Siefried Sassoon


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SASSOON: Siegfried CBE MC

S Sassoon
Born: 8 September 1886, Matfield, Kent, United Kingdom
Died: 1 September 1967, Heytesbury, Wiltshire, United Kingdom

BRIEF BACKGROUND

Siegfried made his mark on World War One poetry by refusing to sentimentalise it. He tackled the subject head-on, sparing no-one with his brutal accounts of the horrors of trench war. He was critical and intensely contemptuous of those in the higher echelons of society who blindly supported the war, and often used satire to get his point across. He received the Military Cross and was injured. While recuperating, he fired off a letter to Parliament refusing to return to battle, becoming one of the first conscientious objectors. He escaped court-martial through the intervention of the poet Robert Graves, and was later hospitalised for shell shock (PTSD). It was here that he met, and inspired the young poet Wilfred Owen.

QUOTATIONS

“I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.”

“I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.”

POETRY (Better known)

Sick Leave: When I’m asleep, dreaming and lulled and warm, –
They come, the homeless ones, the noiseless dead.
The Dug-Out: Why do you lie with your legs ungainly huddled,
And one arm bent across your sullen, cold,
Exhausted face? It hurts my heart to watch you.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy


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STUDDERT KENNEDY: Geoffrey Anketell (Military Cross 1917)

G A Studdert Kennedy
Born: 27 June 1883, Leeds, United Kingdom
Died: 8 March 1929, Liverpool, United Kingdom

BRIEF BACKGROUND

Studdert Kennedy was an Anglican priest who volunteered his services. He was a down to earth chaplain and who always handed out Woodbine cigarettes to the troops, earning the nickname ‘Woodbine Willie”. After the war he became a pacifist. He was taken ill during a 1929 crusade in Liverpool where he died. He has the honour of having a feast day (8 March) on the USA Episcopal Church calendar.

QUOTATIONS

“It’s much easier to do and die than it is to reason why.”

POETRY (* Better known)

WASTE
Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God, – War!

Woodbine Willie: They gave me this name like their nature,
Compacted of laughter and tears,
What’s the use of a Cross to ‘im: Parson says I’m to make ‘im a cross
To set up over his grave,
‘E’s buried there by the Moated Grange,
And I ‘ad a damn close shave,
But ‘e were taken and I were left,
To Stretcher Bearers: Easy does it — bit o’ trench ‘ere,
Mind that blinkin’ bit o’ wire,
There’s a shell ‘ole on your left there,
Lift ‘im up a little ‘igher.
Stick it, lad, ye’ll soon be there now,
Want to rest ‘ere for a while?

Rupert Brooke


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BROOKE: Rupert

Rupert Brooke
Born: 23 April 1915, Aegean Sea
Died: 3 August 1997, Rugby, Warwickshire, United Kingdom

BRIEF BACKGROUND

Brooke’s poetry made its mark before the outbreak of the First World War where it was widely panned as being sentimental, and as it so happens, it was only after his death that positive recognition came his way through endorsements from Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf and Henry James. Brooke died three weeks after his poem The Soldier was read on at an Easter Sunday service in St Paul’s Cathedral. He succumbed to blood poisoning from an insect bite – very similar to Lord Byron.

QUOTATIONS

“Breathless, we flung us on a windy hill, Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.”
“Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night.”

POETRY (Better known)

The Soldier: If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

John Mcrae


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McCRAE: John

John McCrae
Born: 30 November 1872, Guelph, Canada
Died: 28 January 1918, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

BRIEF BACKGROUND

John was a physician, author and artist and is best known for poem In Flanders Fields. Flanders, near Ypres in Belgium is where some of the heaviest fighting took place during the Second Battle of Ypres and is where the Germans used deadly chlorine gas on the enemy. To this day, red poppies are found around the cemetery where the war dead are buried. His poem struck a chord with the general populace and the poppy was adopted as the flower of Remembrance. His premature death was due to meningitis and pneumonia. (He was also present at Isandlawana and wrote a poem with that title.)

QUOTATIONS

“That day of battle in the dusty heat
We lay and heard the bullets swish and sing
Like scythes amid the over-ripened wheat,
And we the harvest of their garnering.” (The Unconquered Dead)

POETRY (Better known)

In Flanders Fields: In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Wilfred Owen


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OWEN: Wilfred (Military Cross 1918)

Wilfred Owen
Born: 18 March 1893, Oswestry, Shropshire, United Kingdom
Died: 4 November 1918, Sambre-Oise Canal, France

This young man produced over 80 poems, only four of which were published in his lifetime, in the year before he was killed – a week before Armistice. The conditions in the trenches were absolutely horrific – reflected by the evocative language describing the physical and psychological making an intense impact on the reader. Two years after he enlisted, Owen underwent treatment for shellshock (PTSD) during which time he met his literary hero, Siegfred Sassoon. Owen returned to the trenches and was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery when he seized a German machine gun killing a number of Germans. Quite a few of his poems amongst which are Insensibility and Apologia Pro Poemate Meo describe the psychological impacts of war. He was killed in the last week of the war.

QUOTATIONS

  • “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”
  • “All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true poet must be truthful.”
  • “Be bullied, be outraged, be killed, but do not kill.”
  • “Ambition may be defined as the willingness to receive any number of hits on the nose.”

POETRY (* Better known)

Anthem for doomed Youth: What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
1914: War broke: and now the Winter of the world With perishing great darkness closes in.
Disabled: He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,

NOTE

Wilfred was very close to his mother and his letters to her give insight into the bravery of this young man.

William Golding


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Golding: William (Nobel Peace Prize for Literature 1983)

william_golding
Born: 19 September 1911, Newquay, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Died: 19 June 1993, Perranarworthal, Cornwall, United Kingdom

Lord of the Flies was Golding’s first novel and in it he sets out his theme for future books exploring the struggle between good and evil. He was a teacher and drew his inspiration from the boys he taught. In his private notes which were only published after his death, Golding admits to being a bully when he was at school and to also manipulating his pupils recording the results in Lord of the Flies. His writing is filled with symbolism

Quotations

“What a man does defiles him, not what is done by others.”
“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.”

Books

  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Double Tongue
  • Rites of Passage (Booker McConnell Prize 1980)
  • Pincher Martin
  • Free Fall
  • The Pyramid

Scott Fitzgerald


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Fitzgerald: Francis Scott Key

scott-fitzgerald
Born: 24 September 1896 in St Paul, Minnesota
Died: 21 December 1940 in Hollywood, California (Heart attack)

In Fitzgerald’s own words describing the Roaring Twenties which was also known as the Jazz Age: It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire. The Great Gatsby is regarded as the definitive novel of this age, but was only recognised as such in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Fitzgerald died believing he was a failure.

Quotations

Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.
You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.
First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you. (Fitzgerald was an alcoholic)

Selected Bibliography

Books

  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Diamond as Big as the Ritz
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • The Camel’s Back
  • The Last of the Belles.
  • The Beautiful and Damned
  • This Side of Paradise
  • Tender is the Night
  • The Love of the Last Tycoon (Unfinished)

James Ngugi


Kani: Bonisile John (Playwright and Actor)

Ngugi_wa_Thiong'o
Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Born James Thiong’o Ngugi)

Born: 5 January 1938, Limuru, Kenya

This highly regarded prolific Kenyan born writer holds numerous degrees (many of them honorary) from Universities around the world. He is currently lecturing at UCLA. His output ranges across political commentary, novels, short stories, plays and children’s books. He holds an additional distinction in that Dictator Moi issued a warrant of arrest for the main character in a novel, and on finding him fictional, had the novel arrested instead! He writes in Gikuyu which is his native language and translates his work into English himself.

Quotations

“The condition of women in a nation is the real measure of its progress”.
“Written words can also sing”.

Books

  • Weep not Child
  • The River Between
  • A Grain of Wheat
  • Petals of Blood
  • Devil on the Cross
  • Matigari
  • Wizard or the Crow
  • Something Torn & New: An African Renaissance

Bonisile Kani


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Kani: Bonisile John (Playwright and Actor)

john_kani
Born: 30 November 1942, New Brighton, Eastern Cape

In 2014, the Main Theatre of the New Market Theatre in Johannesburg, was renamed the Jon Kani Theatre. Kani is both an actor and a playright, and also co-authored the 1975 Tony Award Siswe Banzi is Dead with Winston Ntshona and Athol Fugard. Of his play Nothing but the Truth this is what the New York Times had to say:

“A deeply felt portrait that delicately weaves the extraordinary and the ordinary in its characters’ lives”.

Books

  • The Ghost and the Darkness 1996
  • Siswe Bansi is Dead 1972
  • The Wild Geese 1978
  • The Island 1973
  • Nothing but the Truth 2008

Lee Harper


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Lee: (Nelle) Harper (Pulitzer Prize 1960)

harper_lee
Born: 28 April 1926, Monroeville, Alabama

Harper grew up with Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) – a friendship that lasted until his death in 1984. Although her book Go Set a Watchman preceded To Kill a Mockingbird, it was set in a later time period. The publishers rejected it but suggested she rewrite it from the perspective of Scout as a child. Harper Lee had a stroke a few years ago and is now living in a care facility, however her mind is as sharp as ever and she fully endorsed the recent publication of Go Set a Watchman. A great deal of controversy has been generated by the changes in the character of Atticus Finch.

Quotations

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view”.
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”.
“Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it”.

Books

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • Go set a Watchman (2015 – originally submitted in 1957)