Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven (1845)

Most famous as the purveyor of nightmares both realised and imagined in such stories as the Tomb of Ligeia, Pit and the Pendulum, and Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe saw himself first and foremost as a poet, a man of lyrical imagination but everything in his literary canon speaks of loss, or the fear of loss, and the desire to forget and the inability to do so.

In a short life blighted by alcohol, ill health, and death it could be no other way.

Even The Raven, a poem notable for its upbeat tempo and lyrical musicality deliberately written to be popular remains nonetheless a tale of forced commemoration and torment.

The Raven was indeed popular in his own time and remains so today but it never made him the money he hoped for in the four years remaining before his own mysterious death – but then that was the story of a life in which no amount of success would ever compensate for that overwhelming sense of failure.

The Raven)

the raven in flight x

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
”Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
”Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more.’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
‘Sir,’ said I, ‘or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,
fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, ‘Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, ‘Lenore!’-
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-
‘Tis the wind and nothing more.’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and
flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed
he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no
craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door-
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as ‘Nevermore.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, ‘other friends have flown
before-
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, ‘Nevermore.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
‘Doubtless,’ said I, ‘what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never- nevermore’.’

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and
door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking ‘Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
‘Wretch,’ I cried, ‘thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he
hath sent thee
Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or
devil!-
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or
devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,’ I shrieked,
upstarting-
‘Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my
door!’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the
floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted- nevermore!

Robert Burns: The Ploughman Poet

Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland but his influence spreads much further.

He is considered by some to be the first of the Romantic Poets, writing not just in Gaelic and a Scots dialect but also in standard English and his poetry captured the mood of dissatisfaction and insurrection that would culminate in the French Revolution and influence those that such as Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelley who would come later.

Indeed, his unconventional views were reflected in his private life as he had numerous love affairs and sired a number of children out of wedlock.

He is also credited with not just preserving but saving the folklore, songs, and literary traditions of Auld Scotland.

He was born in the village of Alloway in Ayreshire on 25 January, 1759, the son of a tenant farmer and eldest of 7 children.

His father later came into possession of a much larger farm and as the eldest son the burden of working it largely fell upon his shoulders taking an early toll upon his health.

It was subsistence level farming and hard graft that rarely provided more than food on the table, and the nightmare of poverty often loomed large.

His first book of verse was published on 31 July 1786, was an instant success and it was it was to be poetry not the sweat of his brow that would elevate Burns to a position of at least some comfort.

Having at last received the consent of her parents in 1788, he married his long-time companion Jean Armour by whom he was to have 9 children having already sired 4 others by different women; and the many influential friends he now made, the commissions he received, and the sales of his verse allowed him to provide for his large family though he was never by any means a rich man.

A Scottish nationalist Burns, unlike most of his contemporaries was a Lowland Scot who sympathised with the plight of his Highland brethren perhaps as a result of his travels north to collect the oral history of his country that might otherwise had been lost forever.

Robert Burns died of rheumatic fever 21 July 1796, aged just 37.

The date of his birth, 25 January, is now celebrated every year in Scotland as ‘Burns Night’ which in some ways has come to make him appear a comfortable or safe poet which he certainly never was, and it is no coincidence that there are not similar celebrations in England.

He is largely viewed today by historians as a radical, and even by some a proto-socialist – the poetical equivalent of Thomas Paine – but if so his was a radicalism born of patriotism, a love of Scotland, of its people, of a concern for their rights, but most of all a regard for their freedom.

Such A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation

Fareweel to a’ our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev’n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam’d in martial story.
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An’ Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England’s province stands-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor’s wages.
The English stell we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been our bane-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

O would, or I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay,
Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I’ll mak this declaration;
We’re bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

A Man’s A Man For A’That

Is there for honesty poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave – we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.
Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A price can mak a belted knight,
A marquise, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that

August Stramm: Battlefield/Attack/War Grave

The literature of World War One has often focused on the verse of a small number of British poets whether it, be the sentimental idealism of Rupert Brooke or the war-weary disillusionment of Siegfried Sassoon but others adopted a different approach to its grim realities.

August Stramm, born in the town of Cathedrals in 1874 was an Army Reservist and Civil Servant who had been a playwright and an early exponent of German Expressionism, or the deliberate distorting of reality for emotional effect and the evocation of feeling through the use of sound and image.

Called up for service in World War One, Stramm was awarded the Iron Cross (Second Class) as a Company Commander in France before being transferred to the Eastern Front where he was shot through the head and killed in close-quarter fighting with the Russians near the town of Horodec on 1 September 1915, aged 41.

Battlefield

Yielding clod lulls iron off to sleep
bloods clot the patches where they oozed
rusts crumble
fleshes slime
sucking lusts around decay.
Murder on murder blinks
in childish eyes.

Attack

Scarves
Wave
Flutter
Chatter
Winds clatter.
Your laughter blows
Grasp hold
Scuffle force
Kiss
Surrounded
Sink down
Nothingness

War Grave

Staffs flehen cross arms
Writing zagt pale unknown
Flowers impudent
Dust shyly.
Flare
Water
Glast
Forgotten.

Rudyard Kipling: A Smuggler’s Song

He will always be one of the more controversial poets criticised as he is as the arch-advocate of British Imperial rule – the purveyor of the ‘White Man’s Burden.’

He is also respected within the military as the ‘Soldiers Poet’, a man who understood and could express in verse the hardships and moral dilemmas faced by a man in uniform. But again is seen by others to be little more than an apologist for those who use war as the means to an end.

Yet Rudyard Kipling is also beloved of children for adventure stories such as Kim, the wild imaginings of The Jungle Book, and for the rhythmic tones and fast- paced musicality of A Smuggler’s Song delivered with a whiff of Grapeshot and no little sense of danger:

A Smuggler’s Song

IF you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,

Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don’t you shout to come and look, nor use ’em for your play.
Put the brishwood back again – and they’ll be gone next day!

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining’s wet and warm – don’t you ask no more!

If you meet King George’s men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you ” pretty maid,” and chuck you ‘neath the chin,
Don’t you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one’s been!

Knocks and footsteps round the house – whistles after dark –
You’ve no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty’s here, and Pincher’s here, and see how dumb they lie
They don’t fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!

‘If You do as you’ve been told, ‘likely there’s a chance,
You’ll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood –
A present from the Gentlemen, along ‘o being good!

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie –
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Anne Lesley: The Haunting

By Guest Author:

The Haunting

To be haunted in life, can you never relax
Are you being watched, do you have to watch your back

The hunter is out in the open, they have no reason to hide
They want to see and be seen, to scare you in body and mind

Haunting is all around you, but where no one can tell
It can infiltrate your life and send your mind to hell

Can you avoid the hunter, when he is always in sight
Everywhere you go you see him, he watches both day and night

To live in fear of haunting, or when it may occur
Am I haunted for love or for hatred, will I be haunted for evermore

Do I follow the hunter, to discover why he hunts me
Then I become the hunter, will I ever be free

The haunter is always with me, I never feel alone
But I can never find him, no solid mass, no body or bone

I never wish to be hunted, haunting I can do without
Whether you see them or feel them, they are always out and about

Hunted or haunted, is there a difference, I leave you all to decide
In truth I hope never to meet them, at any point in my life

Copyright © 2015 Anne Lesley

Laurence Binyon: For the Fallen

An employee of the British Museum, Laurence Binyon composed ‘For the Fallen’ atop the cliffs of North Cornwall near the town of Polzeath in September 1914, when the full carnage of the Western Front was yet to be realised.

Since 1921, its Fourth Verse has been recited at Remembrance Day Services throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth usually before or after the playing of the Last Post and has over time become the sad lament for lost youth, for those who gave their lives in the service of their country in a noble cause.

Too old for military service in 1914, Binyon later volunteered as an orderly in a hospital during the Battle of Verdun.

By no means the most famous of the War Poets, his own experiences being restricted to the blood spattered corridors of institutions for the injured and maimed, he was nonetheless considered one of merit and a number of his poems including ‘For the Fallen’ were included in the last orchestral work of the composer Edward Elgar.

He died on 10 March 1943, in the midst of yet another and even more calamitous life and death struggle.

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
.

Sir Thomas Wyatt: Whoso List to Hunt

Born in Alington, Kent, in 1503, the son of a Courtier, Sir Thomas Wyatt who was to become a diplomat of, and advisor to Henry VII is credited with being the man who introduced the ‘Sonnet’ into the English language but is perhaps even more famous for being the lover of Anne Boleyn at the time she was being pursued by King.

Sometime in the late 1520’s, probably in the performance of his duties he met and became besotted, as indeed many men did, with the coquettish and flirtatious Anne Boleyn and being one of the few men in the Royal Court as physically imposing as the King himself he caught her eye also.

anne boleyn z

Anne was receptive of his advances even though she was aware that he was already married, if unhappily, to Elizabeth Brooke by whom he had a son.

Wyatt pursued her relentlessly but was later to be one those sent to Rome on behalf of the King to petition the Pope for the annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. There was no longer any doubt that Henry was serious in his wooing of Anne.
It was time to render unto Caesar.

Whoso List to Hunt is his sad lament on the lover despairing having to relinquish the chase and bid farewell to the object of his desire.

In May 1536, he was arrested on suspicion of having committed adultery with the now Queen Anne Boleyn but his long-time association with Henry’s Chancellor Thomas Cromwell was to see him released without charge.

Ironic given that he was almost certainly the only one of the accused who did have a sexual relationship with her.
But his amore had almost cost him his life.

A dedicated reader and admirer of Chaucer he would often speak to his friends of using the verse form to raise the English language to that of the most civilised of nations, to stand alongside Greek and Latin. But he was to be as frustrated in art as he was in love seeing none of his poems published in his lifetime.

Sir Thomas Wyatt died on 11 October 1542, aged 38, unaware that he would indeed elevate his native tongue to levels of unprecedented eloquence and beauty but through the words of the man upon whom he would have a profound influence – William Shakespeare.

Whoso List to Hunt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere*, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.
*Touch me not

John Donne: The Flea

Considered pre-eminent amongst the Metaphysical Poets, John Donne’s regular conceits, clever use of metaphor and often sharp language mark him out not just as a poet of wit and cunning but also of innovation and charm speaking to the common man in the educated voice to which they could only aspire but yet still understand.

Prior to taking Holy Orders in middle-age and becoming Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral when his poetry still as beautiful and captivating nonetheless became increasingly more devotional Donne’s early verse reflected that preoccupation of all young men down the ages – young women.

And no poem in his rich Canon better captures the artifice and imagery for which he is justifiably famed than The Flea in which he stresses the mingling in its body of the blood of both he and the woman he seeks to seduce has already seen them co-joined and a similar sharing of more intimate fluids can be then no sin.

She remains reluctant but he perseveres – she intends to kill the flea but he warns her that to do so would be as suicide – she crushes it between her fingers, the flea is dead, but desire, the yearnings of love cannot be so easily extinguished.

The Flea

Marke but this flea, and marke in this,
How little that which thou deny’st me is;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled bee;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sinne, nor shame, nor losse of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoyes before it wooe,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than wee would doe.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where wee almost, yea more than maryed are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our mariage bed, and mariage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, w’are met,
And cloysterd in these living walls of Jet.
Though use make you apt to kill mee,
Let not to that, selfe murder added bee,
And sacrilege, three sinnes in killing three.

Cruell and sodaine, hast thou since
Purpled thy naile, in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty bee,
Except in that drop which it suckt from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and saist that thou
Find’st not thy selfe, nor mee the weaker now;
‘Tis true, then learne how false, feares bee;
Just so much honor, when thou yeeld’st to mee,
Will wast, as this flea’s death tooke life from thee

Sir Walter Raleigh: A Life

Adventurer, explorer, slave trader, pirate, and scourge of the Spanish, Sir Walter Raleigh was also a poet of substance and beauty as indeed any good gentleman should be.

But he was as ruthless in pursuit of fame, fortune, and the favour of the Queen as he was delicate with inkwell, pen, and parchment.

The son of a wealthy Devonshire landowner he was nonetheless not of noble birth and when upon his return from the Americas in 1585, he was knighted by the Queen he was seen by many as an interloper in the Court of Elizabeth.

But having achieved his lifelong ambition he flaunted it with arrogance and a swagger that made him a great many enemies.

Yet he was nothing if not a realist and his poetry is laced with the sardonic wit of someone who knows the fate which awaits those who rise outrageously above their station.

He was to survive the death of Elizabeth but he never found favour with her successor King James and his enemies had not gone away, instead they hovered like vultures.

Only his status as a hero and the affection of the English people prevented retribution by those whose ire he had long ago roused.

In 1618, he was taken from his imprisonment in the Tower of London and beheaded to a collective groan of disapproval from those who witnessed it.

As he had earlier written:

“Even such is time,
That takes in trust
Our youth, Our joys
Our all we have
And pays us but
With earth and dust.”

raleighs exec x

A Life

What is our life? A play of passion,
Our mirth the music of division,
Our mother’s wombs the tiring-houses be,
Where we are dressed for this short comedy.
Heaven the judicious sharp spectator is,
That sits and marks still who doth act amiss.
Our graves that hide us from the setting sun
Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.
Thus march we, playing, to our latest rest,
Only we die in earnest, that’s no jest.

Siegfried Sassoon: Suicide in the Trenches

“Good morning, good morning! The General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card’, grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both with his plan of Attack.”

Siegfried Sassoon was born into a life of wealth and privilege and in the years preceding the outbreak of war he felt no obligation to attain either academic achievement or pursue a career but instead preferred the life of a country gentleman, riding out, playing golf, and indulging his great passion – poetry.

But like most young men of his background he had a sense of duty and a deep if sometimes subdued patriotism and as war appeared imminent he enlisted in the Sussex Yeomanry and trained as an Officer receiving his Commission the in May, 1915.

In November he received the tragic news that his much loved younger brother Hamo had been killed at Gallipoli.

The loss affected him greatly but served only to make him push harder for a front-line posting which he finally received in March, 1916.

Sassoon was to prove an exceptional Officer both dedicated to and protective of the men under his command but he was also a conflicted man – confused by his latent homosexuality that saw bonds of affection develop with fellow Officers that might not otherwise have been the case, and he was similarly bewildered by his physical commitment to a war on the battlefield that he was fast becoming disenchanted with in his heart.

Nevertheless, he was brave to the point of recklessness earning him the nickname “Mad Jack” and in May 1916, whilst leading a night-time raid into No-Man’s-Land his courage in rescuing a fellow soldier saw him awarded the Military Cross.

After participating in the Battle of the Somme he was struck down by a severe bout of dysentery and briefly repatriated home and it was now among friends and family that he first began to express his doubts about the war.

It was on visits home that he would become maudlin and despondent as if amid the mud and the blood of the trenches he could lose himself as a man of action in defence not just of his country but the men under his command, venting his anger on the enemy and sating his melancholy in the written word.

But in the peace and tranquility of hearth and home he could see with unvarnished eyes the panoramic vistas of insanity.

In April 1917, he was shot by a sniper and was once again repatriated to England for a period of convalescence where encouraged by those such as the philosopher Bertrand Russell and Lady Ottoline Morrell and the Garsington Pacifists he was encouraged to give voice to his disillusionment.

Given the possible consequences for Sassoon of doing so these people should not perhaps be considered friends and it has been suggested that they exploited him for their own ends, but if so it appears he was a willing victim.

Having already disposed of his Military Cross by throwing it into the sea on 15 June he wrote his famous Soldier’s Declaration against the war which he sent to his Commanding Officer, and which was read out the following month in the House of Commons and later published in The Times Newspaper:

“I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects that actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.

I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise.”

In a war where any dissent from the front-line was frowned upon and Sassoon himself would have regularly censored the letters of his men this was borderline treason.

His friend, the author Robert Graves fearing that he would be court-martialled urged him not to do it.

He had experienced first-hand how the death of Siegfried’s younger brother had impacted upon the family, describing in his memoir of the war “Goodbye, to All That”, how when staying a night in the dead brother’s bedroom which had remained unaltered since his death with fresh flowers provided every day and his favourite cigarettes on the bedside table, being woken in the early hours of the morning by the rapping sounds and peculiar wailings of a séance.

Sassoon’s mother later apologised for having disturbed him.

He now feared that Siegfried was about to inflict further grief on the family so he used his connections to interceded on his behalf.

The Military Authorities sensitive to morale at home were prepared to listen and rather than consider him a traitor and prosecute a well-known war hero he was instead diagnosed as having been rendered mentally and emotionally unstable as a result of sustained front-line service and possible shell-shock.

He was sent to the psychiatric hospital at Craiglockhart near Edinburgh to receive psychotherapy, a fairly new treatment also known as the – talking cure.

At Craiglockhart he became friends with the fellow Officer and poet Wilfred Owen who was there also recovering from the effects of shell-shock.

Sassoon was to remain at Craiglockhart for a number of months but endured an increasing sense of guilt that whilst he lived in comfort and talked literature and poetry late into the night his men continued to suffer and die on the Western Front.

His subsequent request to return to front-line duties was accepted.

By the spring of 1918 he was back in France in time to resist the Germans last great offensive in the war.

Ironically, given the many risks he had taken throughout the war including the capture of an enemy trench single-handed, on 13 July he was shot in the head possibly as the result of friendly fire and invalided out of the army.

The years immediately following the end of the war were a troubled time for Sassoon as once more immersed into a life of privilege so far away from the horror of the trenches and those who fought alongside him who now endured unemployment and increased poverty, he embarked upon a series of homosexual affairs with young men who had no understanding or even concern for the pain suffered by those who were their seniors of just a few years.

It only served to damage him further.

In 1933, he married Hester Gatty, a woman many years his junior, which at least provided some stability in his life and a son whom he adored, and though they were later to separate it was to prove a signal and transformative moment.

Siegfried Sassoon who had survived the worst of trench warfare in the most horrific conflict then known to man lived to old age during which time he converted to Roman Catholicism and renewed his interest in spiritualism.

He was also to write his semi-fictional sketches from the front, one of the great testaments of the war, and continue to produce well-received poetry all his life but it will always be his wartime verse for which he is best remembered and admired.

For a man who had been so emotionally engaged with the war, with its people, and the events occurring around him, Sassoon’s poetry has a disturbingly dispassionate and matter-of-fact quality that resonates with the gravity of resignation and despair.

It has an earnestness lacking in so many others, an acid-tongued cynicism that slices through the solemnity and maudlin introspection of regret and loss that lights up the fog of despondency but barely and without relief:

Suicide in the Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy,
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumbs and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindled eye
Who cheer when soldiers march by;
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.