"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."
"Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land,
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrow.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows"
"Just before marching from the rear to the front line to take part in the battle of Arras, on a peaceful evening in the spring of 1917, Sassoon is sitting on a tree-stump in the park of a chateau and feels confident, serene, and even excite at the prospect of the imminent battle. The emotions is not new to him, but for the first time in the war he questions it. Why, he asks himself, should I feel enthusiasm about facing the enemy and death? He becomes suspicious of the sincerity of his own feelings."
"The judgement that Siegfried Sassoon's pre-war poetry is pale, conventional, cloyingly romantic, and weakly derivative - in short, that it epitomizes what is today slightingly called "Georgian" verse - has become a critical commonplace."
Siegfried Sassoon is best remembered for his angry and compassionate poems of the First World War, which brought him public and critical acclaim. Avoiding the sentimentality and jingoism of many war poets, Sassoon wrote of the horror and brutality of trench warfare and contemptuously satirized generals, politicians, and churchmen for their incompetence and blind support of the war.
Sassoon is a key figure in the study of the poetry of the Great War: he brought with him to the war the idyllic pastoral background; he began by writing war poetry reminiscent of Rupert Brooke; he mingled with such war poets as Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden; he spoke out publicly against the war (and yet returned to it); he influenced and mentored the then unknown Wilfred Owen; he spent thirty years reflecting on the war through his memoirs; and at last he found peace in his religious faith.
At first published anonymously, <i>Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man</i> swiftly became a best-seller, and established Sassoon as a prose writer of distinction. He followed up the adventures of his alter ego, George Sherston, with two more volumes, <i>Memoirs of an Infantry Officer</i> and <i>Sherston’s Progress</i>, by the end of which it was clear to everyone that he was writing his own life story. During the 1930s and 1940s, he went further and wrote three volumes of autobiography in which he explored himself more deeply and delved into aspects of his life he had omitted from the Sherston trilogy. These works, <i>The Old Century</i>, <i>The Weald of Youth</i> and <i>Siegfried’s Journey</i>, are equally highly regarded.
After being wounded in action, Sassoon wrote an open letter of protest to the war department, refusing to fight any more. "I believe that this War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it," he wrote in the letter. At the urging of Bertrand Russell, the letter was read in the House of Commons. Sassoon expected to be court-martialed for his protest, but poet Robert Graves intervened on his behalf, arguing that Sassoon was suffering from shell-shock and needed medical treatment. In 1917, Sassoon was hospitalized.
Sassoon lived the pastoral life of a young squire: fox-hunting, playing cricket, golfing and writing romantic verses. Being an innocent, Sassoon's reaction to the realities of the war were all the more bitter and violent — both his reaction through his poetry and his reaction on the battlefield (where, after the death of fellow officer David Thomas and his brother Hamo at Gallipoli, Sassoon earned the nickname "Mad Jack" for his near-suicidal exploits against the German lines — in the early manifestation of his grief, when he still believed that the Germans were entirely to blame).
His parents were Alfred Sassoon, who belonged to a notable family of Jewish merchant traders, and Theresa Thornycroft, a member of an equally notable family of artists and sculptors. Sassoon was the second of the couple’s three sons. Alfred Sassoon, who had been cut off by his family for marrying outside the faith, left Theresa when the children were still small, and died not long afterwards. The keenly-felt loss of his father was to be a major influence on Siegfried’s development and later actions