The War


Suddenly, in the midst of the war, I was overcome by an incredible feeling of optimism. It was the worst kind of warfare, too: trench-warfare, hand-to-hand combat, seeing your enemy’s (your brother’s) face as you jabbed at him with your rusty bayonet.

It rained shells down on us. The sky, the world did, rained shells down on us, on our weak and mushy bodies. …Our allies, they called the shells marmites, because that was their name for soup pots — and to them the shells looked just like cast-iron soup pots, reminding them of their mothers’ kitchens, of home; but to me, the shells did not resemble soup pots in the least. To me they resembled something far more serious. “Ah, mes amis,” they said to us. “Il pleut des marmites.” O, my friends; it rains shells; it is raining shells.

But then suddenly, as I said, in the midst of the war, I was overcome by a powerful and incurable feeling of optimism. I closed my eyes, with those marmites crashing down all around us. I closed my eyes, and suddenly the noise of death and screams sounded to me like children’s babble, like a song of innocent joy. I kept my eyes closed for a second longer, then opened them. I imagined flowers bursting from the ground, violets, lilies, posies, a rich profusion of flowers everywhere that a shell struck. Instead of blood, I imagined gold dust trickling from my friends’ wounds, which were wounds no more, but which were wonderfully transformed into coins and medallions.

Every time a building collapsed around me, I saw it being rebuilt by the explosion, more beautiful than before, than it ever had been before: marble colonnades and winding stairways and stained-glass windows. Bullets became butterflies. Barbed wire became victors’ tape, confetti. The poison gas clouds drifting over the trenches became clouds of beauty, clouds of crystal, of unknowing. …All around me I saw life blooming, bursting, from the war. For we battled for life, did we not? …And thinking this, I bravely marched forward into the fray.

Later on, after I had died, I learned that this was much what they had wanted me to think; and I had much time to ponder on this, as I sat in the infinite confines, in the tightly wound circles, of hell.