Saturday, September 08, 2012

Happy Birthday, Siegfried

Sassoon in uniform
Today in Manfield, Kent, England, in 1886 Siegfried Loraine Sassoon was born. One of the great WWI poets, Sassoon eventually rejected the war and refused to return to the front after a convalescent leave, sending a manifesto to Parliament. Refusing to court-martial such a decorated hero and symbol, the Army declared him "unfit for duty" and sent him to a war hospital, to be treated for shell shock. After the war he led a restless life, during which he continued to write, poems and prose both.


Four days the earth was rent and torn
By bursting steel,
The houses fell about us;
Three nights we dared not sleep,
Sweating, and listening for the imminent crash
Which meant our death.

The fourth night every man,
Nerve-tortured, racked to exhaustion,
Slept, muttering and twitching,
While the shells crashed overhead.

The fifth day there came a hush;
We left our holes
And looked above the wreckage of the earth
To where the white clouds moved in silent lines
Across the untroubled blue.

Ancient History

Adam, a brown old vulture in the rain,
Shivered below his wind-whipped olive-trees;
Huddling sharp chin on scarred and scraggy knees,
He moaned and mumbled to his darkening brain;
‘He was the grandest of them all was Cain!
‘A lion laired in the hills, that none could tire:
‘Swift as a stag: a stallion of the plain,
‘Hungry and fierce with deeds of huge desire.’

Grimly he thought of Abel, soft and fair
A lover with disaster in his face,
And scarlet blossom twisted in bright hair.
‘Afraid to fight; was murder more disgrace?’
‘God always hated Cain’ He bowed his head
The gaunt wild man whose lovely sons were dead.

(more of his poems here)

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