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This review is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

CHARMING THEIR GHOSTS Siegfried Sassoon, The War Poems ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (Faber) £2.95

It must have seemed for a time that the 1914 war had altered British poetry utterly and for ever. To boys reading in school libraries in the 1930s and 1940s, too young to know the latest London fashions, it certainly did seem so. Indeed we know now from memoirs and letters that the war poets thought of themselves at one time as a coherent group. The newspapers had created that. Characters like Robert Nichols, and to some extent Sassoon, went about after 1919 as if to be a war poet was a career. I am sure that Spender's young idea of 'being a poet' and Auden's hardly more complicated view of his calling derive in some measure from the public voice, the prophetic crying aloud, of the poets who had fought in France.

And yet what really altered in poetry did so otherwise, or by other means, through Pound and Eliot and through the progression of movements that had begun before the war. Everyone had already suddenly burst out singing, as it were, in Sassoon's diary in 1914: his post-war vision of pacifism and socialism was only an interrupted Georgian dream. The most, recent volume of his diaries to appear covers the war years; it reveals a pathetic youthfulness, a terrible intellectual incapacity, which makes the poetry and the suffering all the more painful. His war poems are quite direct, they were shaken out of him by an almost physical process. They have the awful truthfulness of ...

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