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Remorse

August 31, 2009, 8:39 pm

On September 1, 1967, Siegfried Sassoon died, aged 80. He had a long and productive career as poet, novelist and memoirist, but he is remembered chiefly as one of the fine group of English poets of the First World War (along with Rupert Brooke, Israel Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, and above all Edward Thomas). For a sample of his wartime work, take “Remorse”:

Lost in the swamp and welter of the pit,
He flounders off the duck-boards; only he knows
Each flash and spouting crash,–each instant lit
When gloom reveals the streaming rain. He goes
Heavily, blindly on. And, while he blunders,
‘Could anything be worse than this?’–he wonders,
Remembering how he saw those Germans run,
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees:
Green-faced, they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror, clutching at his knees…
Our chaps were sticking ’em like pigs … ‘O hell!’
He thought–’there’s things in war one dare not tell
Poor father sitting safe at home, who reads
Of dying heroes and their deathless deeds.’

(Written at Craiglockhart Hydropathic, familiar to readers of Pat Barker.)

A few days ago, Ari noted that William Calley had offered a surprising apology for the massacre at My Lai. Gary Farber digs deeper in a recent, probing post — just in case you thought the massacre might have been a matter of a few bad apples, or might not have had bearing on questions in the air today.

(Also on Sept. 1, 1967,  Ilse Koch, “die Hexe von Buchenwald”, hanged herself in prison, whether with remorse or not I do not know.)

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