One of my favorite War Poets, Siegfried Sassoon at first an enthusiastic soldier, soon became disillusioned with the horror and futility of the fighting on the Western Front. His younger brother Hamo died in 1915 at Gallipoli and this loss no doubt profoundly contributed to his change of heart. Here is my portrait of Siegfried Sassoon and his poem: Glory of Women, written in 1917. It is a response to the way women (and the civilian public in general) wish their men to go off to the war and be heroes.
The Glory Of Women by Siegfried Sassoon
You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave, Or wounded in a mentionable place. You worship decorations; you believe That chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace. You make us shells. You listen with delight, By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled. You crown our distant ardours while we fight, And mourn our laurelled memories when we’re killed. You can’t believe that British troops ‘retire’ When hell’s last horror breaks them, and they run, Trampling the terrible corpses—blind with blood.
Oh German mother dreaming by the fire, While you are knitting socks to send your son His face is trodden deeper in the mud.
In Gort, County Galway, not far from where I live, sits Thoor Ballylee — a Norman tower purchased by WB Yeats to refurbish into a family home. The tower was built in the 15th century by the de Burgo (Burke) family but became part of the Coole Estate belonging to Yeats’ dear friend and patron, Lady Augusta Gregory, from whom he purchased the tower in 1916/17. This is my painting in miniature of Thoor Ballylee. And the photo I used for reference (via Wikipedia)
After a lengthy pause, I am returning to the project of sketching portraits of the War Poets of The Great War. It’s been 3 years (!) since I did my sketch of Robert Graves, but I’m back with a portrait of Edmund Blunden, whom I featured on the blog once before. This time I’m including one of his other poems but please do follow the link to the previous Blunden post to read Thiepval Wood and the explanation of it.
Here is my sketch and the photo I used for reference (via Wikipedia).
Les Halles d’Ypres by Edmund Blunden
A tangle of iron rods and spluttered beams, On brickwork past the skill of a mason to mend: A wall with a bright blue poster—odd as dreams Is the city’s latter end.
A shapeless obelisk looms Saint Martin’s spire, Now a lean aiming-mark for the German guns; And the Cloth Hall crouches beside, disfigured with fire, The glory of Flanders once.
Only the four square tower still bears the trace Of beauty that was, and strong embattled age, And gilded ceremonies and pride of place— Before this senseless rage.
And still you may see (below the noon serene, The mysterious, changeless vault of sharp blue light), The pigeons come to the tower, and flaunt and preen, And flicker in playful flight.