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Poetry and the First World War (3)

Blaise Cendrars
The First World War, more than any other war, is associated with British war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brook. However, it was not just British soldiers who took pen to paper in order to write the awful experiences of war in verse.

Blaise Cendrars (1887 –1961) was a Swiss-born novelist and poet who became a French citizen in 1916. He was a writer of considerable influence in the European modernist movement. At the outbreak of the First World War he joined the French Army and fought on the front line. In September 1915 he was badly wounded leading to the loss of his right arm and as a result he was discharged from the army.

 

 

War In Luxembourg – Blaise Cendrars

‘One two, one two

And everything will go just right . . .’

They were singing

A wounded soldier kept time with his crutch

Beneath the bandage his eye

The smile of the Luxembourg

And the smoke from munitions factories

Above the golden foliage

Pale autumn summer's end

You can't forget anything

Only little children play war

The Somme, Verdun

My big brother's in the Dardanelles

It's so beautiful

A rifle           ME!

Cries melodious voices

Cries          ME!

The hands reach out

I look like my daddy

They have cannons too

A little girl pretends she's the bicycle messenger

A hobbyhorse wheels around

In the basin the flotillas crisscross

The Paris meridian is in the fountain's spray

They mount an attack on the guard who has the only real saber

And he dies

Laughing

The sun hangs above the potted palms

A Military Medal

They applaud the zeppelin going by over near the Eiffel Tower

Then they raise the dead

Everyone wants to be dead

Or at least wounded         RED

Cut cut

Cut off the arm cut off the head    WHITE

They give everything

Red Cross         BLUE

The nurses are six years old

Their hearts are deeply moved

They take out their dolls' eyes to fix the blind

I can see! I can see!

The ones who were Turks are now stretcher-bearers

And the ones who were dead revive to take part in the marvelous operation

Now they're studying pictures in the newspaper

Photographs

They remember what they've seen in the movies

It gets more serious

They yell and whack better than Punch and Judy

At the height of the fray

Get 'em while they're hot

Everyone flees toward the waffles

They're ready.            D

It's five o'clock.             R

The gates are closing.           E

Time to go home.           A

It's evening.             M

They wait for the zeppelin that doesn't come    E

Tired                R

Gazing at the rocket stars         S

While the maid pulls you by the hand

And the mommies stumble on the big shadow cars

 

Tomorrow or another day

There's a trench in the sandpile

There's a little woods in the sandpile

Towns

A house

The whole country         The Sea

And quite possibly the sea

The improvised artillery moves around the imaginary barbed wire

A kite quick as a fighter plane

The trees shrink and the flowers fall out and turn like parachutes

The three veins of the flag swell up at every blast of the wind howitzer

You won't be swept away, little ark of sand

Children more prodigal than the engineers

They laugh and play tank poison gas submarine-facing-New-York-that-

  can't-get-through

I'm Australian, you're black, he washes up to play the-life-of-the-

 English-soldier-in-Belgium

Russian helmet

1 chocolate Legion of Honor is worth 3 uniform buttons

There's the general going by

A little girl says:

I love my new American mommy very much

And a little boy: Not Jules Verne, but buy me another nice Sunday

  Dispatch.

Learn more about Blaise Cendrars here: http://warpoets.org.uk/worldwar1/poets-and-poetry/blaise-cendrars
Image: http://warpoets.org.uk/worldwar1/poets-and-poetry/blaise-cendrars