Friday, November 11, 2005

Lest We Forget

The following is the opening and closing text of Leo Tolstoy's short story "Sevastopol in May 1855" - a fictional account from the Crimean War (1854-1856). It is one of the most vivid, convicting and desperate pieces of writing about war and combat which I have ever read, seen or heard. Lest we forget...


"Six months have passed since the first cannon-ball went whistling from the bastions of Sevastopol and threw up the earth of the enemy's entrenchments. Since then, bullets, balls, and bombs by the thousand have flown continually from the bastions to the entrenchments and from the entrenchments to the bastions, and above them the angel of death has hovered unceasingly.

Thousands of human ambitions have had time to be mortified, thousands to be gratified and extend, thousands to be lulled to rest in the arms of death. What numbers of pink coffins and linen palls! And still the same sounds from the bastions fill the air; the French still look from their camp with involuntary trepidation and fear at the yellowy earth from the bastions of Sevastopopl and count the embrasures from which the iron cannon frown fiercely; as before, through the fixed telescopee on the elevation of the signal-station the pilot watches the bright-coloured figures of the French, their batteries, their lines, their columns on the green hill, and the puffs of smoke that rise from the entrenchments; and as before, crowds of different men, with a still greater variety of desires, stream with the same ardour from many parts of the world to this fatal spot. But the question the diplomatists did not settle remains unsettled by powder and blood."

***


"Yes, there are white flags on the bastions and the trenches but the flowery valley is covered with dead bodies. The glorious sun is sinking towards the blue sea, and the undulating blue sea glitters in the golden light. Thousands of people crowd together, look at, speak to, and smile at one another. And these people - Christians professing the one great law of love and self-sacrifice - on seeing what they have done do not at once fall repentant on their knees before Him who has given them life and laid in the soul of each a fear of death and a love of the good and the beautiful, and do not embrace like brothers with tears of joy and gladness.

The white flags are lowered, the engines of death and suffering are sounding again, innocent blood is flowing and the air is filled with moans and curses."

1 comment:

Mama K said...

something I hope I never have to witness....
amazing imagery