I promised tirezaveclesdeuxmains to make a post on this topic, so here it is. I compiled a number of quotes and poems dealing with religion – there are more materials available for those interested.
“And here I was, with my knobkerrie in my hand, staring across at the enemy I’d never seen. Somewhere out of sight beyond the splintered tree-tops of Hidden Wood a bird had begun to sing. Without knowing why, I remembered that it was Easter Sunday. Standing in that dismal ditch, I could find no consolation in the thought that Christ was risen. I sploshed back to the dug-out to call the others up for ‘stand-to’.”
(Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man)
XXVII from The Heart’s Journey
I cannot pray with my head,
Nor aspire from bended knees;
But I saw in a dream the dead
Moving among green trees.
I saw the living green
Uprising from the rock.
This have I surely seen,
Though the morning may mock.
XXVIII from The Heart’s Journey
Close-wrapped in living thought I stand
Where death and daybreak divide the land, –
Death and daybreak on either hand
For exit and for entry;
While shapes like wind-blown shadows pass,
Lost and lamenting, 'Alas, alas,
This body is only shrivelling grass,
And the soul a starlit sentry
Who guards, and as he comes and goes,
Points now to daybreak’s burning rose,
And now toward worldhood’s charnel close
Leans with regretless warning’ …
I hear them thus – O thus I hear
My doomed companions crowding near,
Until my faith, absolved from fear,
Sings out into the morning,
And tells them how we travel far,
From life to life from star to star;
Exult, unknowing what we are;
And quell the obscene derision
Of demon-haunters in our heart
Who work for worms and have no part
In Thee, O ultimate power, who art
Our victory and our vision.
XXIX from The Heart’s Journey
“The Power and the Glory”
Let there be life, said God. And what he wrought
Went past in myriad marching lives, and brought
This hour, this quiet room, and my small thought
Holding invisible vastness in its hands.
Let there be God, say I. And what I’ve done
Goes onward like the splendour of the sun
And rises up in rapture and is one
With the white power of conscience that commands.
Let life be God … What wail of fiend or wraith
Dare mock my glorious angel where he stands
To fill my dark with fire my heart with faith?
XXXII from The Heart’s Journey
A flower has opened in my heart …
What flower is this, what flower of spring,
What simple, secret thing?
It is the peace that shines apart,
The peace of daybreak skies that bring
Clear song and wild swift wing.
Heart’s miracle of inward light,
What powers of unknown have sown your seed
And your perfection feed? …
O flower within me wondrous white,
I know you only as my need
And my unsealed sight.
32 from Vigils
The heaven for which I wait has neither guard nor gate.
The God in whom I trust shall raise me not from dust.
I shall not see that heaven for which my days have striven,
Nor kneel before the God toward whom my feet have trod.
But when from this half-human envolvement man and woman
Emerge through brutish Me made strong and fair and free,
The dumb forgotten dead will be the ground they tread,
And in their eyes will shine my deathless hope divine.
“Hardy’s The Dynasts, which Sassoon re-read in 1949, had first made him ask the question that had been forming in his mind for several years: 'What do I really believe in?’ And it was this question which lay behind a series written between 1946 and 1954 and privately printed in three slim volumes, Common Chords (1950), Emblems of Experience (1951) and The Tasking (1954). Written under the same kind of intense emotions which has given rise to his First World War satires, these poems of his spiritual odyssey resemble them also in what Sassoon called 'direct utterance of dramatized emotion’.”
(Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Siegfried Sassoon)
from Common Chords
Primordial Cause, your creature questions why
Law has empowered him with this central I;
Asks how to carnal consciousness you brought
Spirit, the unexplained of sovereign thought;
And whence your influent essence quickened first
In hungry heart, and brain’s unscienced thirst.
My heritage I ponder. Who was he,
In geologic gloomed pre-history,
That glimpsed beyond his death-environed cave
The soul – a star – a gift he yet might save?
from Common Chords
Suppose, some quiet afternoon in spring,
The hour of judgement came
For me and my mistakes when journeying
Along with that defence for nulity, my name.
Suppose, while sauntering in the primrosed wood,
To body and soul’s dispute, a voice cried halt,
And I that instant stood
Absolved of unfulfilment and essential fault.
Suppose this resurrection, this release,
This self-surrender wrought;
And the word heard within, Depart in peace;
Take to the everlasting all that time has taught …
What, for the spiritual service some foresee
Beyond probational breath,
Would then emerge from marred and mystic me
To stand with those white presences delivered through death?
from Common Chords
Alone with life, I heard massed choirs declare
for humankind conjunction with the unseen
Essence which rules redemption. On the air
Hosanna in excelsis swelled serene
As through cathedral’d centuries that have been.
This was the moment’s affirmation. And then
On gloom-girt winds of time I heard it blown
With dwindling resonance, from mouths of men
Forever claiming kinship with the unknown —
Forever their one hope on earth pursuing
In perishable pilgrimage, in doomed defeat,
Fooled by phantasms that wreak their dire undoing,
Yet mindful of the Maker they would meet.
Thus, praise persistent, year beyond wrought year,
Those paeans rise and fade and disappear —
Held to what infinite heart — heard by what immanent ear?
from Common Cords
I thought; These multitudes we hold in mind —
This host of souls redeemed —
Out of the abysm of the ages came —
Out of the spirit of man — devised or dreamed.
I thought; To the Invisible I am blind;
No angels tread my nights with feet of flame;
No mystery is mine —
No whisper from that world beyond my sense.
I think; If through some chink in me could shine
But once — O but one ray
From that all-hallowing and eternal day,
Asking no more of Heaven I would go hence.
from Emblems of Experience
Whither our delirium of invention goes,
Who turn toward time to come
Alone with heart-beats, marching to that muffled drum.
Bells from beyond the silence of the years
That wait for those unborn.
O God within me, speak from your mysterious morn.
Speak through the few,
Your light of life to nourish us anew.
Speak, for our world possessed
By demon influences of evil and unrest.
Act, as of old ,
That we some dawnlit destiny may behold
From this doom-darkened place.
O move in mercy among us. Grant accepted grace.
from Emblems of Experience
Mind, busy in the body’s life-lit room;
Seldom in strength, unpiloted at best;
How ignorant you admit from outer gloom
The soul, in all God’s world, most welcome guest.
These two, it seems, are separate. The soul
On incorporeal errands comes and goes
With rumours and reportings from the Whole
For mind, which only brain experience knows.
Poor mortal mind, when you, in me, decay —
When once delighting faculties grow dim —
Cry on the parting soul for power to say,
With passion, ‘I befriended was by Him.’
from The Tasking
To find rewards of mind with inward ear
Through silent hours of seeking;
To put world sounds behind and hope to hear
Instructed spirit speaking;
Sometimes to catch a clue from selfhood’s essence
And ever that revealment to be asking;
This – and through darkness to divine God’s presence –
I take to be my tasking.
from The Tasking
This making is a mystery. Me He made
And left to build my being as best I could:
A child afraid who for protection prayed,
Worsted by wrong, but wanting to grow good,
A man betrayed yet blessed by circumstance,
Seeking self-knowledge, learning through mistake,
To shaped experience half compelled by chance.
What work was His, where mind itself must make?
It is He that hath made us, and not we,
Ourselves. One moment’s aftercome I live,
Flawed with inherited humanity,
And fooled by imperfections wrought through race.
This He first fashioned; this He can forgive
When granting His unapprehended grace.
from The Tasking
Mute, with signs I speak:
Blind, by groping seek:
Heed; yet nothing hear:
Feel; find no one near.
Deaf, eclipsed, and dumb,
Through this gloom I come
On the time-path trod
Toward ungranted God.
Carnal, I can claim
Only His known name.
Dying, can but be
One with Him in me.
“In November 1943, he wrote to H.M. Tomlinson about faith and his belief in the ‘persistence and survival of loveliness’. He had hints of help 'from outside’, sometimes on the edge of sleep, a presence or a voice like that of the dead T.E. Lawrence and, once Max Beerbohm’s sister Dora, a nun; he had the sense also of Rivers. To accept God unconditionally was, he thought, 'dangerous’ because it precluded the search. For 'one must bathe on – doubting and hoping, and awaiting the corroboration required!’”
(Max Egremont, Siegfried Sassoon)
“The admission of ignorance in matters spiritual and the gratitude for being included in the prayers of the writer were due to the fact that she was the Reverend Mother Margaret Mary of the Convent of the Assumption. Her second letter to him posed questions of belief but more than catechising him she won his trust through a shared delight in poetry, Robert Browning and Thomas Hardy. He was challenged and found replying very difficult. He got into a muddle trying to explain his feelings; he wanted to be honest and 'to say only what may help you to help me. I can only tell you how safeguarded you made me feel. Can it be that you have awakened me to a new start on my road to the celestial city? That is what it has felt like.’ The correspondence became a constant flow of question and answer. 'I urged him to pray – prayer being the mainspring of my own life, recalled Mother Margaret Mary.”
(John Stuart Roberts, Siegfried Sassoon)
“It amazes me to look back on it. I never said a prayer, never consulted any religious book, or thought about doctrine; just went blindly on clinging to the idea of God, unable to believe that salvation applied to me, though firmly convinced of the existence of a spiritual world and a heaven above. Again and again in these past years, I’ve asked myself how I endured it. Faith Unfaithful was my last word in March 1954.”
“All I need to say now is that I experience peace beyond anything I could have hoped for – not through my formal submission to R.C. dogma, but through the grace of faith which came to me after prolonged perseverance in prayer and through the help I received from a very holy Catholic.”
(from Sassoon’s letter to Robert Graves, qtd. in John Stuart Roberts’s Siegfried Sassoon)