Collected Poems by Siegfried Sassoon4 December 2007
Still going back through reviews I’ve written previously, this time with another book of collected poems.
Collected Poems by Siegfried Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon’s name, in many respects, is synonymous with the concept of ‘war poetry’. Sassoon, along with Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves and several other fellow poets, wrote about the experiences of soldiers in what would become known as the First World War (or it would be, by the time we realised that we might as well start numbering our massively devastating all-encompassing military conflicts). The Collected Poems hasn’t really changed since Faber and Faber brought out their first edition of it about forty years ago, but even after so long it is good to have this collection of the best examples of Sassoon’s lyrical, plain-spoken poetry.
It’s interesting to read Sassoon’s poetry and see how the writing style and source material changes and develops over the years, because the change seems to me to be a fairly noticeable one. His earliest pre-war poems are heavily sunk in a pastoral kind of Romanticism, as in paens to Nature like ‘The Old Hunstman‘, and even his early war poems are not truly free of the Romantic influence. Most, though not all, of his later poems lost much of this pastoral innocence. The Collected Poems also contains quite a few of Sassoon’s sharply satirical writings on subjects as diverse as the diary of a deceased ambassador (‘The visionless officialized fatuity/That once kept Europe safe for Perpetuity‘) and his own fumbling attempts to reconcile his socialist leanings to his well-off background:
‘What do you know?’ exclaim my fellow-diners
(Peeling their plovers’ eggs or lifting glasses
Of mellowed Château Rentier from the table),
‘What do you know about the working classes?’
Yet it is for his war poetry and the immediate post-war poetry that Sassoon is most likely to be remembered. The Collected Poems pull together the works of a poet whose works always seem to have some resonance, no matter what the current political situation happens to be.
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.