When men went to war, there was every chance of them dying. But, their friends and family could never had prepared themselves for news of that person’s death. Untimely death is a theme which is explored throughout the anthology in many ways, in particular, looking at the effects of the news of death upon loved ones.
“The Seed-Merchant’s Son” is a poem by Agnes Grozier Herbertson that conveys the bereavement that a man feels for his son who has died at war. This poem continuously emphasises the youth of the boy, which constantly reiterates the idea of untimely death, as the boy died before he could live a full life. The fact that the man in the poem has lost “His dear, his loved, his only one” accentuates the notion that the man had love for only one child, and that child “died in the war”. The young age of the boy is highlighted when the author tells us “his school books, into the cupboard thrust”, and that they “have scarcely had time to gather dust”. This shows that the boy has just left school, which adds to the pathos of the poem. This sense of pathos is continued throughout the poem, and is particularly noticable when the author adjusts the poetic syntax of the fifteenth line, to tell the reader that the man in the poem is “old to have fathered so young a son”.
The author uses elipses toward the end of the poem to generate a dramatic silence which could be seen as the silence after the death of the young soldier had been told to his father and the shock and desperation that the man felt during that time. The man would have thought about his son who “had never before seen seed or sod”. This line uses sibilance which has a threatening sound to it which could be interpreted as the fear that the young soldiers would all have to go through knowing that they might never again feel a sence of solace.
By the end of this poem, the man has come to terms with the boy’s death as although the man is sadened, he is very proud of his son for fighting for his country. The man murmurs “thank G-d, thank G-d”, showing that he is proud of his son for the sacrifice he made.
Another poem in the anthology that portrays the pathos involved and explores the repracussions of untimely death is “The Deserter” by Winifred M. Letts, which tells of the soldiers being forced to go to war and being “dogged by fear”. The author writes how one man who “could not face the German guns” was shot by “an English bullet in his heart” for desertion. He was shot “in a place apart”, showing that he was absolutely alone and could be interpreted that he didn’t believe that anyone else could feel like he felt in battle. The poem continues to say that the mother was spared ill feelings when she is told by a messenger that her son died as “a hero, foremost in the strife”. This white-lie is a safety blanket, which is used to protect the woman from suffering a distraught sense of anger and sadness at the idea that he was shot for desertion. The irony is that although this brings about a feeling of pride within the mother and “so she goes proudly; to the strife” to mourn for “her hero son”, “she does not know he lies in a deserter’s grave”.
The author has written that “there was a man – don’t mind his name”. This generalisation shows that this set of circumstances ocured many times throughout the war, and the untimely death of so many young men brought about so much pain and anguish.
From these two poems, we can see that untimely death has many different effects and consequences on different people; it can cause grief and sadness, pain and sorrow, or it can lead to pride and peace. Whatever the outcome, untimely death at war never leads to happiness.