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Siegfried Sassoon

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English Literature

Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) was an English soldier, author, and poet. He served in World War I. He is known today for his war poems. Sassoon's poetry often criticised and expressed anger towards those whom he believed caused the War. Let's take a look at Siegfried Sassoon's life and death, poetry, and their themes.

Siegfried Sassoon's Life

Before we consider Sassoon's poems, let's look at his life.

Siegfried Sassoon: Before the War

Siegfried Sassoon was born in Matfield, Kent (in England) on 8th September 1886. His mother, Theresa, was Anglo-Catholic, while his father George Ezra was of Jewish origin. Siegfried Sassoon attended New Beacon School in Kent, then pursued further education at Marlborough College. Sassoon then studied law at Clare College, Cambridge University, but left without obtaining a degree. Instead, Sassoon focused on his writing, both poetry and prose, and published his first volume of poems in 1906.

Siegfried Sassoon: War begins

World War I began in 1914, and Siegfried Sassoon joined in 1915. His younger brother was killed during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915. As a soldier, Siegfried Sassoon was well known for his acts of bravery, which were considered reckless and even, at times, suicidal, resulting in his being called 'Mad Jack'. For his courage and determination, Siegfried Sassoon was awarded the Military Cross in 1916.

Siegfried Sassoon: return home

Siegfried Sassoon was wounded in April 1917, and returned home to recuperate. He had time to reflect on his experiences of the War, and began to express his grievances and discontentment. In July 1917, Sassoon wrote 'Finished with the War: A Soldier's Declaration', in which he criticised military authorities as well as the government for the suffering of the soldiers on the front line. Sassoon also criticised those on the home front whom he regarded as complacent, and whom he believed could not fully understand the horrors and the agonies of war faced by soldiers.

I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it ... I have seen and endured the suffering 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.1

This declaration was read out in parliament, and as a result, Siegfried Sassoon was sent for court-martial. In other words, Sassoon was to be tried for being a conscientious objector and faced possible execution. One of his friends and fellow writers, Robert Graves, managed to prevent Sassoon from this fate, however, and explained that Sassoon's protest was the result of shell-shock (known today as Post-traumatic stress disorder, or, PTSD).

After this, Siegfried Sassoon was sent to Edinburgh to be treated at Craiglockhart War Hospital, which specialised in the treatment of shell-shock along with a variety of other psychiatric conditions. At Craiglockhart, Siegfried Sassoon met and befriended fellow soldier and poet Wilfred Owen. Both poets encouraged the creativity of the other and shared ideas for poetry, but Siegfried Sassoon also acted as a mentor to Owen, who wrote what are considered today two of his most famous poems - 'Dulce et Decorum Est', and 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' whilst at Craiglockhart.

Siegfried Sassoon: back on the front lines

Despite his previous objections to the War, Siegfried Sassoon returned to the front in 1918. After the War ended, Sassoon returned home and continued his writing career. In 1928, Sassoon published The George Sherston Trilogy Series, a collection of three novels centred on protagonist George Sherston. The novels capture the journey of the young Sherston first joining the War, followed by the loss of his innocence, and the brutal truths and realities he endures as part of War life.

Siegfried Sassoon: cause of death

In 1933, Siegfried Sassoon fell in love with and married Hester Gatty, and together they had a son, George, born in 1936. However, the marriage ended in divorce in 1945. Siegfried Sassoon continued his writing career, writing both poetry and prose, and eventually converted to Catholicism in 1957. Siegfried Sassoon died on the 1st September 1967 from stomach cancer. He is buried in Mells, Somerset (England), in the churchyard of St Andrews Church.

Siegfried Sassoon's Poetry

Let's now consider some of Sassoon's poetry.

Siegfried Sassoon: 'Glory of Women'

In the poem 'Glory of Women', Sassoon criticises the attitudes of those at home towards the War and the soldiers fighting, in particular, their attitudes of women. He uses a sarcastic tone to mock what he considered to be misguided patriotism, and even more than that, the propaganda which led thousands of men to their deaths.

You can't believe that British troops "retire"

When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run,

Trampling the terrible corpses - blind with blood (Sassoon, l.9-11)

Siegfried Sassoon: 'The Hero'

In 'The Hero', Sassoon again explores the patriotic attitudes of many of those on the home front. He portrays what he believed to be misplaced and idealised notions of honour and bravery, which were ultimately futile in the face of countless dead soldiers. This poem serves to highlight that through all of the propaganda and the romanticised depictions of war, the sharp and cutting pain of loss remained.

"The Colonel writes so nicely." Something broke

In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.

She half looked up. "We mothers are so proud

Of our dead soldiers." Then her face was bowed (Sassoon, l.3-6)

Siegfried Sassoon: 'The General'

'The General' serves as a direct criticism by Sassoon of military authority during the War. During World War I, the majority of officers and those of higher rank were from the middle-upper classes, while the majority of those who were injured or killed were from the working class. This disparity was recognised by Sassoon, who used sarcasm to depict the way in which soldiers were being sent to their deaths on the front line by those of higher rank, but who saw little or no action during the War.

"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 (Sassoon, l.1-3)

Siegfried Sassoon: 'The Rear Guard'

'The Rear Guard' uses vivid imagery and rather grim descriptions to illustrate the true horrors of war. It follows a soldier's journey, when he comes across another soldier. He initially believes the soldier to be asleep, but is soon faced with the gruesome truth that the soldier is in fact dead, and has been for quite some time now.

"Savage, he kicked a soft, unanswering heap,

And flashed his beam across the livid face

Terribly glaring up, whose eyes yet wore

Agony dying hard of ten days before (Sassoon, l.14-17)

Themes in Siegfried Sassoon's works

War

In particular, World War I and the many horrors that soldiers experienced. Siegfried Sassoon's writings were usually anti-war.

Death

The death of soldiers, those behind the orchestration of these deaths, and the experience of loss itself.

Anger/ sarcasm

This is a recurring theme; Sassoon uses anger and sarcasm to criticise military authority, the government, and those who were ignorant about the sufferings of soldiers.

Compassion

Sassoon demonstrates compassion towards his fellow soldiers, especially showing empathy for the experiences they faced.

Futility

Especially the futility of war, and the inexcusable and unjustifiable sacrifices of soldiers.

Home/ the home front

A criticism of the propaganda used, encouraging young men to join the war effort. Sassoon felt that many at home were ignorant about what exactly they were joining - the deaths of countless, innocent men.

Siegfried Sassoon: Key takeaways

  • Sassoon was an English soldier, author, and poet.
  • He was born in Matfield, Kent (England) on the 8th September 1886.
  • During his time as a soldier, he was known for acts of bravery, which were considered reckless and even, at times, suicidal.
  • Many of his works, both poetry and prose, feature anti-war themes and express anger and criticism towards the government, those at home, and the military authorities.
  • He died on the 1st September 1967 from stomach cancer.
  • He is buried in Mells, Somerset (England), in the churchyard of St Andrews Church.

  • 1. Siegfried Sassoon, 'Finished with the War: A Soldier's Declaration', 1917

Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon joined the army in 1915 

Siegfried Sassoon died from stomach cancer 

As a soldier, Siegfried Sassoon was famous for his acts of bravery. As a poet, he was famous for his anti-war poems.

Siegfried Sassoon died on the 1st September 1967 

Siegfried Sassoon was an English soldier, author, and poet. 

Final Siegfried Sassoon Quiz

Question

When did Siegfried Sassoon join the army? 

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Answer

Siegfried Sassoon joined the army in 1915 

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Question

How did Siegfried Sassoon die? 

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Answer

Siegfried Sassoon died from stomach cancer 

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Question

What was Siegfried Sassoon famous for?

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Answer

As a soldier, Siegfried Sassoon was famous for his acts of bravery which were reckless and at times suicidal. As a poet, he was famous for his anti-war poems in which he expressed anger and criticism towards war, the government, those at home, and military authority 

Show question

Question

When did Siegfried Sassoon die? 


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Answer

Siegfried Sassoon died on the 1st September 1967 

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Question

Who was Siegfried Sassoon? 


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Answer

Siegfried Sassoon was an English soldier, author, and poet

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Question

What title was given to Siegfried Sassoon for his reckless and even, at times, suicidal acts of bravery? 

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Answer

'Mad Jack' 

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Question

Where is Siegfried Sassoon buried? 


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Answer

He is buried in Mells, Somerset (England), in the churchyard of St Andrews Church

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Question

Who did Siegfried Sassoon often criticise in his writings? 


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Answer

The government, those at home, and military authority 

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Question

Where was Siegfried Sassoon's declaration 'Finished with the War: A Soldier's Declaration' read out? 


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Answer

In parliament

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Question

Which hospital was Siegfried Sassoon treated in for shell-shock? 


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Answer

Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh

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Question

Who did Siegfried Sassoon meet and befriend in Craiglockhart War Hospital? 


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Answer

Fellow soldier and poet Wilfred Owen 

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Question

When did Siegfried Sassoon publish his first volume of poems? 


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Answer

In 1906

Show question

Question

What is the name of the trilogy series Siegfried Sassoon published? 


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Answer

The George Sherston Trilogy Series 

Show question

Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from? 


"You can't believe that British troops "retire" 

When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run, 

Trampling the terrible corpses - blind with blood" (Sassoon, l.9-11)

Show answer

Answer

'Glory of Women'

Show question

Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from? 


"The Colonel writes so nicely." Something broke 

In the tired voice that quavered to a choke. 

She half looked up. "We mothers are so proud 

Of our dead soldiers." Then her face was bowed" (Sassoon, l.3-6)

Show answer

Answer

'The Hero'

Show question

Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from? 


"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" (Sassoon, l.1-3)

Show answer

Answer

'The General'

Show question

Question

Which poem are the following lines taken from? 


"Savage, he kicked a soft, unanswering heap,  

And flashed his beam across the livid face 

Terribly glaring up, whose eyes yet wore 

Agony dying hard of ten days before" (Sassoon, l.14-17)

Show answer

Answer

'The Rear Guard'

Show question

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