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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Siegfried Sassoon

Clouds Hill,

17. XII. 34

Dear S.S.,

Written, this is, from Bridlington: but I have been reading your Vigils, and I felt I could not write about them from the 'Ozone Hotel'. My cottage is where they should be read.

They have deeply moved me. They are so... gentle, I think I want to say. To be read slowly and in sequence. The rather conscious script helps them, by delaying the eye. These poems are like wood-violets and could easily be passed over by a man in a hurry. When I came to the war-poem I checked for a moment, sorry: but soon saw that it was right. Not if you had never written before; but here in its place among your poems it helps, by translating into quietude the fierce moods that held you for Counter Attack and the Satires. Every other one of the 22 looks forward. I can feel the solidity of the war-anger and the peace-bitterness under the feet, as it were, of these poems: they are all the better for it, but so far from it: so far above and beyond.

Sometimes, in a lyrical phrase or an adjective of accumulated beauty, I can link them to your earlier work: but only thus, externally, by a common ornament. Yeats has walked along something of the same path. His Tower poems are like the ash of poetry. People offended his taste by putting Innisfree into all the anthologies, because they liked it not for the poetry but for the green sap running through it. You are not ashamed of 'suddenly burst out singing' but growing shy of it. Just a word or two hint at happiness, and then your blotting paper comes down.

I will try to write you again about them when I have grown into them a little. They aren't like Shakespeare, at all. They are human and very careful and faint and solitary. Each seemed to me to shut one more door of your gigantic house. There are heaps more doors yet; and of course you might one day open one. By their implications I date the first drafts of all of them from before that day at Christchurch, and I feel that you, yourself, have changed colour somewhat since the writing. You have more colour now, I think, and more colours too.

But these are exquisite poems, exquisite. First reading was like sitting under an autumn tree, and seeing its early leaves falling one by one. I shouldn't like you to go on writing Vigils, world without end. They are seasonal fruits, but lovely. You can dare them because of your past fighting: and those of us who have deserved a rest will feel them and be grateful to you.

That last little volume of political poems had frightened me a little, for you seemed to look back. Here you go a full stride forward. Cheers, and long life to your pen. It is doing us good -
and proud.

T E S.

I've read this through and see that I've forgotten to say that these things are streets ahead, in power and beauty and calmness, of anything of yours I've ever before seen. You presumably know that: but when, I ask you, are you going to reach your prime? Near fifty and still a growing poet. It's like T.H. isn't it? He grew till seventy. Don't answer this rot!

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Source: DG 835-6
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 7 February 2006


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