Defend The Bad Against The Worse

Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon

“And my last words shall be these – that it is only from the inmost silences of the heart that we know the world for what it is, and ourselves for what the world has made us.”

Siegfried Sassoon

Where Are The War Poets?

by Cecil Day Lewis

They who in folly or mere greed
Enslaved religion, markets, laws,
Borrow our language now and bid
Us to speak up in freedom’s cause.

It is the logic of our times,
No subject for immortal verse –
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse.


Siegfried Sassoon was one of the great poet’s of World War I.   He was a decorated soldier who had the courage to speak up and was ultimately removed from service for his act of bravery in declaring the war unjust.   I have reprinted his Soldiers Declaration in its entirety. He was dissented from the army for his brave stance that politicians and generals had fanned the flames of patriotism to prolong a war that became unjust. Sassoon stood by his convictions, and his poetry and writings reflect his equal stances of bravery, humanity, fear in wartime and his commitment to peace that made him stand up and say – STOP!

Sassoon’s protest, “A Soldier’s Declaration,” written on June 15, 1917:

I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those how have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe this War, upon which I entered as a war of defense and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this War should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible for them to be changed without our knowledge, and that, has this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolonging those sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.

I am not protesting against the military conduct of the War, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced on them. Also I believe that it may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those as home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

Read before the House of Commons, July 30, 1917, printed in The London Times, on July 31, 1917 (ironically — perhaps appropriately — the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele).

The glorification of war is both a way to entice generation after generation of recruits  and draftees to fight, but it also a way for families of loved ones to heal, who have suffered the ultimate sacrifice. The poetry of war both immortalizes the nobility of bravery and selflessness that can occurs during conflict as well as lay bare the scars of wars casualties and atrocities.   I have included the video of Non nobis, Domine, which is part of the sound track from Henry V, Shakespeare’s play that celebrates King Henry V’s victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 during the Hundred Years Wars. Badly outnumbered, Henry V’s army is victorious.  Non nobis, Domine is a latin Christian hymn often used as a prayer of Thanksgiving.  It comes from Psalm 115 and translates the open lines as:

Not to us, Lord, not to us
    but to your name be the glory,
    because of your love and faithfulness.

Psalm 115:1


Trench Duty

by Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967)

Shaken from sleep, and numbed and scarce awake,
Out in the trench with three hours’ watch to take,
I blunder through the splashing mirk; and then
Hear the gruff muttering voices of the men
Crouching in cabins candle-chinked with light.
Hark! There’s the big bombardment on our right
Rumbling and bumping; and the dark’s a glare
Of flickering horror in the sectors where
We raid the Boche; men waiting, stiff and chilled,
Or crawling on their bellies through the wire.
“What? Stretcher-bearers wanted? Some one killed?”
Five minutes ago I heard a sniper fire:
Why did he do it?… Starlight overhead—
Blank stars. I’m wide-awake; and some chap’s dead

 

The Blind Fight The Blind

 

To Germany

by Charles Hamilton Sorley

You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both through fields of thought confined
We stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each other’s dearest ways we stand,
And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.
 
When it is peace, then we may view again
With new-won eyes each other’s truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm
We’ll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.

 


This is the last of the battlefield poetry entries until next year.   I am getting battle fatigue rolling around in all this blood and gore for the past two weeks.  The poetry of World War I is remarkable in its intensity but I could never make it my daily fare.  In my opinion there are much more interesting themes to read about than men killing other men.   
 
 

 

Absolution

by Siegfried Sassoon
 
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?