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John Wyeth’s World War I

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On this day, 103 years ago, WWI ended and set the template for the rest of the murderous 20th century. One of the poets who chronicled the war was the American John Allan Wyeth. His collection of poems “This Man’s Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets” was well received but faded from view, as sometimes happens. Here’s one of the sonnets. It’s remarkable: 

Harbonnières to Bayonvillers: Picnic

A house marked Ortskommandantur—a great

sign Kaiserplatz on a corner church,

and German street names all around the square.

Troop columns split to let our sidecar through.

“Drive like hell and get back to the main road—it’s getting late.”

“Yessir.”

The roadway seemed to reel and lurch

through clay wastes rimmed and pitted everywhere.

“You hungry?—Have some of this, there’s enough for two.”

We drove through Bayonvillers—and as we ate

men long since dead reached out and left a smirch

and taste in our throats like gas and rotten jam.

“Want any more?”

“Yes sir, if you got enough there?”

“Those fellows smell pretty strong.”

“I’ll say they do,

“but I’m too hungry sir to care a damn.”

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