The Great War

from Great Poems of the World War, an electronic edition

Poilu

The traditional friendship between the United States and France was recemented under the fire of German guns. In France they celebrated our Fourth of July; in this country, we celebrated the fourteenth of July, the anniversary of the fall of the Bastile. Yank and Poilu, are brothers in war, don't mind the languages. The inextinguishable humor of France never showed more quaintly than inthat word, "Poilu." It means "unshaven." More freely, "a man who needs a shave." A whimsical comment upon the French soldier's way of letting his beard grow while he is in the field. Those boys were like the English and our own. They smiled at misery. They were good old sports, bless 'em!

YOU'RE a funny fellow, poilu, in your dinky little cap

And your war worn, faded uniform of blue,

With your multitude of haversacks abulge from heel to flap

And your rifle that is most as big as you.

You were made for love and laughter, for good wine and merry song,

Now your sunlit world has sadly gone astray,

And the road today you travel stretches rough and red and long,

Yet you make it, petit soldat, brave and gay.

Though you live within the shadow, fagged and hungry half the while,

And your days and nights are racking in the line,

There is nothing under heaven that can take away your smile,

Oh, so wistful, and so patient and so fine.

You are tender as a woman with the tiny ones who crowd

To upraise their lips and for your kisses pout,

Still, we'd hate to have to face you when the bugle's sounding loud

And your slim, steel sweetheart Rosalie is out.

You're devoted to mustaches which you twirl with such an air

O'er a cigarette with nigh an inch to run,

And quite often you are noticed in a beard that's full of hair,

But that heart of yours is always twenty-one.

No you do not "parlee English," and you find it very hard,

For you want to chum with us and words you lack;

So you pat us on the shoulder and say, "Nous sommes camarades.''

We are that, my poilu pal, to hell and back!

Notes

The traditional friendship between the United States and France was recemented under the fire of German guns. In France they celebrated our Fourth of July; in this country, we celebrated the fourteenth of July, the anniversary of the fall of the Bastile. Yank and Poilu, are brothers in war, don't mind the languages. The inextinguishable humor of France never showed more quaintly than inthat word, "Poilu." It means "unshaven." More freely, "a man who needs a shave." A whimsical comment upon the French soldier's way of letting his beard grow while he is in the field. Those boys were like the English and our own. They smiled at misery. They were good old sports, bless 'em!