Analysis of THE DEATH BED by S. Sassoon


He drowsed and was aware of silence heaped
Round him, unshaken as the steadfast walls;
Aqueous like floating rays of amber light,
Soaring and quivering in the wings of sleep.
Silence and safety; and his mortal shore
Lipped by the inward, moonless waves of death.
Someone was holding water to his mouth.
He swallowed, unresisting; moaned and dropped
Through crimson gloom to darkness; and forgot
The opiate throb and ache that was his wound.
Water—calm, sliding green above the weir;
Water—a sky-lit alley for his boat,
Bird-voiced, and bordered with reflected flowers
And shaken hues of summer: drifting down,
He dipped contented oars, and sighed, and slept.
Night, with a gust of wind, was in the ward,
Blowing the curtain to a gummering curve.
Night. He was blind; he could not see the stars
Glinting among the wraiths of wandering cloud;
Queer blots of colour, purple, scarlet, green,
Flickered and faded in his drowning eyes.
Rain—he could hear it rustling through the dark;
Fragrance and passionless music woven as one;
Warm rain on drooping roses; pattering showers
That soak the woods; not the harsh rain that sweeps
Behind the thunder, but a trickling peace,
Gently and slowly washing life away.
He stirred, shifting his body; then the pain
Leaped like a prowling beast, and gripped and tore
His groping dreams with grinding claws and fangs.
But someone was beside him; soon he lay
Shuddering because that evil thing had passed.
And death, who’d stepped toward him, paused and stared.
Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.
He’s young; he hated war; how should he die
When cruel old campaigners win safe through?
But death replied: “I choose him.” So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.
Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.
What is the poem’s setting? See stanza 3.

Task 1

Watch a short film that depicts the poem

Task 2

Read the poem and find the following words/phrases from the poem, and identify which technique has been used.

a) “…silence heaped/Round him…”
b) “Aqueous like floating rays of amber light”
c) “Silence and safety…”
d) “Night…was in the ward…”
e) “…drowning eyes.”
f) “…the pain/Leapt like a prowling beast…”
g) “…gripped and tore/…with grinding claws and fangs.”
h) “And death…paused and stared.”
i) “he hated War”
j) “…the thudding of the guns.”

Task 3

There are some dominant images in the poem. These are images that are used on more than one occasion, usually because the writer thinks they are important and add more to the MOOD (atmosphere) of the poem.
Having read the whole poem, what would you identify as TWO of the dominant images that Sassoon has used?
( Look for things that happen more than once and in different parts of the poem)

Task 4


Sassoon’s “The Death Bed,” like many of his poems written during his service in World War Two, is an account of an unnamed young soldier who has been mortally wounded. Comment closely on the techniques used by the author to convey his message.


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