Back to Year 12 Poetry: Year 12 Poetry
Cannon Fodder
Is it seven days you've been lying there

Out in the cold,
Feeling the damp chill circlet of flesh
Loosen its hold
On muscles and sinews and bones,
Feeling them slip
One from the other to hang, limp on the stones?
Seven days. The lice must be busy in your hair,
And by now the worms will have had their share

Of eyelid and lip.

Poor, lonely thing; is death really a sleep?

Or can you somewhere feel the vermin creep
Across your face

As you lie, rotting, uncared for in the unowned place,
That you fought so hard to keep
Blow after weakening blow.
Well. You've got what you wanted, that spot is yours.
No one can take it from you now.

but at home by the fire, their faces aglow
With talking of you,
They'll be sitting, the folk that you loved,
And they will not know.
O Girl at the window combing your hair
Get back to your bed.
Your bright-limbed lover is lying out there
Dead.

O mother, sewing by candlelight,
Put away that stuff.
The clammy fingers of earth are about his neck.
He is warm enough.

Soon, like a snake in your honest home
The word will come.
And the light will suddenly go from it.
Day will be dumb.
And the heart in each aching breast
Will be cold and numb.

O men, who had known his manhood and truth,
I had found him true.
O you, who had loved his laughter and youth,
I had loved it too.
O girl, who has lost the meaning of life,
I am lost as you.

And yet there is one worse thing,
For all the pain at the heart and the eye blurred and dim,
This you are spared,
You have not seen what death has made of him.

You have not seen the proud limbs mangled and broken,
The face of the lover sightless and raw and red,
You have not seen the flock of vermin swarming
Over the newly dead.

Slowly he'll rot in the place where no man dare go,
Silently over the right the stench of his carcase will flow,
Proudly the worms will be banqueting...
This you can never know.

He will live in your dreams for ever as last you saw him.
Proud-eyed and clean, a man whom shame never knew,
Laughing, erect, with the strength of the wind in his manhood-
O broken-hearted mother, I envy you.


Breakdown of Cannon Fodder, by Alec Waugh


Structure = contrast of imagery in verse one and two
= sound patterns
Theme – the waste and cruelty of war. The agony of dying in no mans land, or of watching a mate die there, without being able to reach them.

Tone – angry. Used a conversational style of plain language to shock the reader. To make sure that the reader was not spared any of the grief he – the writer – was feeling.

Is it seven days you’ve been lying there
Out in the cold
Feeling the damp, chill circlet of flesh
Loosen its hold
On muscles and sinews and bones,
Feeling them slip
One from the other to hang, limp on the stones? Waugh uses plain conversational style diction to shock the reader and to make sure they are not spared any of his grief at having to watch his mate suffer, die and rot out in no mans’ land. Waugh uses a rhetorical question to couch this information.

Seven days. The lice must be busy in your hair,
And by now the worms will have had their share
Of eyelid and lip - Waugh uses rhyme to cause the reader to pause on the words so that we are forced to take in the full meaning and horror of what he is focusing on. He uses personification to indicate that the lice and worms are busy with their “occupations”. He does this to draw the readers attention to the horror of what is happening out there in no mans’ land.

Poor, lonely thing; is death really a sleep? Waugh refers to his friend as a “thing” now. He does this to represent the fact that his friend is no longer human, but a carcass rotting into the mud. He asks a rhetorical question in order to make himself feel better. He is hopeful that death will really be a sleep for his friend, and that what he can see rotting out their in the mud, is completely separated from his friend’s soul.

Or can you somewhere feel the vermin creep
Across your face – Waugh uses alliteration – creep/ across so the reader can feel the scrape of the rats’ paws on our own bodies.

Waugh uses sad irony to point out the fact that his friend will never be shifted from the place that he fought so hard to win.

But at home by the fire, their faces aglow
With talking of you – Waugh uses contrast to deepen the impact of what is happening to his friend. He uses the warm imagery of the safety of home, hearth and family in order to contrast with the fate of his friends’ body.
They’ll be sitting, the folk that you loved,
And they will not know.
O girl at the window combing your hair
Get back to your bed.
Your bright-limbed lover is lying out there
Dead. Waugh uses his stark, modernist style of plain speech to show his anger at what has happened to his friend. He is cruel to his friend’s sweetheart. His language is rough and does not spare her.

O mother, sewing by candlelight,
Put away that stuff.
The clammy fingers of earth are about his neck.
He is warm enough. Waugh has continued with this rough message to his friend’s family. They may as well give up and start grieving because the earth has him all “wrapped up”. Waugh uses personification to show the earth has surrounded his friend. He gives earth clammy fingers..


Soon, like a snake in your honest home
The word will come.
And the light will suddenly go from it.
Day will be dumb.
And the heart in each aching breast
Will be cold and numb. Waugh uses metaphor when he compares the news of his friends death reaching his family home to a snake. Snakes or serpents are meant to be evil.
Waugh uses the metaphor when he compares happiness to “light” in the home.
Waugh uses personification when he states that the day will be dumb – it will no longer have the ability to utter/speak the unspeakable.
Waugh uses personification to give the heart human feelings by saying that this organ will be “feeling” cold and numb, in the same way that our hands or toes can feel numb or cold.

O men, who had known his manhood and truth,
I had found him true.
O you, who had loved his laughter and youth,
I have loved it too.
O girl, who has lost the meaning of life,
I am lost as you. Waugh uses rhyme and repetition to emphasise to the reader that he is feeling as devastated about his friend’s death as his friend’s family, other friends and girlfriend.

And yet there is one worse thing,
For all the pain at the heart and the eye blurred and him,
This you are spared,
You have not seen what death has made of him.

You have not seen the proud limbs mangled and broken
The face of the lover sightless and raw and red,
You have not seen the cloak of vermin swarming
Over the newly dead. Waugh is using his stark modernist diction to make sure that readers are not spared his grief and agony at being forced to watch his friend decay. He has heightened this imagery with the use of alliteration – red/raw. He has used metaphor to compare the covering of rats with a cloak of vermin. He is pointing out that, no matter how sad his family and girlfriend are, they will always be able to hold onto pleasant memories of their son and lover. Not the image or memory of a decaying, sightless lump of flesh covered in rats.

Slowly he’ll rot in the place where no man dare go
Silently over the right the stench of his carcase will flow,
Proudly the worms will be banqueting…
This you can never know. Waugh uses personification to give the worms the feelings of pride and the ability to “feast”. He does this to continue his anger and angst.

He will live in your dreams for ever as last you saw him.
Proud-eyed and clean, a man whom shame never knew,
Laughing, erect, with the strength of the wind in his manhood –
O broke-hearted mother, I envy you.