The Kiss – Siegfried Sassoon

This poem is by Siegfried Sassoon is from the collection Men Who March Away, edited by I.M. Parsons some fifty years after World War I. I have in my possession a biography of Sassoon which is climbing close to the top of my to-read pile, so watch for more about that fascinating War Poet. Meanwhile, here is one of his poems and a little background. In his introduction to the collection, Parsons writes about The Kiss:

“The Sassoon poem is particularly interesting, not only for its technical accomplishment and for the terrifying image in the final line, but because in spirit it is so completely alien to the author’s whole attitude to war. For that reason, Mr. Sassoon was understandably reluctant to let me reprint it, fearing that it might be taken as meant seriously –as a ‘fire-eating’ poem.”

Sassoon himself said, “I originally wrote it as a sort of exercise … After being disgusted by the babarities of the famous bayonet-fighting lecture. To this day I don’t know what made me write it, for I never felt I could have stuck a bayonet into anyone, even in self defense. The difficulty is that it doesn’t show any sign of satire.”

The Kiss:

To these I turn, in these I trust–
Brother Lead and Sister Steel,
To his blind power I make appeal,
I guard her beauty, clean from rust.

He spins and burns and loves the air,
And splits a skull to win my praise;
But up the nobly marching days
She glimmers naked, cold and fair.

Sweet Sister, grant your soldier this:
That in good fury he may feel
The body where he set his heel
Quail from your downward, darting kiss.

32 thoughts on “The Kiss – Siegfried Sassoon

    1. The bayonet section at least. The brother Lead I assume to be bullets or the rifle part of the weapon. Interesting that he felt ‘guilty’ about the poem. He didn’t want to seem to glorify the experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Bayonet lessons and practice were always very surreal. You are encouraged to get angry, to shout and scream, and to hate whatever it is you are bayoneting, whether it be a sandbag (the normal enemy!), a melon (for a more realistic feel and sound), or a dummy.

    In the poem Sassoon is comparing the male bullet with the female bayonet. He trusts his life to both. The bullet spins and burns as it flies through the air and is, in many ways, blind. it does not see, or know where it is going but, as it splits the skull, the soldier congratulates both his, and the bullet’s accuracy.

    The bayonet is a far more intimate weapon, and has to be kept clean, rust free. A more intimate relationship makes it female. She kills with a downward thrust, a darting kiss. The soldier has to put his foot on the body in order to pull out the bayonet because of the resistant suction effect.

    You can see why he was disgusted to have written it but some things cannot be forgotten and must be retold.

    Sorry if I’ve been too graphic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness! I’m so glad you commented on this. I read that from the poem – the bit about the bullet and the bayonet being the male and female counterparts, but you’ve explained it so beautifully! And graphic yes, but that is the way it is, no reason to mince words. I thought this poem was extraordinary, especially after finding out how uncomfortable Sassoon was with its publication. Thank you, as always, Peter!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I know! I’m happy to read the preface Sassoon included with the poem. He was very much against the war, recognized the futility of the fight in the trenches.


  2. I recently received copies of letters written by a young man who was elected to the Indiana legislature, but chose to serve in the Mexican War instead. I think he spoke for many young men about their eagerness to engage with the “enemy.” They certainly change their tune later, though in this case they battled diseases, not other soldiers.
    I have a letter with similar sentiments from the Civil War.
    Only humans deliberately send their young in harm’s way. Makes us seem inferior to the rest of nature.
    Powerful poem. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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