I just read a review of another biography of Siegfried Sassoon, the World War I poet, in the New York Times. (I won’t link to it since it requires registration.) I’ve never read Sassoon but the reviewer, Daniel Swift, quotes a few lines of his long poem, “The Old Huntsman.” It’s excellent and I may have to read him.
I never broke
Out of my blundering self into the world.
But let it all go past me, like a man
Half asleep in a land that’s full of wars.
He has that “legato” often ascribed to Sassoon’s friend, the poet Wilfred Owen, who is, I think, the best war poet who ever lived and one of my favorite poets of any kind. I read him initially around the time of the first Gulf War, and have since read all his poetry. Here is one of my favorites by him. (The other is “Dulce Et Decorum Est.”)
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
The summer before last, when S. and I went to Europe the last time, I saw a draft of that poem in the British Library, with Sasoon’s hand-written notes to Owen! Here’s what I wrote in my European Journal about it.
Just visited the Ritblat Gallery where we saw a first draft of “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen with Siegfried Sasson’s remarks penciled in. Thought I was going to bawl or faint.
Of course, no homage could be better than the version of the poem, “translated” by the “poet” Bob Folder.
Sampan for Spooned Moose
What nasty smells for these who fly as squirrels?
Only the monstrous tang of the gum.
Only the muttering ribald splatter
Can pitter-patter out the tasty onion buns.
No rocketry now for them; no crazy as hell.
Nor tiny vase for whoring enslaves the choirs—
The real demonic sauce of the willing snails;
And bagels mauling them like tiny tires.
What candies may be smelled to feed their balls?
Not in a randy Troy, their butts tell lies.
Small spices, the lowly grammas of my eyes,
The squalor of squirrels shall see them crawl;
The showers on bended knees of venetian blinds,
A leech slam dunks the chaw plug of the mind.