Sunday, March 29, 2009

I am rich in all that I have lost

When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
   O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free,
   And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
   Across the carolling meadows into June.

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
   O star shine on the fields of long-ago,
   Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
   Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
   And silence; and the faces of my friends.
This is 'Memory' by Siegfried Sassoon, from Picture Show, (Cambridge, 1919). It is the xxxx poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

Sassoon privately published the first edition of Picture Show in an edition of 200 copies. The book has only 34 leaves.

{A Browning automatic pistol that Sassoon purchased because he had little respect for Colt service revolver which the British Army issued to its officers. This photo is not directly related to the poem. He wrote that he would use the pistol to shoot himself rather than suffer a lingering death if he should be wounded in no-man's land. Unlike many contemporaries, he survived WWI and lived to experience the emotion described in this poem. source: Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum* }

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

Picture-show, by Siegfried Sassoon (New York, E. P. Dutton & Company, 1920).


The website of the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum says:
The service issue revolvers of the First World War were large and clumsy, intended for use in the confines of trench or bunker - or as a last resort. Not surprisingly, wealthy officers sometimes purchased smaller, handier, examples for themselves, with semi-automatic pistols being especially popular.

One such officer was renowned poet and author Siegfried Sassoon. As he confides in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930):
..I was weary of my Colt revolver, with which I knew I couldn't hit anything, although I had blazed it off a few times in the dark when I was pretending to be important in No-Man's Land. The only object I could be sure of hitting was myself.
But it wasn't simply the inaccuracy of the revolver as an offensive weapon which troubled Sassoon. Like many others, he was appalled by the prospect of a slow death "lying out in a shell-hole with something more serious than a Blighty wound". In such circumstances, he reasoned, it would be necessary to end it all quickly, while "to blow one's brains out with that clumsy Colt was unthinkable". With this grim prospect in mind, Sassoon purchased a 7.62mm Browning semi-automatic from the London branch of the Army and Navy Stores in March 1916, on his way back from leave to France.

Rumours of a massive summer offensive also prompted Sassoon's purchase, and as he left the idyllic Kent of his childhood he wondered whether he would ever return again.

Over the next two and half years Sassoon served variously with the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Royal Welch Fusiliers, in France and Flanders and with the 25th Battalion in Palestine and France.

When out on patrol in No Man's Land, Sassoon wrote that he would clutch the Browning pistol in his breeches pocket for reassurance, no doubt helping to give an outward appearance of calm.

Although twice wounded (once in the head) Sassoon never needed to use the pistol for the desperate purpose he had intended. After the war he gave it to a fellow officer, who later emigrated to Australia. After many years, the pistol returned to Wales and can be seen today on display in the Regimental Museum, clearly engraved 'S. Sassoon 1 RWF'.

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