Siegfried Sassoon Collection unveiled at the University of Oxford





November 11 is Armistice Day, which marks the cessation of Great War hostilities in 1918. (Here in the United States, of course, this is now Veterans Day.) In honor of the day and the dead, the First World War Poetry Digital Archive, housed at the University of Oxford, chose today to unveil its Siegfried Sassoon Collection.

Although it contains photographs and other materials, the collection centers on manuscripts of Sassoon's poems, drawn from holdings at Oxford's Bodleian Library and at the University of Cambridge, the New York Public Library, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. A draft of Sassoon's poem "Standing With the Dead" turns up in a June 19, 1918, letter to his friend Robert Nichols.

"Here's my only poem in ages -- is it any good?" Sassoon asks Nichols. Then comes the poem: "I stood with the Dead, so forsaken & still./ When dawn was grey I stood with the dead. And my slow heart said, 'You must kill, you must kill;/ Soldier, soldier; morning is red.'"

At the top of the letter the poet has scrawled, "Write again, write again -- I'm not dead yet -- I've got weeks and weeks to live." As it turned out, Sassoon was one of the luckier ones; he surrived the war and lived until 1967.


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