Siegfried Sassoon poems depicting war are best known to have themes of antiwar and revolution. This was due to his experience as a soldier in the Army fighting in World War I.
Siegfried Loraine Sassoon was born September 8, 1886, in Heytesbury, Wiltshire.
During the First World War, he was recruited as a soldier.
As a soldier, he picked up writing poems about the war against his normal life.
Sassoon found it hard to cope with the harsh realities of war, and his writings all depicted bitterness and violence.
On being wounded severely twice, followed by other unfortunate happenings–the death of his brother in another war zone, and the death of his partner, David Thomas– Sassoon became more outspoken in his antiwar protest.
These protests were initially attributed to shell shock and kept him locked up in a sanatorium for a while, where he met prospective poet, Wilfred Owen and influenced him.
Sassoon was Owen’s biggest influence in writing war poetry and after his death, Sassoon helped published his poems.
The Most Popular Of Siegfried Sassoon’s Poems
1. 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.
2. Base Details
If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath
I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. “Poor young chap,”
I’d say — “I used to know his father well;
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.”
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I’d toddle safely home and die — in bed.
I’ve listened: and all the sounds I heard
Were music,—wind, and stream, and bird.
With youth who sang from hill to hill
I’ve listened: my heart is hungry still.
I’ve looked: the morning world was green;
Bright roofs and towers of town I’ve seen;
And stars, wheeling through wingless night.
I’ve looked: and my soul yet longs for light.
I’ve thought: but in my sense survives
Only the impulse of those lives
That were my making. Hear me say
‘I’ve thought!’—and darkness hides my day.
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 loth 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?
‘Jack fell as he’d have wished,’ the Mother said,
And folded up the letter that she’d read.
‘The Colonel writes so nicely.’ Something broke
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. ‘We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers.’ Then her face was bowed.
Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt.
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy.
He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he’d tried
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.
6. A Mystic As Soldier
I lived my days apart,
Dreaming fair songs for God;
By the glory in my heart
Covered and crowned and shod.
Now God is in the strife,
And I must seek Him there,
Where death outnumbers life,
And fury smites the air.
I walk the secret way
With anger in my brain.
O music through my clay,
When will you sound again?
7. How to Die
Dark clouds are smouldering into red
While down the craters morning burns.
The dying soldier shifts his head
To watch the glory that returns;
He lifts his fingers toward the skies
Where holy brightness breaks in flame;
Radiance reflected in his eyes,
And on his lips a whispered name.
You’d think, to hear some people talk,
That lads go West with sobs and curses,
And sullen faces white as chalk,
Hankering for wreaths and tombs and hearses.
But they’ve been taught the way to do it
Like Christian soldiers; not with haste
And shuddering groans; but passing through it
With due regard for decent taste.
8. “The Rank Stench of Those Bodies Haunts Me Still”
The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still
And I remember things I’d best forget.
For now we’ve marched to a green, trenchless land
Twelve miles from battering guns: along the grass
Brown lines of tents are hives for snoring men;
Wide, radiant water sways the floating sky
Below dark, shivering trees. And living-clean
Comes back with thoughts of home and hours of sleep.
To-night I smell the battle; miles away
Gun-thunder leaps and thuds along the ridge;
The spouting shells dig pits in fields of death,
And wounded men, are moaning in the woods.
If any friend be there whom I have loved,
God speed him safe to England with a gash.
It’s sundown in the camp; some youngster laughs,
Lifting his mug and drinking health to all
Who come unscathed from that unpitying waste:
(Terror and ruin lurk behind his gaze.)
Another sits with tranquil, musing face,
Puffing bis pipe and dreaming of the girl
Whose last scrawled letter lies upon his knee.
The sunlight falls, low-ruddy from the west,
Upon their heads. Last week they might have died
And now they stretch their limbs in tired content.
One says ‘The bloody Bosche has got the knock;
‘And soon they’ll crumple up and chuck their games.
‘We’ve got the beggars on the run at last!’
Then I remembered someone that I’d seen
Dead in a squalid, miserable ditch,
Heedless of toiling feet that trod him down.
He was a Prussian with a decent face,
Young, fresh, and pleasant, so 1 dare to say.
No doubt he loathed the war and longed for peace,
And cursed our souls because we’d killed bis friends.
One night he yawned along a haIf-dug trench
Midnight; and then the British guns began
With heavy shrapnel bursting low, and ‘hows’
Whistling to cut the wire with blinding din.
He didn’t move; the digging still went on;
Men stooped and shovelled; someone gave a grunt,
And moaned and died with agony in the sludge.
Then the long hiss of shells lifted and stopped.
He stared into the gloom; a rocket curved,
And rifles rattled angrily on the left
Down by the wood, and there was noise of bombs.
Then the damned English loomed in scrambling haste
Out of the dark and struggled through the wire,
And there were shouts and eurses; someone screamed
And men began to blunder down the trench
Without their rifles. It was time to go:
He grabbed his coat; stood up, gulping some bread;
Then clutched his head and fell.
I found him there
In the gray morning when the place was held.
His face was in the mud; one arm flung out
As when he crumpled up; his sturdy legs
Were bent beneath bis trunk; heels to the skye.
9. A Whispered Tale
I’d heard fool-heroes brag of where they’d been,
With stories of the glories that they’d seen.
But you, good simple soldier, seasoned well
In woods and posts and crater-lines of hell,
Who dodge remembered ‘crumps’ with wry grimace,
Endured experience in your queer, kind face,
Fatigues and vigils haunting nerve-strained eyes,
And both your brothers killed to make you wise;
You had no babbling phrases; what you said
Was like a message from the maimed and dead.
But memory brought the voice I knew, whose note
Was muted when they shot you in the throat;
And still you whisper of the war, and find
Sour jokes for all those horrors left behind.
10. Died of Wounds
His wet white face and miserable eyes
Brought nurses to him more than groans and sighs:
But hoarse and low and rapid rose and fell
His troubled voice: he did the business well.
The ward grew dark; but he was still complaining
And calling out for ‘Dickie’. ‘Curse the Wood!
‘It’s time to go. O Christ, and what’s the good?
‘We’ll never take it, and it’s always raining.’
I wondered where he’d been; then heard him shout,
‘They snipe like hell! O Dickie, don’t go out…
I fell asleep … Next morning he was dead;
And some Slight Wound lay smiling on the bed.
11. 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.
12. 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.
We’d gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.
The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began,—the jolly old rain!
A yawning soldier knelt against the bank,
Staring across the morning blear with fog;
He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells he watched them burst
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell,
While posturing giants dissolved in drifts of smoke.
He crouched and flinched, dizzy with galloping fear,
Sick for escape,—loathing the strangled horror
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead.
An officer came blundering down the trench:
‘Stand-to and man the fire-step!’ On he went…
Gasping and bawling, ‘Fire-step … counter-attack!’
Then the haze lifted. Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
‘O Christ, they’re coming at us!’ Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rifle … rapid fire…
And started blazing wildly … then a bang
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans…
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death. The counter-attack had failed.
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14. The Death-Bed
He drowsed and was aware of silence heaped
Round him, unshaken as the steadfast walls;
Aqueous like floating rays of amber light,
Soaring and quivering in the wings of sleep.
Silence and safety; and his mortal shore
Lipped by the inward, moonless waves of death.
Someone was holding water to his mouth.
He swallowed, unresisting; moaned and dropped
Through crimson gloom to darkness; and forgot
The opiate throb and ache that was his wound.
Water—calm, sliding green above the weir.
Water—a sky-lit alley for his boat,
Bird- voiced, and bordered with reflected flowers
And shaken hues of summer; drifting down,
He dipped contented oars, and sighed, and slept.
Night, with a gust of wind, was in the ward,
Blowing the curtain to a glimmering curve.
Night. He was blind; he could not see the stars
Glinting among the wraiths of wandering cloud;
Queer blots of colour, purple, scarlet, green,
Flickered and faded in his drowning eyes.
Rain—he could hear it rustling through the dark;
Fragrance and passionless music woven as one;
Warm rain on drooping roses; pattering showers
That soak the woods; not the harsh rain that sweeps
Behind the thunder, but a trickling peace,
Gently and slowly washing life away.
He stirred, shifting his body; then the pain
Leapt like a prowling beast, and gripped and tore
His groping dreams with grinding claws and fangs.
But someone was beside him; soon he lay
Shuddering because that evil thing had passed.
And death, who’d stepped toward him, paused and stared.
Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.
He’s young; he hated War; how should he die
When cruel old campaigners win safe through?
But death replied: ‘I choose him.’ So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.
Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.
15. Arms and the Man
Young Croesus went to pay his call
On Colonel Sawbones, Caxton Hall:
And, though his wound was healed and mended,
He hoped he’d get his leave extended.
The waiting-room was dark and bare.
He eyed a neat-framed notice there
Above the fireplace hung to show
Disabled heroes where to go
For arms and legs; with scale of price,
And words of dignified advice
How officers could get them free.
Elbow or shoulder, hip or knee,
Two arms, two legs, though all were lost,
They’d be restored him free of cost.
Then a Girl Guide looked to say,
‘Will Captain Croesus come this way?’
No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’—
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,—
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride…
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.
Siegfried Sassoon was considered the most innocent of all war poets, but there is no mistaking that he is part of the key figures of the Great War poetry.
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