Life for Siegfried Sassoon began as a blithe sail through a sea of privileged ease—foxhunting and playing cricket—until he found himself mired in the mud and rat-infested trenches of World War I. It was one of history’s deadliest wars, and Sassoon lost many dear friends before its conclusion. Indeed, virtually everyone in Britain lost one or more family members.
Ten years after surviving the war, Sassoon—twice decorated for bravery and finally wounded—wrote Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man, then Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and, finally, Sherston’s War, to complete his well-known trilogy. I’m always moved while reading even the innocent moments of Fox-Hunting Man—the parts before the war—knowing that while writing the book he’d already been tempered and aged by his wartime experiences and personal losses. One can almost feel him reaching back to recapture the simplicity of a time that, for him and his generation, had passed forever.
Foxhunting, as many cavalry leaders insisted, prepared Englishmen for war by imparting the skill and daring to ride hard across the country. After Sassoon’s experience in World War I, as a foxhunting man he agreed with the cavalry’s proposition, but had discovered to his lifelong dismay that nothing could have prepared anyone for the true horror of war.
In the thoughtful and well-researched article following this Blog, Charles Caramello, professor of English at University of Maryland, reviews and dissects Sassoon’s prose in the context of its history, and explains how the writer morphed from a carefree foxhunter into an anti-war activist and literary giant. Caramello’s article on Sassoon comes from the final chapter of a book he is completing on horsemanship, cavalry and the Great War.
Foxhunting Life has published samples of Sasson’s Sherston trilogy in past articles, but none of his poetry. Here’s one as an introduction—a poem of the sporting field. The great majority, however, are sober and somber recollections of war.
What the Captain Said at the Point-to-Point
by Siegfried Sassoon
I’ve had a good bump round; my little horse
Refused the brook first time,
Then jumped it prime;
And ran out at the double,
But of course
There’s always trouble at a double:
And then—I don’t know how
It was—he turned it up
At that big, hairy fence before the plough;
And some young silly pup
(I don’t know which),
Near as a toucher knocked me into the ditch;
But we finished full of running, and quite sound:
And anyhow I’ve had a good bump round.
Posted March 22, 2019