrote it.

    1. Thanks for this clarification. Graves writes that ‘Everyone Sang’ was an armistice day poem in ‘Goodbye to All That’, and that must surely be the root of the misunderstanding. Previous to reading Graves I must admit I taught it rather as a poem about the pleasure of hearing singing in the trenches: I will certainly correct my notes with your observation in mind!

  3. Actually this poem is very wonderful and heart touching .I really like this poem.we can say that In this poem he imagined how the tone of this poem is sadness and hapiness.

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