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.”
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.
I’ve been perusing my collection of World War One era poetry. I’m sorry to be morbid, bear with me…. I’ll snap out of it, I promise…
Suicide In the Trenches – Siegfried Sassoon
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.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum, With crumps and lice and lack of rum, He put a bullet through his brain. No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye Who cheer when soldier lads march by, Sneak home and pray you’ll never know The hell where youth and laughter go.
100 years have passed since The Great War, World War One. We pay so much more attention to the Second War. Because the villains were more evil? Maybe… but this war, the one that changed the way wars were fought, was surely the work of evil come to earth.
As the war drags on, dreams of glory are replaced with bitterness and cynicism as revealed in this short poem by Siegfried Sassoon from 1918.
If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel
Reading the Roll of Honor, ‘Poor young chap,’
I’d say– ‘I used to know his father well;
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I’ll toddle safely home and die– in bed.
According to historian Barbara Tuchman:
“After the Marne, the war grew and spread until it drew in the nations of both hemispheres and entangled them in a pattern of world conflict no peace treaty could dissolve. The Battle of the Marne was one of the decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would ultimately lose or the Allies would ultimately win the war but because it determined that the war would go on. There was no looking back …”
“General staffs, goaded by their relentless timetables [for troop mobilization], were pounding the tables for the signal to move lest their opponent gain an hour’s head start. Appalled upon the brink, the chiefs of state who would be ultimately responsible for their country’s fate attempted to back away, but the pull of military schedules dragged them forward.” —The Guns of August