Sassoon’s Angels

This morning I read the day’s selection in poem-a-dayVolume 3 of Poem A Day, and it was by a poet I hadn’t read before, Siegfried Sassoon. I’m very glad to have discovered him. He is famous for his war poetry, and anti-war poetry, during and after The Great War.

Having read about him on various sites online today, I can only say that the tone of his life reminds me of the novel Brideshead Revisited, and like the narrator of that story, Charles Ryder, Sassoon converted to Roman Catholicism later in life.

When he wrote today’s anthology selection, I haven’t discovered – whether it was earlier, as part of his war poems, or later, with the “religious” poetry. Critics saw his later work as inferior and weak, an unfortunate change in perspective, but his response to this was to say that “almost all of them have ignored the fact that I am a religious poet.” He claimed that “my development has been entirely consistent and in character.”

You can hear Sassoon reading hsassoon-youngis own poem, “The Power and the Glory,”  on the First World War Poetry Digital Archive site. I also found this thorough bibliography of his works by a history and book lover, and would like to explore there some more.

The second poem by him (at the bottom of the page) that I am sharing here, written in his own hand, I found on The University of St. Andrew’s site Echoes from the Vault. It is clearly dated twenty years before Sassoon finally entered the church, but his developing vision of spiritual realities is clearly evident. I notice that both poems feature the presence of angels.

The Power and the Glory

Let there be life, said God. And what He wrought
Went past in myriad marching lives, and brought
This hour, this quiet room, and my small thought
Holding invisible vastness in its hands.

Let there be God, say I. And what I’ve done
Goes onward like the splendour of the sun
And rises up in rapture and is one
With the white power of conscience that commands.

Let life be God…What wail of fiend or wraith
Dare mock my glorious angel where he stands
To fill my dark with fire, my heart with faith?

-Siegfried Sassoon

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8 thoughts on “Sassoon’s Angels

  1. We study the war poems of Sassoon as part of a literature unit on World War I that includes All Quiet on the Western Front. He didn’t mince words about the glories of war and was vilified because of his stance. His conversion to Catholicism is all the more interesting because of his Jewish family background. What a powerful poet he was, and “The Power and the Glory” is one that I’ve not previously read. Thank you for sharing it.

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  2. I’ve only known Sassoon as a war poet, so this was quite interesting. Also interesting is his use of two forms of the handwritten “e.” I do the same thing, and never have figured out what the pattern is, or the reason. It’s yet another reason to cling to cursive writing: it carries personality in a way our digital text never will.

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    1. I hadn’t noticed that until you mentioned it, Linda, but I think I see a pattern in his choice of which form to use: If the letter preceding the “e” finishes at a level above the baseline, as is the case for his “v”, “w” and “r”, then he continues that last stroke into the curved “E” shape. Otherwise, he is continuing from the baseline and it makes a smoother line to start upward with the loop sort of “e”. At first, I wondered why in the case of “heaven” he used both forms, but in the title word it’s capitalized, so the crossbar of the “H” continues horizontally at that middle level. Maybe you noticed all this already and were only referring to your own use of the two forms. I like Sassoon’s script; on the St. Andrews page you can see where in a personal note he relaxes the precision a bit.

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  3. Superficial reader that I was, I never liked his name–as if that would be a clue to his vision (my blindness). So I overlooked his poems. Thank you for bringing them out here. I’m still learning.

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