Death’s Grey Land

Death’s Grey Land

This week’s choice is Dreamers, by Siegfried Sassoon, and I have chosen it to mark the unprovoked assault by Russia on Ukraine.

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows. 

Siegfried Sassoon (1886—1967)

Poem 207. Dreamers

Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.  
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.  
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win  
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,  
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain  
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.

This is one of Siegfried Sassoon’s poems I found on the Interesting Literature site while looking for a poem that seemed to fit the horrific situation unfolding to the east of Europe. Both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers will be thinking of the peace-time activities they would love to be doing instead of fighting. It is not their choice, and I pity them. I cannot pity those who have chosen this path in the full knowledge that they have brought their nation into armed conflict with another and may yet bring ruin to their own and other countries.

The poem shows us that soldiers of any country at war are ordinary people: despite their orders which they must obey, their private thoughts and memories are their own. The first two lines are bleak but powerful: the first line’s image of soldiers as “citizens of death’s grey land” is haunting, and the next line reminds us that many soldiers do not see the tomorrow for which they risk their lives today.

I like this poem because its message shows us that the combatants in a conflict can share very similar hopes and dreams, regardless of the objectives of their political masters.


  • Visit the Interesting Literature website.