Published: 17 November 2011
Unseen poems by Siegfried Sassoon were revealed to the public for the first time this week.
Several of the unpublished pieces, penned by iconic First World War poet Sassoon in 1916 from the trenches of the Somme, were read by Camden Town author Dr Jean Moorcroft Wilson at the Imperial War Museum as part of Remembrance ceremonies on Saturday.
Dr Moorcroft Wilson, Sassoon’s biographer, discovered the seven poems in a trench diary buried deep in the archives at Cambridge University.
She said: “I’d read a reference to them but I didn’t know where they were as they weren’t where they were supposed to be. So I searched and searched and finally tracked them down in the trench diary of 1916, it’s very exciting.”
The poems show a different side of Sassoon as his views fluctuates between believing that war is heroic and his famous critical view of conflict.
Dr Moorcroft Wilson said: “You would have expected him to be increasingly anti-war, instead of which you can see how reluctantly he gives up the idea of war being glorious.”
She said that the new poems were filled with the nobility of war and the “chivalric idea of Sir Galahad”.
“Sassoon gives up the idea that war is glorious very reluctantly and only after quite a number of poems that sound just like Rupert Brooke,” said Dr Moorcroft Wilson.
First World War poet’s verses from trenches discovered by Camden author Jean Moorcroft Wilson
The meeting, which included a rousing talk from the historian Max Arthur, was organised by the Siegfried Sassoon Society and plotted the change in Sassoon’s poetry as the realities of war became inescapable.
It focused on the Battle of Mametz Wood, a critical turning point in Sassoon’s poetry when he started to write satirical condemnations of conflict, such as The Redeemer and Suicide Soldier, for which he is so well-known.
“When he got to Mametz Wood and saw what slaughter there was, I think it really turned him,” said Dr Moorcroft Wilson.
Despite his opposition to war Sassoon continued to fight in the Battle of the Somme and his heroic actions won him the Military Cross.
Mr Arthur, author of Forgotten Voices, said that British soldiers were still fighting “hand to hand, night and day” experiencing similar challenges faced by Sassoon and his comrades 93 years ago, despite advances in technology and weaponry.
He added: “Literature can guide people to the horrors of war and the losses, in particular the significance of the loss to families and friends, to the individual.”
Dr Moorcroft Wilson added: “When people are encouraging this idea of going to war they should read Sassoon’s poetry first, as it appeals to the imagination in the way nothing else does.”