I was pleased at the opportunity to read this collection of poems, I have been curious about Sassoon ever since reading Good-Bye to All That
by Robert Graves. In that autobiography, Graves frequently alludes to his relationship with Sassoon. Speaking of which one of my favorites poems was this one:
“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.
In Good-bye to All That
, Graves talks about an obscene letter (supposedly written by the mother of a young British soldier killed in the war) that was published in papers in England and heralded as showing the wonderful indomitable spirit that exhibited the best of the home front. I wish I could actually quote the letter as Graves did, but when I read this it was in a paper book and checked out from my local library. To give a summary though it was the mother going on about how happy and proud she was that she had a son that was available to be killed for the good of God and country and how she just wished she had another son that she could also contribute to the cause. Thanks to Issybird for being the one to recommend Good-bye to All That
for a book club selection some time ago by the way.
I actually appreciated all of these poems and could make this a very long post indeed by quoting in entirety just a few of those that made a particular impression on me. So I will just list the titles of those:
- Stand-to Good Friday Morning
- The Dug-Out
- Base Details
- Editorial Impression
- Fight to a Finish
- Joy Bells
- The Tombstone-maker
- Memorial Tablet
I actually had a relative that fought in WWI. He was part of the American Expeditionary Force and saw combat in France. Of course America did not enter the war until Germany was on the verge of collapse, so he did not share the sort of experiences that the soldiers on both sides had endured for years that inspired these poems. When he would talk to me about the war and his experience in it though he really at the time thought he was fighting to make the world a better place forever; “The War to End All Wars.” Sad that when the peace was negotiated with such harsh terms for Germany—To the Winners the Spoils—that another war was almost inevitable.