Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Soldiers

I wrote this poem on November 10, 2002, in about an hour and a half when I was in Saint-Jean, Quebec at the Mega. The Mega's a huge building where the Canadian Forces trains new soldiers. I'd finished my training by that point, but was on the Personnel Awaiting Training platoon at the time because I'd managed to blow my wrist out and needed physiotherapy before I could do the fitness test requirements.

I don't quite remember where the genesis of this poem came from - I think I might have dreamed snippets of it - but I've rarely had anything come out that fast and that well. Almost nothing's changed from how I originally wrote it out.

I think of this poem every year on Remembrance Day. I've showed it to a few people before and read it to my platoon back in 2002, but this is its first public appearance. Feel free to repost it, print it, do anything that doesn't make a profit, but leave my name on it, please.


LJ McDonald
November 2002

The soldiers stand there watching me,
on the blood-soaked ground.
They never tell me who they are
or where that they are bound.
I tried at first to pretend
that I saw them not,
moving through the cold barbed wire
where the men have fought.
They are untouched by battle,
these soldiers that I see,
in uniforms of older wars
never fought by me.

I see them walk the battlefield,
while I hide inside my trench,
afraid of the artillery
and the bloody stench.
Upon the battlefields of war,
I cower and see ghosts,
fearing for my life and mind
from dead or living hosts.
I alone do see them,
alone in barricade,
for my buddies now are dead
and scattered round me laid.

Why is it that I’ve come here?
Why do I fight this war?
Why have I come so far from home
to fight and kill some more?
My buddies died for strangers,
sent here for policy,
wasting out our blood and lives
for things we’ll never see.
So now I sit amongst my dead
while older dead do walk,
in unseen ranks upon the field,
my sanity to mock.

“What is the point?” I rose to scream.
“What point is there to fight?
“You all fought in a thousand wars,
“but war still thunders bright.
“There is no end to tyranny,
“there is no end to hate.
“My buddies died for nothing but
a war that won’t abate.

“Why can’t I throw my weapon down?”
I shouted from my hole.
“Why can’t I live a normal life
“with an unsullied soul?
“The tanks they ran across our lines,
“the bombs fell from the sky.
“There’s been no silence for a week.
“We’ve naught to do but die.

“Why can’t I be the coward?”
I asked once I was done.
“What is the point of staying here
“when I would rather run?”

The soldiers then did look at me
and did not say a thing,
in their thousand uniforms
with weapons all agleam.
Instead their ranks did slowly part
To columns tall with pride,
to show me just exactly why
these men all risked to die.

Behind them stood the echoes –
not ghosts for they weren’t dead –
the memories of all the lives
these men died to protect.
I saw a million women
smiling down at me,
children playing at their feet
by men who all were free.
Beyond them I saw even more;
descendants in a line
that stretched out to eternity,
so wide and deep and fine.

My eyes went wide with startlement
to see these murdered men
outnumbered so by lives they saved,
of those they never met.
That was when I understood
why good men go to war,
and clutched my rifle close to me,
a glad weight I now bore.

The soldiers grouped around me,
blocking out the strife,
until I looked down and I saw
my trench carried no life.

Now I walk on battlefields,
or where once battles fought,
reminding soldiers why they fight
these wars that are our lot.
Wear uniforms for memory
of those of us who died
for millions who did never choose
oppression, fear, and lies.
Never falter, soldier,
there are those of us who see,
who know you for the man you are
and the hero you could be.


  1. WOW! Not much of a poetry person but this is great! Powerful! Happy Veterans Day to all who serve,past or present.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate that,as both the poet and someone whose served.

  2. Sitting here quietly with tears rolling down my face after reading THE SOLDIER; thinking there is nothing more moving and startling than when an author profoundly captures the true reality of something and reflects it back to us with searing and sometimes painful beauty. Thank you L.J. for this gift to us on Veteran'S Day, and in memory of my Marine Dad, thank you with all my heart for your Service.