Picked up a Sassoon anthology this week. Had forgotten the visceral humanity of his poetry, but also the theological framework of his vision. This is a case in point, even though it leaves one in a real lurch.

The Prince of Wounds

Siegfried Sassoon

The Prince of wounds is with us here;
Wearing his crown he gazes down,
Sad and forgiving and austere.
We have renounced our lovely things,
Music and colour and delight:
The spirit of Destruction sings
And tramples on the flaring night.
But Christ is here upon the cross,
Bound to a road that’s dark with blood,
Guarding immitigable loss.
Have we the strength to strive alone
Who can no longer worship Christ?
Is He a God of wood and stone,
While those who served him writhe and moan,
On warfare’s altar sacrificed?

27 December 1915

Border_Regiment_men_in_dugouts_Battle_of_the_Somme_August_1916_IWM_Q_872 His faith was clearly assaulted by trench life. Whose wouldn’t be? It is struggle few of us can ever relate to. The faithful mustn’t begrudge him his doubts. But nor must the faithless smugly crow.

For this is a faith that grasps at least one vital reality – unlike any other belief system or divinity, the Christian god is present in the mire, ‘here on the cross’. Although from this point on, it seems the poet can’t hold on any longer – he fears the lack of ‘strength to strive alone’.

But to my mind, this is a doubt acutely related to faith not scepticism. And to that end, it profoundly echoes the faithful despair of Psalm 88, especially the final stanza:

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Francesca

    I find the image and metaphor of Christ on the cross – and Mary sitting at the foot of the cross – tremendously helpful in my everyday life.

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