Today marks the anniversary of the death of poet Sigfried Sassoon.
Siegfried Sassoon was born in England in 1886. In August of 1914, just days before war broke out in Europe, he voluntarily entered the British army. At six feet, six inches tall, Sassoon was a fearless soldier and fierce fighter. He earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his intrepid heroism on the front lines and was decorated by the British government for valor in battle.
While on leave, Sassoon began meeting with pacifists and re-examined his role in the war. He came to the conclusion that the conflict was useless and immoral, and he wrote a letter to his commanding officer stating that he would not be returning to the front. The army, unwilling to court-martial a distinguished soldier, had him declared mentally incompetent and sent him to a sanitarium.
Sassoon wrote many volumes of prose and poetry, including a two-volume memoir about his time in the trenches. He died on this date in 1967.
Below is my favorite poem by Sassoon, entitled “Dreamers.” It is a powerful anti-war argument as well as an eloquent description of the joys of manhood, but what I like most about it is that I had never read it until I became a teacher and found it in one of my textbooks. To teach truly is to learn twice.
Soldiers are citizens of death’s gray land,
Drawing no dividends from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
“Siegfried Sassoon.” Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Ed. John Merriman and Jay Winter. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2007. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 1 Sep. 2011.