Twenty years old in 1914

"I have torn my flag to pieces, on the barbed wire of barbarism,

I have sacrificed my life for this, and this is really my only default.

I have accepted this burden, my cup down to the dregs

War, its savagery shall not make me a hero, I die almost silently and become the torch

In whose clear glow, in the dark, illuminates the bars

Of a prison which separates men from their brains.

It still flutters, it floats, this beautiful jewel,

For the army, a shroud, even trampled upon, even in tatters

Hated by a contemptuous enemy, it streaks across the sky with with its red stripes.

Its punctured canvas flaps with a sharp snap, making the crows flee.

Yet it is still upright, despite the repeated assaults,

Cascading grapeshot piercing its muslin.

Soldier, as long as you are alive, hang on to this ray.”

Opposite too it is defended, this piece of cloth in its niche,

Often almost identical, as it twists on its spindle.

At thirty paces, just to the left of a large hillside

Stretches a monstrous wire, hooked, its fingers in double rings.

To heavily fallen comrades, it offers a substitute vault

To collect their dying breath, without a sigh nor a sob.

Their panting pierced bodies finish their journey with a shudder;

In 14, he had just turned 20, having to obey the orders of generals.

Walked up to the Front Line, straight towards the atrocious fire of the enemy cannon.

Baggy, red sheepskin trousers and blue caftan, a very easy target for the enemy executioner.

Gassed, without a mask, suffocating, shrapnel tearing through the skin and into the bone.

The shell takes off a bloody limb, the earth shakes and covers the lad.

He breathes and moves, he is buried alive. His gray coat twitches,

When the tottering stretcher-bearers tug on the sleeve of his coat.

Comrades shot as an example, the sweltering heat, the rain falling in buckets,

The patient reaper who surveys them, the brutalizing bromide, the trench which became a creek,the dysentry, crawling vermin, broken sleep, the cook’s nasty soup,

The civilians and Paris who only shakes to the sound of the dance halls along the water.

Misunderstood, abandoned, they enter the temple of the missing soldiers without ever being heroes,

They die a second time in the extensive oblivion orchestrated for the Great Mute* by its field-marshals.

Cheated, betrayed, deceived, threatened, censored, abused, malnourished, exhausted, bruised, without a word.

How many have died at 20, just for a flag?"

Florence Vitel

Poet and writer.

Last updated December 02, 2015