Seven previously unpublished works by war poet Siegfried Sassoon have been found in the Cambridge University Library. The poems were discovered in a 1916 trench diary of the Clare College alumnus, by biographer Dr Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Written in January and February of 1916, the poems have the potential to transform study of Sassoon’s work. Whilst his poetry is best known for its bitter indictment of sentimentalised warfare, the newly discovered verse suggests an earlier idealism.
Sassoon was one of the most iconic poets of the First World War, fighting in France in 1915, and receiving a Military Cross for bravery. His initial patriotism gave way to disillusionment, as he captured the gruesome turbulence of the trenches in his ironically lyrical verse. Spending time at Craiglockhart War Hospital suffering with shellshock, he met and influenced the prolific fellow wartime poet, Wilfred Owen.
Wilson expressed surprise at the content of the newly discovered poetry, comparing the pieces to the Homeric romanticism of earlier war poet Rupert Brooke. The “host of swords in harmony” found among the new lines starkly contrasts his satirical ‘Suicide in the Trenches,’ where war is depicted as ‘the hell where youth and laughter go.’
Wilson believes the discovery could have consequences beyond literary criticism. Telling the BBC that the public “remember the war mainly though the poetry,” Wilson asserts “the imaginative understanding of this experience is as important…as the military historian’s facts.”
The discovery is particularly pertinent in the wake of Remembrance Sunday, as millions paused to remember the fallen. As Wilson suggests, the war poets bridge the gap between the modern generation and an increasingly distant past.