Officially I’m dead. Their hope is past.
How long I stood as missing! Now, at last
Look in my face–no likeness can you see,
No tiny trace of him they knew as “me”.
How terrible the change!
Even my eyes are strange.
So keyed are they to pain,
That if I chanced to meet
My mother in the street
She’d look at me in vain.
When she got home I think she’d say:
“I saw the saddest sight to-day–
A poilu with no face at all.
Far better in the fight to fall
Than go through life like that, I think.
Poor fellow! how he made me shrink.
No face. Just eyes that seemed to stare
At me with anguish and despair.
This ghastly war! I’m almost cheered
To think my son who disappeared,
My boy so handsome and so gay,
Might have come home like him to-day.”
I’m dead. I think it’s better to be dead
When little children look at you with dread;
And when you know your coming home again
Will only give the ones who love you pain.
Ah! who can help but shrink? One cannot blame.
They see the hideous husk, not, not the flame
Of sacrifice and love that burns within;
While souls of satyrs, riddled through with sin,
Have bodies fair and excellent to see.
Mon Dieu! how different we all would be
If this our flesh was ordained to express
Our spirit’s beauty or its ugliness.
(Oh, you who look at me with fear to-day,
And shrink despite yourselves, and turn away–
It was for you I suffered woe accurst;
For you I braved red battle at its worst;
For you I fought and bled and maimed and slew;
For you, for you!
For you I faced hell-fury and despair;
The reeking horror of it all I knew:
I flung myself into the furnace there;
I faced the flame that scorched me with its glare;
I drank unto the dregs the devil’s brew–
Look at me now–for you and you and you. . . .)
. . . . .
I’m thinking of the time we said good-by:
We took our dinner in Duval’s that night,
Just little Jacqueline, Lucette and I;
We tried our very utmost to be bright.
We laughed. And yet our eyes, they weren’t gay.
I sought all kinds of cheering things to say.
“Don’t grieve,” I told them. “Soon the time will pass;
My next permission will come quickly round;
We’ll all meet at the Gare du Montparnasse;
Three times I’ve come already, safe and sound.”
(But oh, I thought, it’s harder every time,
After a home that seems like Paradise,
To go back to the vermin and the slime,
The weariness, the want, the sacrifice.
“Pray God,” I said, “the war may soon be done,
But no, oh never, never till we’ve won!”)
Then to the station quietly we walked;
I had my rifle and my haversack,
My heavy boots, my blankets on my back;
And though it hurt us, cheerfully we talked.
We chatted bravely at the platform gate.
I watched the clock. My train must go at eight.
One minute to the hour . . . we kissed good-by,
Then, oh, they both broke down, with piteous cry.
I went. . . . Their way was barred; they could not pass.
I looked back as the train began to start;
Once more I ran with anguish at my heart
And through the bars I kissed my little lass. . . .