Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
A Letter of Farewell
By Harriet Monroe
 
  MOTHER, little mother,
They will tell you,
After they have shot me at sunrise,
I died a coward.
It is not true, little mother—        5
You will believe me.
 
  You know how we marched away—
Banners—bright bayonets—the Marseillaise.
I shut up the old chansons
Ah, my diplome!        10
France needed her sons for war.
We waited, aching for the hour.
At last it came—
I had my turn in the trenches.
 
  I won’t tell you all—        15
What it meant to learn the new trade.
A scholar, was I?—and young?
Youth died in me.
And all the old epics, the beautiful songs long silent—
Ah, that was another life.        20
At first it sickened me—
The torn flesh bleeding, the horrible bodies long dead,
The ruined towns sprawling like toothless hags,
The mud, the lice, the stenches,
The stupefying noise—        25
A crashing of damned worlds;
And then the command to kill—
At first the loathing was a vomit in my heart.
 
  Then something rose in me
From the abyss.        30
Life, the great cannibal,
Killing and feeding on death—
I was his workman through ten million years.
I ran to the slaughter singing.
I killed with a shout.        35
The red rage sucked me up
In its whirlwind,
Dashed me on dancing feet
Against the enemy,
The enemy everlasting.        40
And my life, tossed on bayonets,
Blown against guns—
Staked, like a last piece of gold, on the hundredth chance—
Always my life came back to me unscathed.
 
  Was it man to man—        45
The haughty beauty of war?
I grew numb at last,
I felt no more.
I slipped off man’s pride like a garment,
A rotten rag—        50
It was brute to brute in a wallow of blood and filth.
 
  And so, in that last charge on Thiaumont—
Little shattered city
Lost and won, won and lost
Day after day        55
In the interminable battle—
In that hot rush I killed three Boches,
Stuck them like squeaking pigs.
The soft flesh sputtering,
The nick of the steel at bones—        60
I felt them no more than the crunch of an insect under my foot
In the old days.
Then I fell, worn out,
Under a wall.
Hungry, thirsty, listless—        65
My gun dropped from my hand.
I could not rise;
Perhaps my eyes closed…..
 
  When life came back a big Boche was standing over me—
He had my gun, but his face was kind.        70
“I thought you were dead,” he said, and stood looking at me.
Then he unscrewed his canteen—
“Drink,” he said, “poor little one—
I won’t kill you.”
 
  I sprang up, as tall as he, and took his hand,        75
Babbling, “It’s foolish business—why should we?
I’m through with it.”
And a great strength rose in me,
And a white light filled me;
Waves of unbearable love washed over me,        80
And I knew I could fight no more.
 
  The charge had rolled on—
I slipped away,
Crying, “It is over—over forever—men shall kill no more.”
I shouted the news,        85
I summoned the soldiers.
The tongues of fire came down upon me—
“Let the guns rot,” I said,
And the cannon rust—
Look in your brother’s eyes        90
And clasp his hand.”
 
  So they took me and tried me,
And I must die.
But for telling the truth—
Not for what they say.        95
It will surely be, little mother.
The sin that was little at first
In the savage forest
When men fought with clubs,
The sin we have gorged and glutted        100
With gases and bombs,
And machine-guns,
And battle-ships of sea and air—
It has grown heavy and monstrous,
It will be cast off like the plague.        105
There will be a new nation—
No one shall stop us from loving each other.
 
  So goodby, little mother.
I don’t mind dying for it—
That nation.        110
I see it.
 
 
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