The French poet Paul Éluard (1895-1952) was mobilised during the First World War. In June 1917, he was dispatched to a military evacuation hospital at Hargnicourt, 10 kilometres from the front line.
There he was tasked with writing to the families of the dead and wounded. He wrote more than 150 letters a day. At night he dug graves to bury the dead.
from Poems for Peace (1918)
A world dazed
a world stunned
All the happy women
Have their menfolk home – such warmth
as though back from the sun.
He laughs and says softly hi
Before kissing his darling.
Gorgeous, your breast slightly arced,
My blessed wife, you’re more mine than back in the day
Where with him and him and him and him,
I once clutched a rifle, a billy-can— our life!
All the comrades of the world,
O! my friends!
Not worth my wife and my kids
Sat around the table,
O! my friends!
When combat was over amid the throng,
You fell asleep amid the throng.
Now you’ll feel but a single breath on your face,
And your wife sharing your bed
Will bother you more than a thousand mouths.
My child’s capricious –
All these tantrums are an act.
I’ve a beautiful spoilt child
Makes me die laughing.
My ten fingers work and my brain works,
God’s work, beast of burden work,
My daily life and our hope,
Food is our love.
Darling, we need to see the white rose
of your milk bloom.
Darling, you must soon be a mother,
Make a child that looks like me…
For a long time I’d a good-for-nothing face,
I’ve a face to be loved,
I’ve a face to be happy.
I need a lover,
A virgin lover,
A virgin in a light dress.
I dream of all the beautiful women
Who go out walking at night,
Under a roaming moon.
Fruit blossom brightens my garden,
Trees of beauty and fruit-bearing trees.
And I work and I’m alone in my garden.
And the Sun singes my hands with dark fire.
Translation by John Lyons