Letter from Mexico


        (Vera Cruz, 10 February, 186_)

You entrusted the boy to me. He has died
Along with his comrades, poor young soul. The crew–
There is no more crew; and whether the last few
Of us see France again, fate will decide.

No role a man can choose becomes him more
Than the sailor's. Perhaps it is for this
That landsmen resent him: that they do is sure.
Think what a hard apprenticeship it is.

I weep to write this, I, old Leather-Face.
Death is indifferent to what hide he tans;
Would God he'd taken mine in the boy's place.
Yet this was not my fault or any man's;

The fever strikes like clockwork; someone falls
Each hour. The cemetery sets a ration–
Which place my sergeant (a Parisian) calls,
After his zoo, le jardin d'acclimatation.

Console yourself. Life crushes men like flies.
–In his sea bag were these trophies: a girl's face,
Two little slippers, probably the size
‘For his sister,' as the note inside one says.

He sent his mother word: that he had prayed;
His father: that he would have liked some bolder
Death, in battle. At the last two angels stayed
Beside him there. A sailor. An old soldier.


                 French; trans. William Meredith


Tristan Corbiere, French, trans. William Meredith, Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems, Northwestern University Press, 1997.