Charles Yale Harrison: War’s whispered reminder, you must come back to my howling madness
Charles Yale Harrison
From Generals Die In Bed (1928)
For the past few days it has been raining ceaselessly. We are soaked and chilled.
It is near dawn..
As the smudge of gray appears in the east, the odors of the trenches rise in a miasmal mist on all sides of us. The soaked earth here is nothing but a thin covering for the putrescence which lies underneath; it smells like a city garbage dump in mid-August. We are sunk in that misery which men fall into through utter hopelessness.
At last we come to a narrow-gauge railhead. It is still dark. We are ordered to halt. The heat of our exhausted bodies loosens the foul trench odors which cling to us. We never escape the ominous thunder. It is the link which binds us to our future. Out on rest, miles behind the lines, we hear it. It is a reminder to us that the line is still there; that we must return. We lie prostrate, still…
Nearby the tiny narrow-gauge engine puffs energetically, giving off little clouds of white feathery steam which float slowly over us. We look about us with hungry eyes.
Smoke that is not the harbinger of death!
A field which is not the hiding place of thousands of men lurking in trenches to tear each other apart!
The dark, silent, brooding sky above us which does not pour shrieking, living steel upon our heads…!
Who can describe the few moments of peace and sunshine in a soldier’s life? The animal pleasure in feeling the sun on a naked body. The cool, caressing, lapping water. The feeling of security, of deep inward happiness…
In the distance the rumble of the guns is faint but persistent like the subdued throbbing of violins in a symphony. I am still here, it says. You may sleep quietly at night in sweet-smelling hay, you may lay sweating under a tree after drill and marvel at the fine tracings on a trembling leaf over your head, but I am here and you must come back to my howling madness, to my senseless volcanic fury.