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Aftermath by Siegfried Sassoon

Aftermath by Siegfried Sassoon

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

Sassoon wrote ‘Aftermath’ in 1919. He had served in action in the woods at Mametz and, haunted by the guilt of the survivor, the question he repeatedly asks is of himself. The last two years I’ve posted up more immediate and visceral poems by Wilfred Owen — Owen’s nightmarish invocation of image, sound and sensation seems to a layman more obviously traumatised — but it is clear that Sassoon’s burden was a very heavy one.

Wilfred Owen was, incidentally, the subject of a sickening character assassination by some nobody in The Daily Mail a few days ago, described as academically backward, a coward, a paedophile, a “faithful copyist and an imitator” whose poetry “lacked moral authority and legitimacy” who met “a fitting finale” when killed in action a week before Armistice. There really are no depths that rag will not plumb.

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