This morning I read the day’s selection in Volume 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 his 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?