(The Dark Side)
My mind goes back to Fumin Wood, and how we stuck it out,
Eight days of hunger, thirst and cold, mowed down by steel and flame;
Waist-deep in mud and mad with woe, with dead men all about,
We fought like fiends and waited for relief that never came.
Eight days and nights they rolled on us in battle-frenzied mass!
“Debout les morts!” We hurled them back. By God! they did not pass.
They pinned two medals on my chest, a yellow and a brown,
And lovely ladies made me blush, such pretty words they said.
I felt a cheerful man, almost, until my eyes went down,
And there I saw the blankets – how they sagged upon my bed.
And then again I drank the cup of sorrow to the dregs:
Oh, they can keep their medals if they give me back my legs.
I think of how I used to run and leap and kick the ball,
And ride and dance and climb the hills and frolic in the sea;
And all the thousand things that now I’ll never do at all. . . .
Mon Dieu! there’s nothing left in life, it often seems to me.
And as the nurses lift me up and strap me in my chair,
If they would chloroform me off, by God I wouldn’t care.
Ah yes! we’re “heroes all” to-day – they point to us with pride;
To-day their hearts go out to us, the tears are in their eyes!
But wait a bit; to-morrow they will blindly look aside;
No more they’ll talk of what they owe, the dues of sacrifice
(One hates to be reminded of an everlasting debt).
It’s all in human nature. Ah! the world will soon forget.
My mind goes back to where I lay wound-rotted on the plain,
And ate the muddy mangold roots, and drank the drops of dew,
And dragged myself for miles and miles when every move was pain,
And over me the carrion-crows were retching as they flew.
Oh, ere I closed my eyes and stuck my rifle in the air
I wish that those who picked me up had passed and left me there.
(The Bright Side)
Oh, one gets used to everything!
I hum a merry song,
And up the street and round the square
I wheel my chair along;
For look you, how my chest is sound
And how my arms are strong!
Oh, one gets used to anything!
It’s awkward at the first,
And jolting o’er the cobbles gives
A man a grievous thirst;
But of all ills that one must bear
That’s surely not the worst.
For there’s the cafe open wide,
And there they set me up;
And there I smoke my caporal
Above my cider cup;
And play manille a while before
I hurry home to sup.
At home the wife is waiting me
With smiles and pigeon-pie;
And little Zi-Zi claps her hands
With laughter loud and high;
And if there’s cause to growl, I fail
To see the reason why.
And all the evening by the lamp
I read some tale of crime,
Or play my old accordion
With Marie keeping time,
Until we hear the hour of ten
From out the steeple chime.
Then in the morning bright and soon,
No moment do I lose;
Within my little cobbler’s shop
To gain the silver sous
(Good luck one has no need of legs
To make a pair of shoes).
And every Sunday – oh, it’s then
I am the happy man;
They wheel me to the river-side,
And there with rod and can
I sit and fish and catch a dish
Of goujons for the pan.
Aye, one gets used to everything,
And doesn’t seem to mind;
Maybe I’m happier than most
Of my two-legged kind;
For look you at the darkest cloud,
Lo! how it’s silver-lined.
About this poem
from ‘Les Grands Mutilés’