08 November 2007

Prayer of a Soldier in France

Alfred Joyce Kilmer, journalist, teacher, critic, and poet, was considered "the laureate of the Catholic Church", whose commentary was frequently compared to that of Chesterton and Belloc. When his daughter was paralyzed shortly after birth, he began his conversion from Anglicanism to the Catholic faith.

Of course you understand my conversion. I am beginning to understand it. I believed in the Catholic position, the Catholic view of ethics and aesthetics, for a long time. But I wanted something not intellectual, some conviction not mental - in fact I wanted Faith.... When faith did come, it came, I think, by way of my little paralyzed daughter. Her lifeless hands led me; I think her tiny feet know beautiful paths. You understand this and it gives me a selfish pleasure to write it down.

Kilmer enlisted days after the First World War was declared. In the Second Battle of the Marne, while scouting for enemy artillery in No Man's Land, Kilmer took a sniper's bullet through the brain. He was 31. The French Republic awarded him the Croix de Guerre after his death.

Prayer of a Soldier in France

MY shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).

I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).

Men shout at me who may not speak
(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek).

I may not lift a hand to clear
My eyes of salty drops that sear.

(Then shall my fickle soul forget
Thy Agony of Bloody Sweat?)

My rifle hand is stiff and numb
(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come).

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
Than all the hosts of land and sea.

So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.

Joyce Kilmer, 1918

(with thanks to Lorraine)