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Friday Poem: Siegfried Sassoon - Absolution

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Best known for his brutally honest and reflective war poetry, Siegfried Sassoon lends his voice to the countless soldiers who ventured into the trenches. His poetry, unlike that of some of his contemporaries, shone a light on the true nature of warfare during world war one. 

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Also, famous for his mentorship of fellow poet, Wilfred Owen, Sassoon was a pioneer of war poetry as it is known today. Both men were injured during the war and met whilst recuperating at Craiglockheart hospital in Edinburgh. Sassoon’s courageous anti-war stance encouraged Owen to pen some of the haunting poetry for which he is famous such as the seminal Dulce et Decorum Est. 

The poem below, written by Sassoon in 1917, is equally haunting. Reflecting upon the situation of many soldiers during the war, it engenders a sense of the acceptance of death within the ranks. The line which reads “all these must pass. We are the happy legion, for we know time’s but a golden wind that shakes the grass” is a moving reflection upon the impermanence of life. Furthermore, the initial use of “wise” to describe the soldiers arguably emphasises their youth and suggests the aging effects of war upon those who partake in it. 

Perhaps a gentler example of Sassoon’s poetry, Absolution still echoes the truths of war. Rejecting the rallying and jingoistic verse which was ripe at the beginning of the war, Sassoon introduced a new type of war poetry, one which presents its subject frankly and candidly, gaining justice for those involved. With the anniversary of the end of world war one only months away, we must remember all those who were involved in the conflict. Sassoon’s poetry allows us to do this, opening a window into the very heart of the trenches. 

 

Absolution: By Siegfried Sassoon 

 

The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes 

Till beauty shines in all that we can see. 

War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise, 

And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.

 

Horror of wounds and anger at the foe, 

And loss of things desired; all these must pass. 

We are the happy legion, for we know 

Time's but a golden wind that shakes the grass.

 

There was an hour when we were loth to part 

From life we longed to share no less than others. 

Now, having claimed this heritage of heart, 

What need we more, my comrades and my brothers?

 

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