Welcome back to Douglas Murray’s Sunday column, Things Worth Remembering, where he presents passages from great poets he has committed to memory—and explains why you should, too. To listen to Douglas read the most stirring lines from Siegfried Sassoon’s “Everyone Sang,” click below:
Writing from the front lines of the current conflict in Israel, I am perhaps inevitably still thinking of war, and the war poets. This weekend also marks Remembrance Day in Great Britain, and the wider Commonwealth—the day when we remember the sacrifice of previous generations in the two world wars. But to think of the armistice, the end of hostilities, which came on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 is also to think of the possibilities of peace in our own day. And it allows us to remember, among other things, that our species has been at even sharper precipices in the past.
In early 1917, the poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a letter, published in The Times of London, criticizing the British government’s conduct in the First World War. Specifically, he accused those who had the power to end the war of “deliberately prolong[ing]” it. He also accused the public of “callous complacence” over “agonies which they do not share.”
It was an explosion of a letter, not least because as well as being a published author, Sassoon had received the Military Cross for his gallantry under fire. It was hard to call him a coward.
Ordinarily, he would have been court-martialed and could have been executed, but various friends stepped in, and Sassoon was instead treated as though he were mentally ill—and sent to Craiglockhart Hospital, in a little village near Edinburgh.