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“Chanson de l’Horizon en Champagne” by Guillaume Apollinaire

Deep into the writing of a novel haunted by Jacques Rigaut, who himself was forever haunted by his experience in The Great War, a war that claimed his close boyhood friend, Maxime François-Poncet, “Tué à l’ennemi,” I’m posting by way of a Veteran’s Day/Armistice Day/Day of Remembrance tribute a reading of Apollinaire’s “Chanson de l’Horizon.” Fitting, I think, given Apollinaire’s impress on the Dadas and Surrealists. Apollinaire himself was a casualty of the ’14-18 war. “And here is the first melody of the wounded medic.”

Rigaut survived the hostilities, but carried a special wound with him until his suicide in November 1929. The following excerpt is from the opening chapter of this novel, Housebreaking the Muse, which depicts Rigaut at the front.

From Housebreaking the Muse
Overhead, doughy clouds reflected the green light of flares. Detonated munitions saturated the atmosphere with a metallic reek that permeated the abused, tattered wool of his tunic, his skin; he could taste it, a spoonful of rusted iron shavings shoved into his mouth. Hearing, which he’d temporarily lost during the preceding afternoon’s melee, was returning to him now and he was far the worse for it. Stuck somewhere in the middle of No Man’s Land, he attended to the moans of the dying all around him. Some of the mutilated clung to enough wit to turn their agony on a bitter phrase or two. Sometimes the dry, rasping supplication came in German, which he had difficulty translating but not understanding. Other times it arrived in French. Enough of Rigaut remained to find it disturbing. Finish the job, sweeties! Me, too. One bullet to the brain, please. Sometimes the pleas were followed by single gun volleys, which to Riguat sounded as though they had come from an entrenchment flanking his bomb hole. He wondered whether it wasn’t the French trying to do their countrymen a favor, the Germans theirs–not an unheard of practice on nights like these when a truce could not be arranged for removal of the slaughtered and maimed. Spare the poor souls the anguish, the pain, the onslaught of rats already bloated on human flesh, of drowning in the sucking mud. Spare the survivors from having their ankles snagged in the desperate clasp of the dying during the next day’s rush. Rigaut listened to their cries and contemplated the term Max had coined for the those wounded and stranded in the No Man’s Land: the not-yet-dead. Max converted it into a suitably military acronym: NYD. Day’s tally: 317 dead, 26 MIA, 182 missing and presumed dead, 49 NYD. “But Max,” Rigaut told him, “we’re all NYD.”

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