The Death-Bed

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. 10
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 glimmering 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
Leapt 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.

— Siegfried Sassoon

16 thoughts on “The Death-Bed

  1. Patti,
    Thanks for posting Sassoon’s poem. I, too, was struck and struck by that ending of NUMB3RS, and when I got up to do some work this morning, I, too, googled the last line, and found your post and the poem. Thanks, Sid

  2. Sassoon should be better remembered than he is. Then again, so should many Great War poets, including Owen, Read, Rosenberg, and so many others. Numb3rs rocks! Both poetry and mathematics– always striving for the elegant solution.

  3. Hey, am I the only one who noticed a subtle but poignant change in the end of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem? Didn’t Judd Hursch say, “peace ‘not’ safety” instead of “peace ‘and’ safety?
    Anyways, I too was moved by that poetry and did a search also. Absolutely love Numb3rs. Awesome and marvelous insights to be gleened from such a wonderful show. Blessings to you all.

  4. Weir how we all have the same idea at times..I just watched Numb3rs as well, but I had it on DVR. He said. ” so he went and there was silence in the summer night, silence and safety and veils of sleep.”..Thanks for finding the poem for me as well.

  5. tom, age 13

    i have an assignment in school to find a poem i really like, but intead of that i watched numb3rs. when i heard that poem i googled the last line i and i got this. thanks for the poem

  6. I believe that during that last paragraph, the anonymous wounded soldier dies, and the writer observes the war continuing on in spite of the death.

  7. One of the most powerful and terrifying poems I have read.
    Shocking in its stark reality and suffocating inexorability.
    I need a cup of tea!

  8. Thanks for reminding me of this poem. It’s been a long time since I read it, but it is still powerful.

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