The Great War

from Great Poems of the World War, an electronic edition

French in the Trenches

I have a conversation book; I brought it out from home.

It tells you the French for knife and fork and likewise brush and comb

It learns you how to ask the time, the names of all the stars

And how to order oysters and how to buy cigars.

But there ain't no stores to buy in; there ain't no big hotels,

When you spend your time in dugouts doing a wholesale trade in shells;

It's nice to know the proper talk for theatres and such,

But when it comes to talking, why, it doesn't help you much.

There's all them friendly kind o' things you'd naturally say

When you meet a feller casual like and pass the time o' day.

'l'hem little things that breaks the ice and kind of clears the air.

But when you lose your French book, why, them things isn't there.

I met a chap the other day a--rootin' in a trench,

He didn't know a word of ours, nor me a word of French

And how we ever managed, well, I cannot understand,

But I never used my French book though I had it in my hand.

I winked at him to start with; he grinned from ear to ear;

An' he says, "Bong Jour, Sammy," an' I says "Souvenir";

He took my only cigarette, I took his thin cigar,

Which set the ball a--rollin', and so--well, there you are!

I showed him next my wife and kids; he up and showed me his,

Them funny little French kids with hair all in a frizz;

"Annette," he says, "Louise," he says, and his tears begin to fall;

We was comrades when we parted, though we'd hardly spoke at all.

He'd have kissed me if I'd let him. We had never met before,

And I've never seen the beggar since, for that's the way of war;

And though we scarcely spoke a word, I wonder just the same

If he'll ever see them kids of his--I never asked his name.