have you ever dwelt
in such distant revrent hues
as if to bend the cosm
and rend that veil; oblivion it’s human name
what passing paraphets of sight
above the trench,
dunged about as it were with the peices of corpses who never made it out
who scribbled into the maddening hours, beneath rain and shell-burst
in vain professing, lamenting and hoping to return home
letters that reached only mourners, messages from beyond, bones and broken bodies buried hastily amid a retreat in an unknown grave in an unknown field before the remnants of what was once a home now an unknown waste.
it were as if 1917 would yet come, for ’16 passed ever so terribly
how the gas had come and crept up into the nostrils of living men
and turned them to piles of muck; the mud waist high and like a suffocating agent itself
it covered the land and sky and soul and each day was a grey delirium of explosions and shouts
and then silence for hours and hours, not a sound but shaking bones and moans from over the top
somewhere out there some wretched being whom reminded us of our fate, whom not even horror can fathom, lying limbless, headless, jawless faces, a cacophony of screams, agony in a human form, a creature of pain, pain with living, excruciating hours in some crater, some tremor of an anonymous shell-burst, some flashing instantaneous death which had failed him and left him naked, mere peices of flesh torn grotesquely and filled with shrapnel and dirt, without a humane nothingness, instead ineffible coughing, gaspings stranded beyond the wire without even the slightest human empathy, we sat under our tin hats and tried to put it out of our minds, to block it out like all those before.
Of those years, those night flares lighting up phantom raids, bayonets lunged sneakily in sleeping bellies, flashes of heat and warmth,
of intestines and life spilling out onto the frozen rock and broken soil, steam rising from terminal wounds. Those bombardments which shook a man’s soul and un-nerved his spirit, that no marching song, no patriotic duty or pleasant reverie could repel, that seemed to tear a man from his mind.
I dare say what tumultous things I saw, long into those silent otherworldly nights at watch. The Hun was always poking, proding seeking to illumine a weakness in the line. One of the first nights I heard a rustling and then something falling in the trench, before I could make sense of it an explosion and screams. After that I resolved to fire at any percieved movements. Pitch black as it was, the night could but vainly attempt to cover up the ghastly circumstances which months of shelling had induced, though the nauseating stench of decaying men and horses had been somewhat relieved by the onset of winter, one could still peer out, if he felt his nerves could allow him, through the darkness and catch faint cascading moonbeams which danced from bomb-craters and blasted trees, rubble and ruined equipment. It was a terrifying landscape, not dreamed by man in any vision of hell but a living kingdom of Death itself. If you could for even a moment dwell in the midnight silence which befalls a battlefield, I fear that no such sane pleasantry could ever grace you again. That void, timelessness almost serene to those who wade amidst the rising mortuary tides, blood so holy spattered, cascading, thrown about in buckets and smeared on the grey lifeless landscape; I remember returning to the rear for a few days relief from the front and seeing small flowers which were radiant with color and being transfixed by their vibrance like the blood which rained in the confusion after a shell-burst amid our ranks.
Yet on those nights at watch, I hid my fears, my feelings, my thoughts, I closed them and capsuled them with that silence. I sat smoking and staring off into the darkness, watching, though sometimes not fully aware, in a limbo of mesmerizing and fearful visions of dying men and old memories which seemed always haunted with death. In my head I heard melodies, singing like in that life before, birthdays and things that seemed unreal. An occasional flare would go up over the enemy lines so as to reconnoiter our defenses, in the distance I saw two men run between shell-holes. I sat motionless, the cigarrette still burning in my mouth, and ever so slightly readied my rifle. The flare began to dim and I could hear them crawling in the night. My heartbeat seemed to cease, my head was whirring and I felt nausea, tossing the smoke, I checked my sights and as I did another flare went up. This time I could see the two Germans crawling towards our wire. They had great shears and grey woolen coats. They too were covered in the endless muck and the scene became dream-like, there was much stillness in their woeful movements; as the flare began to die out I sat and watched. My body was as the mud, heavy, wet, clogged, the rifle like a child’s toy, I trembled in the cold. The shot peirced the stillness and in the faint light I percieved the man with the shears to crawl back into the darkness. Another man from my section crept up with wide eyes and relieved me of the watch. I crawled back not knowing whether I had hit my target and slept uneasily. I dreamt of childhood and confusing panoramas which I cannot describe.