Siegfried Sassoon

October 4, 2006

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(1886-1967)

Born into a wealthy Jewish family: lived the pastoral life of a young squire; fox-hunting, playing cricket, golfing and writing romantic verses
Being an innocent, Sassoon’s reaction to the realities of the war were all the more bitter and violent: went public in his protest against the war and thought insensitive political leadership was the greater enemy than the Germans
Sassoon earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his near-suicidal exploits against the German lines — in the early manifestation of his grief
Authorities were convinced he was suffering from shell-shock and he was sent instead to the military hospital at Craiglockhart where he met and influenced Wilfred Owen (the two were rumored to have had a relationship)
Known as a writer of satirical anti-war verse during WWI, and later won acclaim for his prose work
Spent thirty years reflecting on the war through his memoirs; and at last he found peace in his religious faith
Critics found his later poetry drastically different from war poems: Sassoon stated in response to these critics:

“My development has been entirely consistent and in character.  Almost all of them have ignored the fact that I am a religious poet.”

Quotations:

Everyone suddenly burst out singing; / And I was filled with such delight / As prisoned birds must find in freedom, / Winging wildly across the white / Orchards and dark-green fields; on- on- and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted; / And beauty came like the setting sun: / My heart was shaken with tears; and horror / Drifted away . . . O, but Everyone / Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

-Everyone Sang (in whole)

Groping along the tunnel, step by step, / He winked his prying torch with patching glare / From side to side, and sniffed the unwholesome air.
Tins, boxes, bottles, shapes too vague to know, / A mirror smashed, the mattress from a bed; / And he, exploring fifty feet below / The rosy gloom of battle overhead.
Tripping, he grabbed the wall; saw some one lie / Humped at his feet, half-hidden by a rug, / And stooped to give the sleeper’s arm a tug. / ‘I’m looking for headquarters.’ No reply. / ‘God blast your neck!’ (For days he’d had no sleep.) 
‘Get up and guide me through this stinking place.’ / Savage, he kicked a soft, unanswering heap, / And flashed his beam across the livid face / Terribly glaring up, whose eyes yet wore / Agony dying hard ten days before; / And fists of fingers clutched a blackening wound.
Alone he staggered on until he found / Dawn’s ghost that filtered down a shafted stair / To the dazed, muttering creatures underground / Who hear the boom of shells in muffed sound. / At last, with sweat of horror in his hair, / He climbed through darkness to the twilight air, / Unloading hell behind him step by step.

-The Rear-Guard (in whole) 

I knew a simple soldier boy / Who grinned at life in empty joy, / Slept soundly through the lonesome dark, / And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum, / With crumps and lice and lack of rum, / He put a bullet through his brain. / No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye / Who cheer when soldier lads march by, / Sneak home and pray you’ll never know / The hell where youth and laughter go.

-Suicide in the Trenches (in whole)

Why do you life with your legs ungainly huddled. / And one arm bent across your sullen, cold, / Exhausted face? It hurts my heart to watch you, / Deep-shadow’d from the candle’s guttering gold; / And you wonder why I shake you by the shoulder; / Drowsy, you muble and sigh and turn your head… / You are too young to fall asleep forever; / And why you sleep you remind me of the dead.

-The Dug-Out (in whole)
See Poetry Archive

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land, / Drawing no dividend from time’s tomorrows. / 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.

-Dreamers (in whole)

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