Tuesday 3 November 2015

Siegfried Sassoon – War and Remembrance in Poetry

Sassoon served as a lower level British officer on the Western front in World War 1, and was decorated for some astonishing acts of bravery during the conflict. He became increasingly disillusioned though at the conduct of the war and treatment of the soldiers by the politicians and generals, which was reflected in his poetry thereafter.

At the end of a spell of convalescent leave in 1917, Sassoon declined to return to duty and wrote an open letter to his commander, entitled ‘Finished with the War: A Solder’s Declaration’, which appeared in the press and was read out in the House of Commons by a sympathetic MP. He was sent to a war hospital for treatment for ‘shell shock’.

Whilst at the hospital, he met Wilfred Owen who became the more famous of the two war poets. Sassoon had a big influence on Owen, and helped him to develop his poetry writing and style. Sassoon survived the war and was mainly responsible for getting Owen’s work published (he died in 1918), Sassoon died in 1967.

Below are two of his best known poems.

Does It Matter?

Does it matter? - losing your legs?
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
Does it matter? - losing you sight?
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.
Do they matter-those dreams in the pit?
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won't say that you’re mad;
For they know that you've fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.

In this poem he demonstrates his contempt for the British generals and their military tactics.

The General

‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

On Remembrance Day, remember the horrors of war, and how the soldiers were used as cannon fodder in the massive, disgusting slaughter that World War 1 was. 

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