The Poetry of Siegfried Sassoon

This paper discusses the life and work of the English poet, Siegfried Sassoon, from his idyllic “The Old Huntsman and Other Poems” to his World War I book of poetry, “Counter-Attack”.

This paper examines the idea that Siegfried Sassoon’s World War I experiences caused his poetry to move from the pastoral pre-1918 pieces to the harder, more concrete poetry contained in his book, Counter-Attack. The author points out that Sassoon, who was born into the British upper class, lived the life of a gentleman until the war when, as an officer, he experienced the horror of shelling, mud, death, fear, and displacement. The paper reviews several poems and demonstrates that Sassoon uses the images of his youth in a different effect later in his war poems; trees are no longer the idyllic backdrop to the songbird, but rather they are bronzed battalions clustered in a stricken wood.
Unlike The Rear-Guard, which was composed on the front line, Autumn, How to Die and Thrushes were all written while Sassoon was convalescing at Craiglockhart War Hospital. He was sent to Craiglockhart because of writing A Soldier’s Declaration”, a document that was read to the House of Commons in June 1917. In the Declaration, Sassoon said the war was being drawn out for political and financial reasons and that it had turned into a war of aggression rather than a war of liberation. Because of this, he no longer felt able to support a war that was unjust. By this point, Sassoon’s war poetry had earned him the respect of the common man, and the military and government felt it judicious to blame his outburst on shell shock. As a result, he spent six months at Craiglockhart where he wrote most of the poetry for Counter-Attack.”