Soldiers' Songs

A poem by Alfred Lichtenstein


It's good and beautiful to be a soldier for a year.
You live longer that way. And one is certainly pleased
With each scrap of time that one snatches from death.
This poor brain, shredded by longing for the city,
Bloody from books, bodies, evenings,
Inconsolably sad and filled with every sin,
Three quarters destroyed already - can only,
Standing at attention and marching on parade,
Swinging arms and legs,
Rust gently in a corner of the skull.
Oh, the stink in a marching column.
Oh, speed-marching across a lovely land in the spring.


I must come one hour before the others,
Because I have shot badly.
I certainly won't be promoted.
And I must do extra drills as punishment,
Because, while the others, in accordance with orders,
Looked steadily at the caps of those in front of them,
As we were marching under the red sun
Across the shining fields,
I squinted carefully at the little pilot
Who was humming above me like a bee
In the glowing evening sky.


I know, I know; this life is healthy.
My rifle drill is hardly heard,
But I cut my hand badly.
Instead of the damned barracks yard
I could now be in a meadow.
In front of the assembled troops a man begins
To cry bitterly.


Sometimes I am afraid: a year is long,
Endlessly long. And always legs swinging...
The whole lovely day spent molding bodies
And parade marching, and firing blanks.
To have to forget the world... that in the evening
One is still senseless, drinking beer, when one goes to sleep
One still feels the heavy helmet on his forehead -
And at night dreams of sergeants -


Even when Sundays and evenings come,
Completely empty and listless I move about,
I am completely glassy-eyed, play with dogs for fun,
Ah, or with little stones that I find,
Weary, without a thought, drag myself through the streets.
I often also stand around at my window,
At loose ends; should I just hang out at the local bar
With my dull comrades, kill my weary
Miserable hours in flickering movie houses
And, to pass the time of day
Look for willing girls: or should I merely
Go back and forth in my room.
I, who ran through the nights like a fool,
Shrieking to the sky, sought a thousand miracles.

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