With the change in Mr. Sassoon’s life necessitated by the great war there came an equally radical change in his poetry. Brought face to face with reality of the most appalling kind, he found it even more horrible than he would had he ever before met the undisguised truth of life. Instead of trees and moons he wrote of the elemental emotions of men; he described with graphic flashes things that soldiers would give much to forget. He learned to hate war, relentlessly, bitterly, but never with despair. In 1914 he was a happy dreamer. The war made him a thinker.
“War is not a game,” he told his attentive listeners, “because there are no rules. It is the most calculating sort of business, requiring efficiency alone for its successful perpetration. And efficiency in war must mean frightfulness. There is no romance in the trenches, there is no heroic glamour. It is war we should hate, not Germany; it is war itself that is the crime, not the individual acts of wrong. Those men who went to the front full of idealism, who gave their lives for everlasting peace, have been done-in - betrayed - if wars are not made impossible.”
The quiet, bitter intensity with which he spoke, coupled with the knowledge that he had the authority of experience, made the war poems that followed painfully convincing. He described them as an attempt to face realities even at the expense of violating certain canons of poetic ruling. No one can regret that he sacrificed the form of his earlier work for the power of the later. Fearlessly he has described the destructive, brutalizing results of war. There has been no accusation made more grim than that of Suicide in the Trenches, no exposition more horrifying in its realism than The Underground Trench [Sassoon did not write a poem with this title and I believe it was probably ‘The Rear-Guard’]. The poet drew a bitter contrast between poems such as these and one that he wrote before he reached the front. Until he went to France he was exalted in the thought of service of a mighty cause. Experience gave him disillusion, and an absolute conviction that war is a great crime. It is this conviction that fills his poems, this message that he is delivering to those who come to hear him. It is not alone the artist that we value but the man, courageous, honest, with spirit undefeated in the face of heavy odds.