“There are three inevitables: two Roberts and a Siegfried rising side by side on the roll of fame all still young and more or less undamaged…”

—Robert Graves in a letter to Siegfried Sassoon (via larazontally)


The Leveller


Near Martinpuich that night of hell 
Two men were struck by the same shell,
Together tumbling in one heap 
Senseless and limp like slaughtered sheep.

One was a pale eighteen-year-old, 
Blue-eyed and thin and not too bold,
Pressed for the war ten years too soon, 
The shame and pity of his platoon.

The other came from far-off lands 
With bristling chin and whiskered hands,
He had known death and hell before 
In Mexico and Ecuador.

Yet in his death this cut-throat wild 
Groaned ‘Mother! Mother!’ like a child,
While that poor innocent in man’s clothes 
Died cursing God with brutal oaths.

Old Sergeant Smith, kindest of men, 
Wrote out two copies there and then 
Of his accustomed funeral speech 
To cheer the womenfolk of each:

'He died a hero's death: and we 
His comrades of “A” Company
Deeply regret his death: we shall 
All deeply miss so true a pal.’

- Robert Graves


“During [the 1913] school year [Robert Graves] won an Exhibition (a minor award) to Oxford but in the following term he was forced to resign from [Charterhouse school paper] ‘The Cartusian’ after publishing some highly critical remarks about the school in the guise of a parody letter. According to later report, Graves declared at this stage in his life only poetry and ‘Peter’ Johnstone, the object of his affections, really mattered. However, over the Easter holidays in 1914 he won plaudits for his prowess at boxing, and spent ten days climbing in Snowdonia with George Mallory. His final term at Charterhouse ended, perhaps characteristically, in a flurry of fighting (literally and metaphorically), a near-scandal, and continuing discord.”

Helen McPhail and Philip Guest, “On the Trail of the Poets of the Great War: Graves and Sassoon”

Oh, Robert, you little shit.

(via lord-kitschener)


“I noticed ‘The Essays of Lionel Johnson’ lying on the table. It was the first book I had seen in France (except my own Keats and Blake) that was neither a military textbook nor a rubbishy novel. I stole a look at the fly-leaf, and the name was Siegfried Sassoon. Then I looked around to see who could possibly be called Siegfried Sassoon and bring ‘Lionel Johnson’ with him to the First Battalion. The answer being obvious, I got into conversation with him, and a few minutes later we set out for Béthune, being off duty until dusk, and talked about poetry.”

—Robert Graves in ‘Goodbye to all That’, on his first meeting with Siegfried Sassoon.


“You and I have walked together
In the starving winter weather.
We’ve been glad because we knew
Time’s too short and friends are few.
We’ve been sad because we missed
One whose yellow head was kissed
By the gods, who thought about him
Till they couldn’t do without him.
Now he’s here again; I’ve been
Soldier David dressed in green,
Standing in a wood that swings
To the madrigal he sings.
He’s come back, all mirth and glory,
Like the prince in a fairy story.
Winter called him far away;
Blossoms bring him home with May.”

—From “A Letter Home (To Robert Graves)”, Siegfried Sassoon. This stanza (and others) references the death of David Cuthbert Thomas, Sassoon’s and Graves’ mutual friend, who died in 1916.

(Source: poemhunter.com)

Tempted to follow this post as research for my next year’s NaNoWriMo novel, an epic historical about Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon: Poetry Bros.

Tempted to follow this post as research for my next year’s NaNoWriMo novel, an epic historical about Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon: Poetry Bros.

(Source: bestofnanowrimo)


In honour of the fact that I now have a “Robert and Siegfried: Poetry Bros” tag, portraits of Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, and, from the first edition of Graves’ “Good-bye to all That”, part of the poem that was published without Sassoon’s permission (Graves called it “the most terrible of his war-poems”) that caused a rift in their bromance.

(Source: library.otago.ac.nz)


In November came the Armistice. I heard at the same time of the deaths of Frank Jones-Bateman, who had gone back again just before the end, and Wilfred Owen, who often used to send me poems from France. Armistice-night hysteria did not touch our camp much, though some of the Canadians stationed there went down to Rhyl to celebrate in true overseas style. The news sent me out walking alone […] cursing and sobbing and thinking of the dead.

Siegfried’s famous poem celebrating the Armistice began:

'Everybody suddenly burst out singing,
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom…’

But ‘everybody’ did not include me.

—Robert Graves on the Armistice. He was stationed in Wales at the time.


Round Up of Recommended Reading and Watching

I started this list roughly a year after I developed my mad obsession with World War I. Since then I’ve been maintaining it as a round-up of my recommended reading and watching on World War I, especially since I’ve gotten busy and had less time to do reviews.

Note that I have mostly focused on creative expression; it is worth digging up a good history of the war to hang all this on, but as a time-poor easily distracted person, I mostly got my history from The First World War (which I just realised I never reviewed here) and various trips to Wikipedia.

I have picked up my book movie TV reviews in a tag if you care to browse, but here are my picks.


Testament of Youth. A thousand times. If you only read one book about the war, read this one. Then watch the adaptation, and read Letters from a Lost Generation. Also, it looks like there’s a film in development, so go and see that too if it ever makes it to the screen. 

All Quiet on the Western Front - it’s a classic. I didn’t like it so much when I read it, but I keep coming back to it as the yardstick against which I measure books like Undertones of War, Somme Mud and Her Privates We.

Birdsong and Regeneration. I didn’t like either of these books, but lots of people do, and if they are a gateway to other work such as Beneath Hill 60, and the poetry of Sassoon, Graves and Owen, I am prepared to be pragmatic.

Somme Mud - probably only for devotees - a more non-fictionish All Quiet, from the POV of an AIF soldier. You’d need to know a bit of the shape of the war to get through this one, but it is well worth the effort.

Good-bye to all that - I like Robert Graves’ war poetry better than this memoir, and I think it’s probably one to read a bit later in a WWI reading odyssey, as Graves does tell a few porkies. But it’s a classic for a reason.

Also, Project Gutenberg, home of public domain ebooks, has a World War I bookshelf which is well worth looking at, and War Through the Generations has a World War I recommended reading list.

Costume Dramas

This is a shorter list because generally I’ve found that most costume dramas are either ludicrously cliché (WAR HORSE), a bit dry (Beneath Hill 60) or a bit boring (Birdsong) - consequently it is hard to think of many that would be enjoyed by or of interest to people who aren’t WWI anoraks.

ANZACs is excellent, but hard to get outside Australia. IMO it is worth hunting down. Good lengthy drama that covers the whole war, and generally considered to be quite historically accurate. Has a better-than-usual token female as well.

The Wipers Times is surprisingly non-heartbreaking for a WWI drama, but has its very moving moments. About the eponymous satirical paper that a bunch of officers and men started up using a printing press they found abandoned in Ypres.

Journey’s End a play by R. C. Sherriff. Excellent play, very heartbreaking. Link goes to where a 1988 BBC adaptation (starring Jeremy Northam) has been uploaded to YouTube.

Testament of Youth is, as discussed above, a good adaptation of an excellent memoir.

The Last 30 minutes of Passchendaele. Most of this film is completely ridiculous, but the last 30 minutes is one of the best sequences of trench warfare/”over the top” I’ve seen. Always nice to see the Canadian Corps representin’ too.

The Awakening. Set in the 1920s with reference back to WWI, but I LOVED this film. The first half is better than the end, and Rebecca Hall and Dominic West OWN the screen.


Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen. In my opinion, the best poem written about the war, although generally I like Graves’ poetry a little better than Owen’s. Also, for completeness, Dulce et Decorum Est, Owen’s other most famous poem, and The Parable of the Old Man and the Young, because Owen did know how to build up to a killer ending (slightly ghoulish pun there…).

Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon are my poetry BroTP, so I love Two Fusiliers by Robert Graves.  I also particularly love the poetry occasioned by the death of their mutual friend David Cuthbert Thomas - Enemies by Sassoon; and Not Dead and Goliath and David by Graves. I also like The Dug-Out by Sassoon. 

Here dead we lie by A. E. Houseman. I love this poem because it is very short and yet it seems to distil into a few lines all the feelings you get about the war from other writers.

Hédauville by Roland Leighton, who died a month or so after writing it, and Hospital Sanctuary by Vera Brittain, written after her brother’s death.

Obviously this list is not exhaustive, and others may have views about books/movies/TV/poems they would have included (please share via reblogs/ask box! I might find something else I will enjoy!), but it’s probably the list I would give to any of my friends who were interested. Along with my copy of ANZACs so they can actually watch it. ;)



9 War Poets:  Charles Sorley, Edward Thomas, Ivor Gurney, Robert Graves, Isaac Rosenberg, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Vera Brittain, Wilfred Owen.

(via the-seed-of-europe)

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