Monday, November 4, 2019


Before we get into Advent I want to present a few more of the great War poets. One of the best of the poets produced by World War I is SIEGFRIED SASSOON, who was born in 1886 to a  wealthy English family.

His father was a Jewish businessman and his mother, an Anglo-Catholic.  Much of his youth was spent in diversions like endless games of cricket. He received an excellent education, and began to write poetry at a young age.

When World War I began, he volunteered for the British Army. He was decorated for his bravery in battle, and he earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his seemingly insane acts of valor. The war, however, left him depressed, and this tone is reflected in his poetry, which took on a bitter edge.

His poetry described the horrors of the trenches and satirized the patriotic pretensions of those who, in Siegfried's view, were responsible for a jingoism-fueled war. Sassoon became a focal point for dissent within the armed forces when he made a lone protest against the continuation of the war in his "Soldier's Declaration" of 1917, culminating in his admission to a military psychiatric hospital. This resulted in his forming a friendship with Wilfred Owen, who was greatly influenced by him. Siegfried later won acclaim for his prose work, notably his three-volume fictionalized autobiography, collectively known as the "Sherston Trilogy".

 On 1 November his younger brother Hamo was killed in the Gallipoli Campaign, and in the same month Siegfried was sent to the 1st Battalion in France. There he met Robert Graves, and they became close friends. United by their poetic vocation, they often read and discussed each other's work. Though this did not have much perceptible influence on Graves's poetry, his views on what may be called 'gritty realism' profoundly affected Siegfried's concept of what constituted poetry. Details such as rotting corpses, mangled limbs, filth, cowardice and suicide are all trademarks of his work at this time.
With W.B. Yeats
With Hester
His periods of duty on the Western Front were marked by exceptionally brave actions, including the single-handed capture of a German trench in the Hindenburg Line. Armed with grenades, he scattered sixty German soldiers.

 In 1933, he married Hester Gatty, and the couple had one child. The marriage broke down after the Second World War, and Sassoon became increasingly fond of solitude. Towards the end of his life, he converted to Roman Catholicism  due much to the influence of Msgr. Ronald Knox, a fellow literary figure and convert he admired. He paid regular visits to the nuns of the Benedictine Stanbrook Abbey.

Peter Levi wrote in Poetry Review: “One can experience in his poetry the slow, restless ripening of a very great talent; its magnitude has not yet been recognized. … He is one of the few poets of his generation we are really unable to do without.”   Much of his poetry is shrouded in beauty and mystery.

Siegfried died in 1967 from stomach cancer. His papers are held at University of Cambridge

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.

The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes 
Till beauty shines in all that we can see. 
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise, 
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free. 

Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,
And loss of things desired; all these must pass. 
We are the happy legion, for we know 
Time’s but a golden wind that shakes the grass. 

There was an hour when we were loath to part 
From life we longed to share no less than others.
Now, having claimed this heritage of heart, 

What need we more, my comrades and my brothers? 

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