Siegfried Sassoon

There is no literature on the radio in the mornings this week, at least no stories, as such. It is all about the First World War, understandably so. A hundred years, so long and yet not so. I studied Wilfred Owen poetry for my A level English Literature, though what I made of it then, an innocent, unworldly, not yet sixteen-year-old God knows. I remember finding it hard, unrelenting, unbeautiful. And so did he. Listening to the letters he wrote from The Front to his mother – in one he complains of the ugliness of it. The endless ugliness. Scratch the surface and we are just that, a mass of blood, shit and innards. What must it have been like? I cannot imagine, such degradation. And yet, he still finds things to be amused by, be grateful for – such as his sojourns in hospital, the rest in a bed. But the longing to be home is palpable. Home takes on such significance when one is in such despair and so far away. He imagines his mother going to church, the trees in leaf, the bells. The red light on the war memorial touches me as I walk, Owen’s words and now Siegfried Sassoon’s (for there was a programme about him too) in my head. It was a delightful programme, the premise being that an old friend of his, an ex-schoolteacher, Dennis Silk (I think), re-visits Sassoon’s old home and recounts taping him reading his poetry. He recalls seeing him for the first time at a cricket match, his trousers six inches too short. Sassoon’s voice is elegant, restrained. I’m no sound engineer, says Silk. You can hear him draw in breath as he begins each war poem, says Silk, and the tap of his pipe on the fender. And you can. I love such intimacy.

All this in my head swirling mixing with my own inner insignificant wranglings. We are such a mess of weight and silliness, poignancy and mawkishness. Sometimes I cannot like myself and then I turn a corner and there is something like peace.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.