SASSOON (SIEGFRIED) Autograph draft of his Great War poem "Joy Bells", written at Craiglockhart, 1917
Lot 349
SASSOON (SIEGFRIED)
Sold for £5,250 (US$ 8,859) inc. premium
Lot Details
SASSOON (SIEGFRIED)
Autograph draft of his Great War poem "Joy Bells", written at Craiglockhart, comprising twelve lines in three quatrains, beginning "Ring your sweet bells; but let them be farewells", signed with his "SS" monogram and dated at the foot "Nov. 23" [1917], on the reverse of writing paper with the engraved heading of Easter Duddingston, Midlothian; loosely inserted into a first edition of Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918; in a folding buckram case with the bookplate of Oliver Brett, 1 page, guard on reverse, binding of book coming loose, 8vo, Midlothian, 23 November 1917

Footnotes

  • SASSOON DRAFTS A POEM FOR COUNTER-ATTACK DURING HIS LAST DAYS AT CRAIGLOCKHART HOSPITAL, where he had recently formed his famous friendship with Wilfred Owen. 'Joy-Bells' has been described by Max Egremont as 'another attack on bellicose bishops, through a metaphor of church bells of peace melted down into material for guns' (Siegfried Sassoon: A Biography, 2005, pp. 204-5). Our manuscript clearly began life as a fair copy, but at line 3 Sassoon has altered "ring" to "shake" ("That turned us into soldier; shake you bells"), this line being altered again on publication; and at line 8 he has altered "sky" to "sun" ("Let them cry doom and storm the sun with shells"). No other manuscript for the poem appears to be recorded; the Oxford University First World War Digital Archive listing a page proof only, from the Siegfried Sassoon Literary Estate at the Harry Ransome Center.

    It is drafted on the writing paper of Lady Margaret Sackville who lived at Easter Duddingston, Midlothian. She was a member of the anti-war Union of Democratic Control and author of a series of spare and angry poems that are attracting increasing critical regard, in one of which she denounces women who condoned the war as betrayers of their sons – 'We spoke not, so men died .../ We mothers and we murderers of mankind' ('Nostra culpa' in The Pageant of War, 1916). Sassoon had taken Wilfred Owen to see her on at least one occasion, and her name, along with those of Sassoon and Graves, was on the list found after his death of those to whom he wished his published poems to be sent.

    Sassoon had been sent to Craiglockhart Military Hospital outside Edinburgh after contriving to have his famous protest against the war read out in the House of Commons. It was there that he met Wilfred Owen that August. Unlike the majority of the patients at Craiglockhart, Sassoon spent much of his time playing golf and reading. Having no neurasthenic disorder himself and having been sent to the hospital for political rather than medical reasons, he was growing increasingly frustrated and ill at ease with himself as 'a healthy young officer, dumped down among nurses and nervous wrecks' (Dream Voices: Siegfried Sassoon, Memory and War, exhibition at the Cambridge University Library, letter to Edward Dent, 24 November 1917). By the time he was drafting 'Joy-Bells', Owen had had already been discharged, the two men parting company on 3 November. Passed fit for general service, with orders to report to the 3rd Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, Sassoon in turn left Craiglockhart on 26 November.

    Counter-Attack was to be published the following year and cemented Sassoon's reputation. In one of his last letters, Owen wrote to his friend from the trenches: 'my nerves are in perfect order. It is a strange truth: that your Counter-Attack frightened me much more than the real one: though the boy by my side, shot through the head, lay on top of me, soaking my shoulder, for half an hour' (10 October 1918).

    Provenance: Oliver Brett, bookplate; private collection. See illustration on preceding page.
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