Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Poetry From The Great War: Charles Vildrac


In our place
Fresh troops have come
Sent up the line
As bait for death
Met face to face.

We needed all night to make our escape,
All night and its darkness,
Sweating, frozen, to cross
The martyr forest and its swamp
That shrapnel scourged.

All night in which to crouch,
Then to run like the wind,
Each man picking his moment,
Trusting to nerve and instinct
And his star.

But beyond the last entanglement,
Out of it all, on the firm road,
Met together, with no delays,
In the glow of the first pipes lit,

Then, mates, O lucky winners,
Then what stumbling voluble joy!

That was the joy of shipwrecked men
With hands and knees upon the shore,
Who laugh with an agonized happiness
As they recover their treasure again;

All the treasure of the vast world,
And of memory unplumbed,
And of the thirst that can be quenched,
And even of the pain you feel
In the shoulders since all danger passed.

And the future! Ah, the future!
Now it is smiling, in the dawn:
A future of two long weeks ahead,
In a barn at Neuvilly.

Ah, the appletrees in blossom!
I'll put blossoms into my letters.
I'll go and read in the middle of a field.
I'll go and have a wash in the river.

The man who is marching in front of me
Whistles a song that his neighbour sings
A song that is far away from war:
I hum it too, and savour it.
Yet: to think of those killed yesterday!

But the man who has tripped
Between death's legs and then
Recovers himself and breathes again,
Can only laugh or only weep:
He has not the heart to mourn.

Today's first light makes all too drunk
The man who finds himself alive;
He is weak and is amazed
To be dawdling so along the road.

And if he dreams it is of the bliss
Of taking off his boots to sleep
In a barn at Neuvilly.

Charles Vildrac

Translated from the French by Christopher Middleton.
From: The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry, edited by Jon Silkin, Penguin Books, 1979

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