Sunday, 16 October 2016

Throwing Away

Dear Reader,


                                                                              The Battle of Borodino, 1812

This week my husband finished reading to me out loud Leo Tolstoy's book "War and Peace" and, as you all probably know, it is a very long read.  Thinking now about the book, what it taught me is that, as in the book "Men are from Mars, Women from Venus", men and women are so, so different in their approach to life and its struggles.  Tolstoy's account of the Battle of Borodino, which was fought in September 1812, during the French invasion of Russia, was astonishing.  For me, the most interesting part was what the soldiers were thinking and doing before the battle, knowing that they would probably be slaughtered by the thousands the next day.  The Russians suffered terrible casualties during the fighting, losing over a third of their army.  Suffering a wound on the Borodino battlefield was effectively a death sentence, since the French forces didn't have enough food for the healthy, much less the sick or wounded, so soldiers starved to death or died of their wounds.  But, and this is the interesting part, on the night before the battle the soldiers apparently made camp in the woods, lit fires, sang, and lots of laughter was heard.  I know this account was in a novel but suspect Tolstoy knew it to be true, and I consider this behaviour very brave.  Of course, I can't speak for other women,  but if it had been me, not being of a courageous disposition, I would have tried to find a bottle of vodka, drink it and quietly pass out somewhere, hoping the battle was over when I came to my senses.

This is a small piece from Francis Kilvert's diary, on Michaelmas Eve, 1872, which I thought you might like:

"Dora said Syddy Ashe is fairly mad with disappointment at not having seen the 13th Hussars when they passed through Langley on their way to Colchester.  'I would have given a great deal to have seen one' she said, 'it would have been happiness to have seen one soldier, but to have missed the chance of seeing them all!  It is too much.'  And she nearly cried with vexation".

Women and girls have always loved soldiers.  I suspect it is not only the uniforms that seem so attractive but also the brave and courageous personalities that go with them.

                                                                             *

Throwing Away

the letters,
those billets doux,
the photographs,
the dance programmes,
the theatre tickets,
the postcards,
is a formidable task,
and weeping is not forbidden.

Before discarding
these once precious things,
the proof of special moments
lived in earlier times,
memorize them all with care.
And afterwards, relive
this solitary, remembered road,
and weeping is not forbidden.

                                                                             *

With best wishes, Patricia


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Human nature is amazing and never more so than in extremis. I have known and read about brave women but I would have been sharing that vodka with you!
And the poem made me weep. Throwing away those things we treasure - it's just too sad. Xx

Rebecca Abrey said...

'The proof of special moments lived in earlier times'...You are so gifted at gathering exactly the right words to distil a moment in time. Thank you!