Youth, spring in a Mediterranean island, Greek poetry, idleness–these were the simple factors of an enchantment whose memory will only end with life. Richard Aldington, 1924
Four years ago today in Italy
I gathered wild flowers for a girl—
Thick-scented broom, wild sword-flowers,
The red anemones that line the ways
And the frail-throated freesia
Which lives beneath the orange boughs
And whose faint scent to me
Is love’s own breath, its kiss …
To-day in sunless, barren fields
I gather heads of shells,
Splinters of shrapnel, cartridges …
What shall I gather
Four years from today?
Richard Aldington 1917
You cannot know, you cannot understand, where you are, the mentality of the soldier–the profound shattering of the nerves, the over-wrought tension, the intensity of sensation which come to him. One is like a man in a trance, moving & walking & talking mechanically, but yet exquisitely sensitive to every shock or touch of the senses. When I speak of ‘soldiers’ I do not mean the gay, careless, healthy fellows you see in your camps, fellows who’ve never seen a shot fired in wrath; I mean the men who’ve done weary months in the trenches, who know what death is, who have tasted to the dregs the bitterness of hell, who time & again have renounced all things. You will find we have a queer indifference to many things, & a great equally queer love.
Richard Aldington to Charles Bubb, February 1918
Epilogue to ‘Death of a Hero’
Eleven years after the fall of Troy,
We, the old men – some of us nearly forty –
Met and talked on the sunny rampart
Over our wine, while the lizards scuttled
In dusty grass, and the crickets chirred.
Some bared their wounds;
Some spoke of the thirst, dry in the throat,
And the heart-beat, in the din of battle;
Some spoke of intolerable sufferings,
The brightness gone from their eyes
And the grey already thick in their hair.
And I sat a little apart
from the garrulous talk and old memories,
And I heard a boy of twenty
Say petulantly to a girl, seizing her arm:
“Oh, come away, why do you stand there
Listening open-mouthed to the talk of old men?
Haven’t you heard enough of Troy and Achilles?
Why should they bore us for ever
With an old quarrel and the names of dead men
We never knew, and dull forgotten battles?”
And he drew her away,
And she looked back and laughed
As he spoke more contempt of us,
Being now out of hearing.
And I thought of the graves by desolate Troy
And the beauty of many young men now dust,
And the long agony, and how useless it all was.
And the talk still clashed about me
Like the meeting of blade and blade.
And as they two moved further away
He put an arm about her, and kissed her;
And afterwards I heard their gay distant laughter.
And I looked at the hollow cheeks
And the weary eyes and the grey-streaked heads
Of the old men – nearly forty – about me;
And I too walked away
In an agony of helpless grief and pity.
(Richard Aldington, 1929)