• If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
  • I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
  • And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
  • You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
  • Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
  • Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young-chap,’
  • I’d say — ‘I used to know his father well;
  • Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
  • And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
  • I’d toddle safely home and die — in bed.

Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) is an important British poet and memoirist. The bitterness of “Base Details,” published in his collection Counter-Attack and Other Poems in 1918, reflects Sassoon’s disillusionment with the First World War, for which he had originally volunteered. Famous for his bravery in battle, Sassoon was nicknamed “Mad Jack” by the men of the company he commanded. But in 1917, having seen war’s horrors, having mourned the death of a dear friend who had been killed in battle, and having realized that Great Britain was not an innocent victim but was instead fighting a war of aggression and conquest, Sassoon declined to return to duty at the end of a convalescent leave. Encouraged by pacifist friends such as the philosopher Bertrand Russell, he sent a letter to his commanding officer entitled Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration. Forwarded to the press and read out in Parliament, his statement declared: “I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority.” After the war, Sassoon became literary editor of the socialist Daily Herald and eventually published highly acclaimed fictionalized memoirs, two volumes of genuine autobiography, and a novel, as well as a good deal of distinguished poetry.

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