Darkness; the rain poured down; the mire was deep;
It was past twelve on a mid-winter night,
When peaceful folk in beds lay snug asleep.
There, with much work to do before the light,
We lugged our clay-sucked boots, as best we might,
Along the trench: sometimes a bullet sang,
And droning shells burst with a horrid bang.
We were all soaked and wretched, chilled and splashed.
Darkness; and distant wink of guns that flashed.
I turned in the black ditch, hating the storm:
A rocket fizzed and fell to a steady flare,
And lit the face of what had been a form
Stumbling in mirk. He stood before me there;
I say that it was Christ; stiff in the glare,
And bending forward from his burdening task,
Both arms supporting it; his eyes on mine
Stared from the woeful head that seemed a mask
Of mortal pain in Hell’s unholy shrine.
No thorny crown, only a woollen cap
He wore, – and English soldier, white and strong,
Who loved his time like any simple chap,-
Good times of work and sport and homely song.
But now he only knows that nights are long,
And dawns a watching of the windowed sky;
He has renounced his happiness and ease,
And dimly in his passion he hopes to die,
That Brummagem be safe beyond the seas.
He faced me, reeling in his weariness,
Shouldering a load of plants, and almost beat.
I say that it was Christ who wrought to bless
All groping things with one evangel sweet,
Choosing a terrible path for his young feet.
The the flare died, and all grew black as pitch;
And we began to struggle along the ditch:
But in my heart I knew that I had seen
The suffering spirit of a world washed clean.
“The Redeemer,” First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed August 5, 2015, http://ww1lit.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/items/show/10500.
This item is from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit)
This is taken from a manuscript written in pencil and is Sassoon’s first front-line poem, describing working parties at and near Festubert. This version differs slightly from that published in Collected Poems, 1908-1956, particularly the final two lines.