feeling the souls of the fallen … rising upward

December 5, 2012

in Art & Literature,Spirituality

Perhaps it was the rhythm of the wheels clicking past the joints of the rails, or the lurching and swaying of the coaches, or the weaving of steam and smoke as they painted the brush and the sandy banks through which the train sped. Or perhaps it was the fields newly ploughed and newly cut, or still in hay and weaving like the sea. Or perhaps just the great mass of the train pressing forward, but he was thrown back to a time not long before, when he had ridden powerlessly with the fortunes of war and nothing was left of what he had been. He was a pathfinder, whose job was to go first and set the flares and smoke that others would follow. With the first major actions in Sicily, and then in France, Holland, and Germany, he discovered that no matter how well he might show the way, he was following a course that had already been set. So many times he would look back toward the echelons that he guided in and know that just as they were tracing his path he was tracing another; that it had all come before, and that he was merely following his first soldier. He remembered – he could never forget – that in the fiercest fighting the casualties were so many that you could feel the souls of the fallen rising all around you, lifting upward as gently as snow falls.

The fields between the sea and sound were in their silence like the field of France where he had been broken, and now he was racing through them, still alive. The window was open full, and sometimes cinder from the steam engine came in and stung his eyes. The larger ones, more than just grit in the wind, were hot enough to burn where they touched. Farmers had made long windrows at angles to the rails, and the land was in the state of perfection it knows only in early June. Clouds and sun made the light that burst through the windows of the train flash as if from a heliograph, and now and then the train would run near the ocean, where the sea air was as fresh as the water was blue.

In Sunlight and in Shadow Mark Helprin p.99-100

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