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Book Title: The War Poems|
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The author of the book: Siegfried Sassoon
Edition: Faber Faber
Date of issue: June 7th 2012
ISBN 13: 9780571240098
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 547 KB
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Sassoon, who lived through World War One and who died in 1967, was, as the introduction to this book tells us, irritated in his later years at always being thought of as a "war poet". Understandable perhaps from the point of view of the poet: readers on the other hand might wish to demur. The poems gathered here and chronologically ordered, thereby tracing the course of the war, are an extraordinary testimony to the almost unimaginable experiences of a combatant in that bitter conflict. Moving from the patriotic optimism of the first few poems (" ... fighting for our freedom, we are free") to the anguish and anger of the later work (where "hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists / Flounders in mud ... "), there comes a point when the reality of trench-warfare and its aftershocks move beyond comprehension: Sassoon knows this, and it becomes a powerful element in his art. As a book, the images have a cumulative relentlessness that make it almost impossible to read more than a few poems in one sitting.
Unlike the avant-garde experiments developing in Europe in the first decades of this century, Sassoon's verse is formally conservative--but this was perhaps necessary, for as one reads the poems, one feels that the form, the classically inflected tropes, the metre and rhyme, apart from ironising the rhetoric of glory and battle were necessary techniques for containing the emotion (and indeed, a tone of barely controlled irony may have been the only means by which these angry observations would have been considered publishable at the time). When Sassoon's line begins to fragment, as it does in several of the later poems, it is under the extreme pressure to express the inexpressible. Compassion and sympathy are omnipresent here, in their full etymological sense of suffering with or alongside others--something the higher echelons of command (those " ... old men who died / Slow, natural deaths--old men with ugly souls") were never able or willing to contemplate. But Sassoon intuited the future of warfare, could sense that this was not "the war to end all wars": the mock-religious invocation of the final poem prefigures the vicious euphemisms of more recent conflicts: "Grant us the power to prove, by poison gases, / The needlessness of shedding human blood." Sassoon's bile-black irony signals a deep-felt pessimism: it was with good reason. --Burhan Tufail
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Read information about the authorSiegfried Loraine Sassoon, CBE was born into a wealthy banking family, the middle of 3 brothers. His Anglican mother and Jewish father separated when he was five. He had little subsequent contact with ‘Pappy’, who died of TB 4 years later. He presented his mother with his first ‘volume’ at 11. Sassoon spent his youth hunting, cricketing, reading, and writing. He was home-schooled until the age of 14 because of ill health. At school he was academically mediocre and teased for being un-athletic, unusually old, and Jewish. He attended Clare College, Cambridge, but left without taking his degree. In 1911, Sassoon read ‘The Intermediate Sex’ by Edward Carpenter, a book about homosexuality which was a revelation for Sassoon. In 1913 he wrote ‘The Daffodil Murderer,’ a parody of a John Masefield poem and his only pre-war success. A patriotic man, he enlisted on 3rd August, the day before Britain entered the war, as a trooper in the Sussex Yeomanry. After a riding accident which put him out of action, in May 1915 he joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers as a second lieutenant. At the training depot he met David Thomas, with whom he fell in love.
In November Sassoon received word that his brother Hamo had died at Gallipoli. On 17th Nov he was shipped to France with David Thomas. He was assigned to C Company, First Battalion. It was here that he met Robert Graves, described in his diary as ‘a young poet in Third Battalion and very much disliked.’ He took part in working parties, but no combat. He later became transport officer and so managed to stay out of the front lines. After time on leave, on the 18th of May, 1916 he received word that David Thomas had died of a bullet to the throat. Both Graves and Sassoon were distraught, and in Siegfried’s case it inspired ‘the lust to kill.’ He abandoned transport duties and went out on patrols whenever possible, desperate to kill as many Germans as he could, earning him the nickname ‘Mad Jack.’ In April he was recommended for the Military Cross for his action in bringing in the dead and wounded after a raid. He received his medal on the day before the Somme. For the first days of the Somme, he was in reserve opposite Fricourt, watching the slaughter from a ridge. Fricourt was successfully taken, and on the 4th July the First Battalion moved up to the front line to attack Mametz Wood. It was here that he famously took a trench single handed. Unfortunately, Siegfried did nothing to consolidate the trench; he simply sat down and read a book, later returning to a berating from Graves. It was in 1917, convalescing in 'Blighty' from a wound, that he decided to make a stand against the war. Encouraged by pacifist friends, he ignored his orders to return to duty and issued a declaration against the war. The army refused to court martial him, sending him instead to Craiglockhart, an institution for soldiers driven mad by the war. Here he met and influenced Wilfred Owen. In 1918 he briefly returned to active service, in Palestine and then France again, but after being wounded by friendly fire he ended the war convalescing. He reached the rank of captain. After the war he made a predictably unhappy marriage and had a son, George. He continued to write, but will be remembered as a war poet.
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