Home > Uncategorized > Pierre Loti: Burying poor young soldiers all guiltless of the mad adventure

Pierre Loti: Burying poor young soldiers all guiltless of the mad adventure


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace


Pierre Loti
Un Pélerin d’Angkor
Translated by W. P. Baines

Little groups of soldiers in white linen uniforms are taking their monotonous evening stroll along the road I am following, and, as they pass, I can detect in their voices now the accent of Gascony, now the accent of my own native province. Poor fellows! the mothers that bore them are waiting anxiously at far distant firesides; while they, perforce, must squander here a year or two of the most precious of life….[T]hen they will return home, with blood for long impoverished by the sojourn in this climate; or, perhaps, they will not return, but lay their bones, like so many thousand others, in the red earth of the neighbouring cemeteries which are disquieting in that they are so vast, and so overgrown with rank weeds.


Formerly in place of this sea of verdure, silent at my feet, the town of Angkor-Thom (Angkor the Great) spread for some distance about the plain; and if we could now lop off the tufted branches we should see again, reappearing below, walls and terraces and temples; we should see, stretching away, long paved avenues bordered by how many divinities, seven-headed serpents, bell-turrets, balusters, all foundered now in the bush. But the deep forest has become again what it was from the beginning of the ages, for centuries beyond our power to calculate; there is now no outward sign of the work of those Hindoo adventurers, who, some three hundred years before our era, came and plied their axes here, clearing space for a town of nearly a million souls. No; it lasted for but fifteen hundred years, this episode of the Empire of the Khmers, for what might be called a mere negligible period, in comparison with the longevity of the reign of the vegetable world; and it is done with, the wound is healed, no trace of it remains. The fig-tree of ruins flaunts everywhere its dome of green leaves.

In our days, it is true, some new adventurers, come from a country nearer west (the country of France), are chafing in a small way the eternal forest, for they have founded not far from here a semblance of a little empire. But this latest episode will lack magnitude, and more especially it will lack duration. Soon, when these pale conquerors shall have left in turn, buried in this Indo-Chinese soil, many of their alas, many poor young soldiers all guiltless of the mad adventure they will pack their belongings and depart. Then there will be seen no more wandering in these regions, as I am wandering, men of the white race, who are so foolishly covetous of governing immemorial Asia, and of disturbing everything they find there.

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