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Sassoon, Siegfried (1886-1967), English poet and novelist.

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Introduction

Sassoon, Siegfried (1886-1967), English poet and novelist. Sassoon was the son of a Jewish father and Anglican mother who separated when Sassoon was five years old. Educated at Clare College, Cambridge University, where he failed to take his degree, until the age of 28 Sassoon led a life of leisure, hunting and playing cricket, and dabbling a little in poetry. His most serious verse was "The Daffodil Murderer", begun as a parody of "The Everlasting Mercy" by John Masefield and privately published under the pseudonym Saul Kain in 1913. Sassoon's life, as was the case with so many of his contemporaries, changed radically when he joined the army on the first day of World War I in 1914. From being a supporter of the war who won the Military Cross for his part in the Battle of the Somme-a decoration that he later threw into the River Mersey-Sassoon's experience of the reality of trench warfare made him an ardent advocate of peace. In 1917, after vehement public protests against the war, Sassoon was persuaded by his friend Robert Graves to avoid court martial and to become a patient at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, where he was said to be suffering from shell-shock. At Craiglockhart, Sassoon met and influenced the young Wilfrid Owen, whose poetry he published after Owen was killed at the Front. ...read more.

Middle

For many years after the war, a series of semi-autobiographical novels, three of which were collectively published as the immensely popular The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston (1937), continued Sassoon's exploration of the futility of war. After the war, Sassoon became involved in pacifist politics and in 1919 became the literary editor of the socialist Daily Herald newspaper. He spent the 1920s searching for a new poetic voice, and in 1924 marked the beginning of a new period with the poem "At the Grave of Henry Vaughan", which voiced the religious leanings Sassoon had always felt: "And this lowly grave tells Heaven's tranquillity / And here stand I, a suppliant at the door". Much of his later poetry was religious in tone-he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1957-and this was the poetry that he valued most highly, despite the fact that his reputation continues to rest on his war poetry. His Collected Poems 1908-1956 was published in 1961. Suicide in the Trenches 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. ...read more.

Conclusion

The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. (2) Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum est (1917) Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And floundering like a man in fire or lime. Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in. And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. ...read more.

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