The Sunday Poem
Siegfried Sassoon: Ancient History
There is an impression that Siegfried Sassoon's savagely bitter First World War poems had the effect of turning public opinion against further participation in the conflict. Nothing could be further than the truth.
No doubt taking their cue from higher up, the literary establishment decided to ignore them completely and the two volumes he published while a serving soldier remained un-reviewed and unread. There is also an impression that when he ceased to feel the emotions that the waste and mismanagement of the war inspired in him, he ceased to be a poet. This is also untrue. Sassoon went on writing poems for the rest of his life, some of them of a profoundly reflective nature which had little to do with his wartime experiences. This one perhaps had. There is no winner in the Cain and Abel story.
Adam, a brown old vulture in the rain,
Shivered below his wind-whipped olive-trees;
Huddling sharp chin on scarred and scraggy knees,
He moaned and mumbled to his darkening brain;
'He was the grandest of them all -- was Cain!'
'A lion laired in the hills, that none could tire;
'Swift as a stag; a stallion of the plain,
'Hungry and fierce with deeds of huge desire.'
Grimly he thought of Abel, soft and fair --
A lover with disaster in his face,
And scarlet blossom twisted in bright hair.
'Afraid to fight; was murder more disgrace?...
'God always hated Cain' ... He bowed his head --
The gaunt wild man whose lovely sons were dead.
-- Siegfried Sassoon