- Sassoon's importance
- Early experiences
- 'War on war'
- Statement
- Hospital and afterwards
- Afterword
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1. The importance of Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon was one of the first writers brave enough to use poetry to describe war as it really is: brutalising, destructive, horrific, and an indefensible waste of human lives.

Earlier poets certainly recognised the sadness of war ('the flowers of the forest are withered away'). But they didn't question its association with heroism and glory. Even Siegfried Sassoon's first war poems, written before he had experienced war at first hand, showed he hadn't yet shaken off an old-fashioned romantic view of it.

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?


This was how 19th century readers and writers, especially those from a privileged background, viewed the life of 'the fighting man'. 'Warriors' were 'heroes', war was a 'heroic struggle' of 'good against evil'; 'the foe' must be 'vanquished' by 'noble deeds' on the battlefield under a flag tattered by gunshot but still 'valiantly' flying.

Many young men like Siegfried Sassoon went into the First World War with this kind of idealism. The carnage they found there came as a tremendous shock: the way modern war was fought was different - and horrifying. In 1915 Sassoon showed fellow-poet Robert Graves a poem he had written. It began

Robert Graves, at 20, was ten years younger than Sassoon, but had been at the front line for some time. 'Siegfried had not yet been in the trenches. I told him, in my old-soldier manner, that he would soon change his style.' Graves was right.






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