Considered as physical objects, too, they accrue the fascination of having travelled with the writer through the events described in their pages. The notebooks kept by the soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon during his service in the British Army in the First World War are among the most remarkable documents of their kind, and provide an extraordinary insight into his participation in one of the defining conflicts of European history.
Cambridge University Library holds the world's richest assemblage of Sassoon's manuscripts and archival papers. Accumulated from various sources over the course of several decades, the collection was magnificently augmented in with the acquisition of the papers formerly retained in the possession of Sassoon's only child, George.
About this journal
A gifted diarist, Sassoon kept a journal for most of his life, and the papers include a run stretching from to At the heart of this series are the war diaries, a fascinating resource for the study of the literature of the First World War which enables a fresh analysis of Sassoon's experience of the catastrophic war which influenced him profoundly. Sufficiently wealthy not to need to work, he adopted a life of sporting leisure and bookish versifying until the outbreak of war propelled him into the role of soldier-poet.
Sassoon enlisted as a trooper in the Sussex Yeomanry on 4 August , but later took a commission in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Despatched to France towards the end of , he served with conspicuous physical courage, being awarded the Military Cross in June for recovering wounded men under fire.
Language and Literature
At the outset of war Sassoon was an ambitious and enthusiastic warrior, but by his first-hand knowledge of the horrors of trench warfare, and his anger at the needless suffering of his men and the ruinous waste of life which characterized battles such as the Somme and Arras, had led to a fundamental change of attitude. This development was reflected in his increasingly well-regarded poetry, the tone of which had grown gradually more bitter as the War progressed.
With language incorporating soldierly slang, his poems began to employ sardonic or sarcastic twists, deliberately devised to disturb the complacency of the civilian population at home. While recuperating in Britain from a wound sustained at Arras, Sassoon drafted his 'Soldier's Declaration', a statement outlining his objections to the continuation of the War.
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Made as 'an act of wilful defiance of military authority', it detailed his refusal to return to duty and his belief that the war was being 'deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it'. His protest achieved national prominence when the statement was read in Parliament and printed in The Times.
Under the guidance of Rivers, Sassoon resolved to atone for the perceived abandonment of his men by resuming his duties as an officer. He served in Palestine and France during the last year of the War, before a further wound in July brought his active contribution to a close. While he continued to write poetry for the rest of his life and wrote a series of critically acclaimed autobiographical memoirs, Sassoon's reputation remains primarily that of a war poet.
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The anger, compassion and bitter realism of his poems still resonate today, urging us still, a hundred years on, to 'swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget'. This digitised collection makes available online for the first time 23 of Sassoon's journals from the years and , and two poetry notebooks from containing rough drafts and fair copies of his war poems. Unlike edited printed transcriptions, the digitisations allow the viewer to form a thorough sense of the nature of the physical documents.
Kaur writes movingly about immigration, domestic violence, sexual assault and other substantial subjects, though she follows quickly with self-empowerment affirmations to alleviate the sting. These poets, on the other hand, print the paraphrase. They are also aimed at nontraditional readers, who may think of poetry as the literary equivalent of opera or ballet, a privileged-white-male establishment hostile to their interests.
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Kaur has said her style grew in part out of her struggles when she was learning English after moving to Canada, wanting her work to be accessible to such readers. Fights about artistic tastes are nearly always about submerged social hostilities — putting down the audiences as much as the artists.
Meanwhile, the latest National Endowment for the Arts survey of arts participation, released in , found that the number of Americans who had read at least one poem in the past year had declined by 45 percent between and , down to 6.