Union Jack

     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

These pages, the recording of which have been a labour of love, are dedicated to my grandchildren: Shoshannah Sanders, Benjamin Shaun Coram, Tate Montgomery MacLoughlin and Louis James Coram.

Poet's Pilgrimage

Siegfried Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon:
"I look rather awaitful
of whatever may be
coming to me"

Compiled by Shaun MacLoughlin
with Hugh Burden as Siegfried Sassoon
and Hugh Dickson as the Reader

SASSOON: My real biography is my poetry.

Last thing at night, in solitude serene,
I am unpossessed of all that I have been.
It is as though I were about to go
Some journeying far beyond what now I know;
It is as though the microcosm of Me
By mercy were made free --
Of troubling past uncluttered and made clean.


click here to listen to this page
Please listen to
as you read
the text

ANNOUNCER: This programme is presented by Dame Felicitas Corrigan of the Order of Saint Benedict, Stanbrook Abbey, Worcestershire. Dame Felicitas was a close friend of Sassoon's during his later years.

Dame Felicitas Corrigan
Dame Felicitas Corrigan

DAME FELICITAS: Siegfried Sassoon has always seemed to me a parable of Twentieth Century man. To most of those acquainted with his name he is essentially the fox hunting man, the infantry officer, the poet of the First World War. Few know him for what he was beneath outward appearances: prophet, sage, pilgrim, a Mister Valiant for Truth going to the Celestial City. One could indict the whole age of ours out of his mouth. From the outset he saw that man unaided was incapable of saving himself and said so, but he could not hand out ready answers to life's problems. He had to face them in his own person.

SASSOON: Had I been writing my own story I should have begun as follows: "Once upon a time there was boy who was born in September 1886 at a house in Kent. He had two brothers. After 1891 we did not see our father very often. Our mother was unhappy because he had gone away to London and would not speak to her any more.

Alfred Ezra Sassoon 
    Siegfried's father
Alfred Ezra Sassoon,
Siegfried's father

In 1895, when I was eight, Pappy died. I wondered how long I ought to go on crying about him, for I felt as if I should never stop. Mrs Mitchell took my brothers to the Jewish cemetery in London. I was too upset to go. It was no consolation to assume that he had gone straight to heaven, like Grandmama Thorneycroft - entering by a different gate owing to his being buried in Hebrew instead of in English.


DAME FELICITAS: I first wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in 1959. My request for one or two lyrical poems finally led to the production of two books. The first entitled The Path to Peace, a compilation of twenty eight poems tracing Sassoon's spiritual journey, was published by the Stanbrook Abbey Press in November 1960. The second, Poet's Pilgrimage , on which this programme is based, came out after his death.

At the Press Bazaar, aged 11 in 1898
At the Press Bazaar,
aged 11 in 1898

SASSOON: To Dame Felicitas Corrrigan: I'll agree to anything you do, as you are the only person in the world, who bothers to write about my religious poetry. The childish poems do come out better than I'd realised. In the context of my career I suppose they are significant; and you seem the only one likely to illuminate that career by understanding and sympathy.

DAME FELICITAS: Sassoon was never quite able to shake off the religious upbringing of his devout, Anglican mother, Theresa Thorneycroft. Experience was to teach him, as he later admitted that first found beliefs remain.

SASSOON: I got out my 1897 poems, given to my mother on her birthday. Here is The Passing. Really, really! Why that at the age of ten and a half?

O haggard, weary, life-worn soul
Pass on.
Through death hast past, through life hast struggled on.
Pass, into darkness, or the land above.
Methinks the grave must feel a colder bed.
Stanbrook Abbey
Stanbrook Abbey


DAME FELICITAS: It was June 1960 when I first met him on his first visit to Stanbrook.

SASSOON: Brian is a nippy driver in his little Austin 7, but we may not arrive before 1.15. There should be an hour of talk before Vespers, (which will give me a chance to rest in uplifted taciturnity). I will try not to feel nearly seventy-four.


DAME FELICITAS: About 1.30 the portress announced the arrival of 'Mr. Sassoon and Mr. Butler'. Lady Abbess and I went immediately to Parlour 1. We opened the sash of the grille shutter to discover a tall, spare figure with the emaciated face of an El Greco saint and the pent-up energy of a hydrogen bomb, accompanied by a cherubic youth in his early twenties, rosy-cheeked and placid - a nice foil.

After vespers he agreed to to read to the assembled community. He seemed to gather his listeners up with himself, to associate them with his own burning desire to express the inexpressible, to leave behind the complex shadows cast by earthly existence and enter into the simple and direct truth of God.

The Path to Peace
from The Path to Peace
printed at Stanbrook Abbey
by Dame Hildelith Cumming

The following is a recording of the poet's voice made at Stanbrook Abbey.

SASSOON: 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?

DAME FELICITAS: The audience retired, but the open parlour door revealed Dame Hildelith, patiently waiting with a large wad of printing samples, anxious to discuss the layout of the proposed Path to Peace. At 5.30 we did manage to exchange a few ideas.

SS's shyness gradually fel away. He used his over-illustrative hands freely, raised them to heaven in frenzies of despair, dropped them to his sides weighted with woe, twirled them in a merry roly poly, while the thin voice gathered strength and he forgot the heat and his bronchial tubes. He was twirling an empty pipe. He asked if he might smoke. Repressing a 'What will THEY say?' I replied 'Yes, of course'. So for a few minutes the virginal air of the monastic parlour was polluted with the delicious aroma of tobaco.

I hadn't smelt a pipe, since I sat beside my brother Harry at home, the night before I entered Stanbrook.


The Path to Peace
Callow End
or Hallow End?
Why call a village Callow End
That's able to mature and mend
The soul of one impulsive ass,
Befriended by Felicitas?

Nay, let the name in future be
Awarded H instead of C
And Hallow End on Worcester's map
Be writ by this old Wiltshire chap,
Who motored home with but one thought,
The blessings by dear Harry brought
Alone, yet mind accompanied still
By loving dames, beyond the grille.  
Carl Maria von Weber


SASSOON: I begin this to strains of the Freischutz Overture. What a happy composer Weber was. I enclose the 1906 poems, for your further information about my remote 20 year old self.
The first line of the first poem is, 'Doubt not the light of Heaven upon the soul'. Not a bad start.

Doubt not the light of Heaven upon the soul;
Doubt not the lyric passion, giving all
Desire and Hope and Wonder to its thrall;
           Doubt not the goal:

SASSOON: The poem ended:

Yet all our journey follows but a gleam
Elusive, and our steps forever bend
After the fleeting glimmer of a dream,
Who knows unto what end?

DAME FELICITAS: The verses published privately when he was twenty three are largely a derivative mass of experiments and can be dismissed for the most part as muusical, grandiloquent and mindless. Yet among them there is one, Before Day, a sonnet of exquisite perfection, written with seeming unawareness of its significance, all the poet's youth is in it.

Edward Marsh
Arts patron and civil servant,
Edward Marsh (standing)
with Winston Churchill
during an African journey
in 1907
COME in this hour to set my spirit free	 
When earth is no more mine though night goes out,	 
And stretching forth these arms I cannot be	 
Lord of winged sunrise and dim Arcady:	 
When fieldward boys far off with clack and shout	         
From orchards scare the birds in sudden rout,	 
Come, ere my heart grows cold and full of doubt,	 
In the still summer dawns that waken me.	 
When the first lark goes up to look for day	 
And morning glimmers out of dreams, come then	  
Out of the songless valleys, over grey	 
Wide misty lands to bring me on my way:	 
For I am lone, a dweller among men	 
Hungered for what my heart shall never say.

DAME FELICITAS: In 1913 the astrigent and creative criticism of Edward Marsh did much to transform Sassoon from poetester into poet. The war did the rest. Sassoon was twenty eight, when it broke out.

SASSOON: In the autumn of 1915 my brother, Hamo, was buried at sea after having been mortally wounded at Gallipoli - whom I had idly remembered as a little boy on a donkey. 'Don't let the donkeys eat the laurels", my mother had said to him. Laurels and donkeys. The donkeys who made the Great War were generous enough with their laurels, I thought.

Give me your hand, my brother, search my face;	 
Look in these eyes lest I should think of shame;	 
For we have made an end of all things base.	 
We are returning by the road we came.
Dan Leno
Dan Leno Arts Music Hall
Poster: 'With soldiers
like these to fall back on,
England will never be in danger'
Your lot is with the ghosts of soldiers dead,	         
And I am in the field where men must fight.	 
But in the gloom I see your laurell'd head	 
And through your victory I shall win the light.

SASSOON: I saw his death as a sacrifice in a noble cause, not as the Moloch of murdered youth that it became.


The House is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin  
And cackle at the Show, while prancing ranks  
Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din;  
'We're sure the Kaiser loves our dear old Tanks!' 


I'd like to see a Tank come down the stalls,
Lurching to rag-time tunes, or 'Home, sweet Home',  
And there'd be no more jokes in Music-halls  
To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.
Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen

DAME FELICITAS: In 1917 Wilffred Owen wrote in a big brotherly way to his sister, 'The Redeemer I have been wishing to write every week for the past three years.
Well, it has been done, and I have shaken the greater hand that did it.

Darkness: the rain sluiced down; the mire was deep;   
It was past twelve on a mid-winter night,
When peaceful folk in beds lay snug asleep;   
There, with much work to do before the light,   
We lugged our clay-sucked boots as best we might   
Along the trench; sometimes a bullet sang,   
And droning shells burst with a hollow bang;   
We were soaked, chilled and wretched, every one;   
Darkness; the distant wink of a huge gun.

I turned in the black ditch, loathing the storm;   
A rocket fizzed and burned with blanching flare,   
And lit the face of what had been a form   
Floundering in mirk. He stood before me there;   
I say that He was Christ; stiff in the glare,   
And leaning forward from His burdening task,   
Both arms supporting it; His eyes on mine   
Stared from the woeful head that seemed a mask   
Of mortal pain in Hell's unholy shine.

No thorny crown, only a woollen cap
He wore - an English soldier, white and strong,   
Who loved his time like any simple chap,   
Good days of work and sport and homely song;   
Now he has learned that nights are very long,   
And dawn a watching of the windowed sky.   
But to the end, unjudging, he'll endure   
Horror and pain, not uncontent to die   
That Lancaster on Lune may stand secure.

He faced me, reeling in his weariness,
Shouldering his load of planks, so hard to bear.   
I say that He was Christ, who wrought to bless   
All groping things with freedom bright as air,   
And with His mercy washed and made them fair.   
Then the flame sank, and all grew black as pitch,   
While we began to struggle along the ditch;   
And someone flung his burden in the muck,   
Mumbling: 'O Christ Almighty, now I'm stuck!'
Edward Elgar
Edward Elgar


SASSOON: My diary for January 1917 commemorates a concert in Liverpool, at which I heard Elgar's Violin Concerto for the first time. In all the noblest passages of this glorious work I shut my eyes, seeing on the darkness a shape always the same - the suffering mortal figure on a cross. And around it a host of shadowy forms with upraised arms - the souls of men, agonised and aspiring, hungry for what they seek as God in vastness and confoundment.

I have seen Christ when music wove
Exulting vision; storms of prayer
Deep-voiced within me marched and str
The sorrows of the world were there.

O music undeterred by death,
And darkness closing on your flame,
Christ whispers in your dying breath,
And haunts you with his tragic name.
The Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross

DAME FELICITAS: In 1917 Sassoon was shot through the throat. He was recommended for, but did not receive, the Victoria Cross. Back in London, very ill, he wrote to Robert Graves that whenever he went for a walk he saw corpses lying about on the pavements. He had many pacifist friends. In July he published a statement in the Bradford Pioneer.

SASSOON: Finished with the war: a soldier's declaration. 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 believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest.

DAME FELICITAS: The military authorities played the matter down, and sent him to Craiglockhart Hospital for shell shocked officers. In the autumn he was passed fit again and returned to France at the beginning of the following year.

SASSON: My infantry experiences were terminated on the 13th July 1918 by a bullet wound in the head. One evening in the middle of the following April, I had an experience that seems worth describing to those who are interested in methods of poetic production. It was sultry Spring night. I was feeling dull-minded and depressed, for no assignable reason. After sitting lethargically for about three hours after dinner, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing for it, but to take my useless brain to bed. On the way from the armchair to the door, I stood by the writing table. A few words had floated into my head as if from nowhere. Everyone Sang was composed without emotion and needed no alteration afterwards.

EVERYONE suddenly burst out singing;	 
And I was filled with such delight	 
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,	 
Winging wildly across the white	 
Orchards and dark-green fields; on-on-and out of sight.	         
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;	 
And beauty came like the setting sun:	 
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror	 
Drifted away ... O, but Everyone	 
Was a bird; and the song was endless; the singing will never be done.

DAME FELICITAS: 1918 to 1920 were years of extraordinary poetic output. As for To a Childless Woman, one is tempted to exclaim, 'how could he? It is almost too sacred, too intimate. What business had he to realise it, to write it?

SASSOON: As you say I don't know how I dared to write it, but out it came in 1919 when I was in a ferment of post-war emotional release. 'The enhaloed calm of everlasting Motherhood' - I rub my eyes when I read that line, so unknowingly prophetic, I who had never so much as bowed to Our Blessed Lady!

YOU think I cannot understand. Ah, but I do...	 
I have been wrung with anger and compassion for you.	 
I wonder if you'd loathe my pity, if you knew.	 
But you shall know. I've carried in my heart too long	 
This secret burden. Has not silence wrought your wrong -	         
Brought you to dumb and wintry middle-age, with grey	 
Unfruitful withering? - Ah, the pitiless things I say...	 
What do you ask your God for, at the end of day,	 
Kneeling beside your bed with bowed and hopeless head?	 
What mercy can He give you? - Dreams of the unborn	  
Children that haunt your soul like loving words unsaid -	 
Dreams, as a song half-heard through sleep in early morn?	 
I see you in the chapel, where you bend before	 
The enhaloed calm of everlasting Motherhood	 
That wounds your life; I see you humbled to adore	  
The painted miracle you've never understood.	 
Tender, and bitter-sweet, and shy, I've watched you holding	 
Another's child. O childless woman, was it then	 
That, with an instant's cry, your heart, made young again,	 
Was crucified for ever - those poor arms enfolding	  
The life, the consummation that had been denied you?	 
I too have longed for children. Ah, but you must not weep.	 
Something I have to whisper as I kneel beside you...	 
And you must pray for me before you fall asleep.
The Victoria Cross
At Algeciras, c. 1931
"Looks in need of interior assistance" - SS

SASSOON: To FC April 1964 A bonny boy at the BBC (Overseas Talks and Features) writes requesting an interview, 'I want to try and analyse the differences and similarities between the consequences expected and calculated by those influencing events at the time, and the real consequences in so far as as we can judge them 50 years on.' He is referring to the 1914-18 war. He wishes to record my views. One word suffices. Rats.

The world sends me nothing except requests for war poems. Why can't they realise that the war poems were improvised by an impulsive, intolerant, immature young creature, under the extreme stress of experience?

To Dame Hildelith Cumming 1964, Alone, written in 1924, has been one of my most successful poems.
I value it, because it was the first of my post-war poems, in which I discovered my mature mode of utterance.

"When I'm alone" - the words tripped off his tongue
As though to be alone were nothing strange.
"When I was young," he said; "when I was young..."

I thought of age, and loneliness, and change.
I thought how strange we grow when we're alone,
And how unlike the selves that meet and talk,
And blow the candles out, and say good night.

Alone... The word is life endured and known.
It is the stillness where our spirits walk
And all but inmost faith is overthrown.
Nancy Cunard
Nancy Cunard in 1928

DAME FELICITAS: At no time can the complex and complicated Siegfried Sassoon have been easy to live with. During the post-war years, until his marriage to Hester Gatty in 1933, a marriage to end all to soon in friendly separation, his mind was as chaotic as the world around him. He joined the Labour Party and for a year was Literary Editor of the Daily Herald, but Sassoon, the socialist, was most often found in the company of titled blokes and blokesses. He was suffering from a spiritual malaise, clearly evident in a poem such as A Breach of Decorum, founded on an incident at the house of Nancy Cunard.

I have seen a man at Lady Lucre's table
Who stuck to serious subjects; spoke of Art
As if he were in earnest and unable
To ascertian its function in the smart
World where it shares a recreational part
With Bridge, best-selling Fiction, and the Stable.

I have seen her fail, with petulant replies,
To localize him in his social senses:
I have observed her evening-party eyes
Evicted from their savoir-faire defences.
And while his intellectual gloom encroached
Upon the scintillance of champagne chatter,
In impotent embarrassment she broached
Golf, Goodward Races, and the Cowes Regatta.

The luncheon over, Lady Lucre's set
Lolled on her lawn and lacked an epithet
Sufficiently severe for such a creature . . .
'Such dreadful taste!' 'A positive blasphemer!'
'He actually referred to our Redeemer
As the world's greatest socialistic teacher!'
Heytesbury House
Heytesbury House

DAME FELICITAS: In 1927 he settled in Wiltshire, and on his marriage purchased the immense, rambling Heytesbury House near Wraminster with its paddock and woodlands. Here he led the life of a country squire and wrote most of his six volumes of autobiography. They are marked by a profound feeling for the innocence of youth and a nostalgia for an English way of life destroyed by war and scientific advances.


He liked horses, he said, because like himself, thay refused to move with the times.

SASSOON: To watch the day breaking from purple to dazzling gold, while we trotted up a deep-rutted lane; to inhale the early freshness when we were on the sheep-cropped uplands; to stare back at the low country with its cock-crowing farms and mist-coiled waterways; thus to be riding out with a sense of spacious discovery - was it not something stolen from the lie-a-bed world?

There were beech woods, too, in the folds of the downs, and lovely they looked in the mellow sunshine, with summer's foliage falling in ever-deepening drifts among their gnarled and mossy roots. There were beech woods, too, in the folds of the downs, and lovely they looked in the mellow sunshine, with summer's foliage falling in ever-deepening drifts among their gnarled and mossy roots.

Alive - and forty five - I jogged my way
Across a dull green day,
Listening to larks and plovers, well content
With the pre-Roman pack-road where I went.

Pastoral and pleasant was the end of May.
But readers of the times had cause to say
That skies were brighter for the late Victorians;
And 'The Black Thirties' were a sobriquet
Likely to head the chapters of historians.
War Plane Formation 1936
War Planes 1936


Above Stonhenge a drone of engines drew
My gaze; there seven and twenty war-planes flew
Manoeuvring in formation; and the drone
Of that neat-patterned hornet-gang was thrown
Across the golden downland like a blight.

Cities, I thought, will wait them in the night
When airmen, with high-minded motives, fight
To save Futurity.  In years to come
Poor panic-stricken hordes will hear that hum
And fear will be synonymous with flight.

DAME FELICITAS: In 1936 Siegried's son, George, was born. The Child at the Window was written in 1939.

Remember this when childhood's far away:
The sunlight of a showery first spring day;
You from your house-top window laughing down,
And I, returned with whip-cracks from a ride,
On the great lawn below you, playing the clown.
Time blots our gladness out.  Let this with love abide . . .

The brave March day: and you, not four years old,
Up in your nursery world - all heaven for me.
Remember this - the happiness I hold -
In far off springs I shall not live to see;
The world one map of wastening war unrolled,.
And you, unconscious of it, setting my spirit free.

For you must learn, beyond bewildering years,
How little things beloved and held are best.
The windows of the world are blurred with tears,
And troubles come like cloud-banks from the west.
Remember this, some afternoon in spring,
When your own child looks down, and makes your sad heart sing.
S.S. and his son George
S.S. and his son George

DAME FELICITAS: How analyze my feelings after I studied your letter? I could sense your deep sadness and isolation, hopes dashed, disappointments scarcely admitted, general frustration. In broad outline that is the pattern your life has followed, isn't it? It may spring from your own character. It may be God's predestined plan, probably both. I did so hope that grandchildren would would bring love and joy into your last years.

Sassoon published no poetry during the Second World War. He simply endured and in 1945 summed up his reactions in his terrible Litany of the Lost.

In breaking of belief in human good;
In slavedom of mankind to the machine;
In havoc of hideous tyranny withstood,
And terror of atomic doom foreseen;
Deliver us from ourselves.

Chained to the wheel of progress uncontrolled;
World masterers with a foolish froightened face;
Loud speakers, leaderless and sceptic-souled;
Aeroplane angels, crashed from glory and grace;
Deliver us from ourselves.

In blood and bone contentiousness of nations,
And commerce's competitive re-start,
Armed with our marvellous monkey innovations,
And unregenerate still in head and heart;
Deliver us from ourselves.

DAME FELICITAS: The poems written between 1948 and 1956 he called Sequences. The title is a technical one, a musical sequence, the repetition of a definite group of notes in different positions on a scale is a vital element in musical form, and powerfully suggests how Sassoon manipulated his ideas.

SASSOON: Resurrection, written in March 1949 when I was 63, was the first spiritual poem in Sequences, by which I mean the first that cried out for the living God in me.

Suppose some quiet afternoon in spring,
The hour of judgement came
For me and my mistakes when journeying
Along with that defence for nullity, my name.

Suppose while sauntering in the primrosed wood,
To body and soul's dispute a voice cried halt,
And I that instant stood
Absolved of unfulfilment and esssential fault.

Suppose this resurrection, this release,
This self-surrender wrought;
And the word heard within, Depart in peace;
Take to the everlasting all that time has taught . . .
What, for the spiritual service some foresee
Beyond probational breath,
Would then emerge from marred and mystic me
To stand with those white presences delivered through death?

DAME FELICITAS: No longer is God a pantheistic abstraction out there in starlit infinity. He is a living person and he is within man's very self. To pass from one conception of God to the other must involve a crisis in any spiritual life.

SASSOON: Diary December 26th 1949. If the Almighty exists, what help does He give me on my journey to the grave? Has He made it any easier to get through the trials and tribulations of the last years? Bertrand Russel says that 'unyielding despair' is the only basis we can live on now. His attitude is understandable.

I thought; These multitudes we hold in mind -
The host of souls redeeemed -
Out of the abysm of the ages came -
Out of the spirit of man - devised or dreamed.

I thought; To the invisible I am blind;
No angels tread my nights with feet of flame;
No mystery is mine -
No whisper from that world beyond my sense.

I think; if through some chink in me could shine
But once - O but one ray
From that all-hallowing and eternal day.
Asking no more of Heaven I would go hence.

SASSOON: Diary 29th March 1951. I muddle along, still trying to evolve my spiritual faith.
I have thought about God much more intensely than ever before and the process is different. No rhapsodic excitement, no delighted sense of finding expression. Just a concentration of the mind with no preconceptions. The process apppears to be authentic.

Nobody knows
Whither our delirium of invention goes.
Who turned toward time to come
Alone with heart-beats, marching to that muffled drum.
Nobody hears
Bells from beyond the silence of the years
That wait for those unborn.
O God within me, speak from your mysterious morn.

Speak, through the few,
Your light of life to nourish us anew.
Speak, for our world possessed
By demon influences of evil and unrest.
Act, as of old,
That we some dawnlit destiny may behold
From this doom-darkened place.
O move in mercy among us.  Grant accepted grace.
Sic Sedebat
Sic Sedebat

DAME FELICITAS: There is a photograph taken in 1952 in his library, which he has labelled Sic sedebat - thus used he to sit. He is leaning forward, seated on the end of a low divan, his head illumined in a spurt of flame from a small, newly-fed log fire. The hands are clasped, the dark, thick hair ruffled, the eyebrows raised questioningly, the eyes lined and tired, the whole face havocked, and trenched with deep lines of pain and dejection.

He might be sitting as a model for the prophet Jeremiah.

I know a night of stars within me;
Through eyes of dream I have perceived
Blest apparitions who would win me
Home to what innocence believed.

I know a universe beyond me;
Power that pervades the fluctuant soul,
Signalling my brain it would unbond me
And make heart's imperfection whole.

I, the chance-comer from creation,
Blind subject to defending day;
I, this blithe structure of sensation,
Prisoned and impassioned by my clay.

SASSOON: What worries me is the spectacle these poems present, of someone turning away from the business of life, as though nothing else mattered except his soul. Humanity in general not admitted, is the notice posted on the poet's door. Mr Sassoon is too busy with his spiritual problems to receive visitors or undertake any commentaries on what is happening in the outside world. The Wiltshire minor prophet is composing his ultimate banalities about the back of beyond.

This making is a mystery.  Me He made
 And left to build my being as best I could:
 A child afraid who for protection prayed,
 Worsted by wrong, but wanting to grow good,
 A man betrayed yet blessed by circumstance,
 Seeking self-knowledge, learning through mistake,
 To shaped experience half compelled by chance.
 What work was His, where mind itself must make?
 It is He that hath made us, and not we,
 Ourselves. One moment's aftercome I live,
 Flawed with inherited humanity,
 And fooled by imperfections wrought through race.
 This He first fashioned; this He can forgive
 When granting His unapprehended grace.

SASSOON: To FC 5th August 1960. It amazes me to look back on it. I never said a prayer, never consulted any religious book, or thought about doctrine; just went blindly on clinging to the idea of God, unable to believe that salvation applied to me, though firmly convinced of the existence of a spiritual world and a heaven above. Again and again in these past years, I've asked myself how I endured it. Faith Unfaithful was my last word in March 1954.

Mute, with signs I speak:
Blind, by groping seek:
Heed; yet nothing hear:
Feel; find no one near.

Deaf, eclipsed, and dumb,
Through this gloom I come
On the time-path trod
Toward ungranted God.

Carnal, I can claim
Only His known name.
Dying, can but be
One with Him in me.

Siegfried Sassoon: Poet's Pilgrimage Part 2

   Poetry Page

   Home Page