Sassoon's poem has a pretty vague title, "Does it Matter?" Does what matter, Siegfried? He could be talking about, well, anything: Does the color of your car matter? Does the pattern of clouds in the sky matter? Does the fact that your parents, in all likelihood, dropped your on your head at least once when you were a baby matter?
Maybe, maybe not. But that's clearly not what Sassoon's after here. In fact, if you've ever read any Sassoon, you can probably guess what he's asking about: war. And World War I, specifically.
In the most general sense, then, the poem's title seems to be asking whether the reasons we go to war matter. However, once we start reading the poem we realize the speaker is asking the question from a much more jaded perspective. He wonders, for example, if the loss of one's legs, sight, and dreams really matters?
It might sound like the speaker's saying that they—to be blunt—don't. But is that really all there is to it? Probably not. We think the speaker's using a healthy dose of irony and sarcasm to prove the exact opposite and to answer his own question: it does matter if you get wounded, both physically and psychologically, in a war. It matters a lot.
And according to our speaker, anyone who thinks differently is pretty much a jerk.
Unlike most war poems, this one has nearly nothing to do with the battlefield. No artillery shells are dropping, no armies are charging, no wounds are festering (yep, we went there). In fact, it's downright quiet.
We don't get a lot of details here, but the most important thing about this setting is that the vet has come home, where people just don't seem to get it. No matter where he goes—home in stanza 1, work in stanza 2, the bar in stanza 3, people assume he's doing fine, simply because he's fought for his country and doesn't complain.
If we had only one word to describe this setting, it would be clueless. The folks on the home front just don't get it. And that's a Big Problem.
Our speaker is either the world's biggest idiot or the world's most sarcastic pacifist. Take your pick.
If our speaker really means what he says—that it doesn't matter if you lose your legs or your sight in battle because people will be nice to you and you can forget it all at the bottom of a bottle anyway—well, he's got another think comin'.
Frankly, we wonder how anyone could really think that about wounded veterans coming home from the front, so we find this to be a rather unconvincing reading of the speaker. No one's really that dense.
But collectively, the world can be that dense. It's easy for society as a whole to ignore the plight of veterans, while individual people may care and understand. So perhaps this poem is really about the frustration Sassoon experienced with society on the whole, since no one seemed to be acknowledging or understanding the cost of war in the public arena. Which brings us to…
…the other reading of the speaker—as a deeply sarcastic, deeply pissed off guy. That's who Shmoop really thinks this man is. As he asks rhetorical questions of the wounded soldier, he attacks, point-by-point, the callous lack of awareness that the folks the soldier has come home to show. He's not asking if these things matter—he's telling us that they do.
"Does it Matter?" doesn't pull any punches. Sassoon tells it like it is, and you shouldn't have any trouble picking up on the sarcasm and irony. He lays it all out there. To be fair, if you weren't familiar with Sassoon, you might not realize at first that this poem is talking about World War I, but a visit to our "In a Nutshell" section should solve that problem right quick.
And yes, that's an understatement. Sassoon wrote a whole lot of war poems, and you won't find much glory and sacrifice. Nope, just death and destruction in his lines.
You might think that would get pretty boring after a while, but Sassoon's poetry argues that war is death in a lot of different ways. War kills people literally, but even those who are lucky enough to survive, and even those who never actually see a battlefield, suffer some kind of death. War makes it impossible for surviving soldiers to lead normal lives because it's such a cold-blooded dream-killer. Take "Does it Matter?" as an example; the soldier in the poem is still alive, but he's had his sight, his mobility, and maybe even his friends taken away.
A quick gander at the titles of many Sassoon poems shows just how often he talks about death and war; titles like "The Rank Stench of Those Bodies Haunts Me Still," "I Stood With the Dead," and "Suicide in the Trenches" are great examples of poems in which Sassoon talks about dying, while "Does it Matter?" finds him exploring a more metaphorical, less literal, kind of death. The end result is the same: war is the pits, and there's no way around.
When you read this poem aloud, you'd be forgiven for not even noticing it's a poem. Frankly, it sounds an awful lot like some dude talking. But there are metrical feet afoot, if you're willing to go looking for them. Check out the first line:
Does it matter?—losing your legs?...
That's three stresses in one line, which tells us this is probably some form of trimeter. But what kind? Well, to suss that out, you'll have to read it aloud. Hear that dadaDUM dadaDUM dadaDUM rhythm? That, dear Shmoopers, is a series of three anapests, which means that this first line is anapestic trimeter.
But check out line 2:
For people will always be kind
Same thing, right? Three stresses, and some dadaDUMs. But what's up with that first foot? It's just a plain old daDUM—an iamb.
And in line 4, something even weirder happens:
When the others come in after hunting
That's three anapests, so we're doing just fine, and then—boom!—a weird extra unstressed syllable at the end. That, budding Shmoopoets, is called a feminine ending. And it means that when it comes to scansion, you can pretty much ignore it. That extra syllable doesn't change the fact that this is still a line of anapestic trimeter.
In fact, you'll see this extra ending syllable in the fourth line of each stanza. And you'll see those strange iambs peppered throughout the lines. This is a poem that's by no means written in perfect, polished, goody-two-shoes meter.
Why'd Sassoon shake things up so much? Well we think it all goes back to what we were saying at the beginning of this section—it sounds an awful lot like some dude talking. This poem wears no fancy pants. It doesn't have a high-falutin' point to make, and it's not going to use a ten dollar word when a two bit word will do. It wants to tell it like it is, and it's not going to let perfect meter get in the way with that. So if this speaker wants to toss in an iamb at his convenience, he's going to do just that, thank you very much.
That second stanza really hammers home Sassoon's point: for soldier's blinded by war, the loss of vision matters very deeply. But there's more than one way to be blind. And by the end of the poem, it's clear that these folks surrounding the soldier are blind in a much more damaging way.
Even though it's about going blind and losing one's legs, this poem doesn't forget about life's necessitates: eating and drinking. People aren't sitting around the table chatting over dinner, however. While it seems like somebody that has lost their legs should still be able to eat, it is only those who can still hunt—i.e., who still have legs—who are shown eating. So maybe eating, then, symbolizes all those things one can no longer do as a result of such a loss. Drinking, on the other hand, is apparently the only thing that the soldier can do. And it sure sounds like the speaker means drinking alcohol, not water; in a way, then, a soldier ends up finding solace in a bottle, which is really no solace at all.
This poem is about a soldier, but it is also about other people that he meets when he gets home from the battlefield; they are shown doing everything he can't (eating, hunting), but they also seem to be pretty insensitive. They don't seem to care about the soldier or his wounds, which makes us wonder if other people aren't just as much to blame for a soldier's post-war life as the battlefield itself.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a war poem with sex in it, and this one's no exception to the rule.