Contributor’s Club: A New Year’s Gift From the Battlefield

“In dying for the fatherland, you will understand that I die for you, for within our love for fatherland lie hidden all other loves, longings, and anxieties.”

The following paragraphs are translated with literalness from the letter of a Greek soldier, wounded in battle, to his wife whom he left in the United States when he followed the patriotic call to arms. — The Editors, 1913.

Every year, my dear Christine, even in our greatest poverty, — the beautiful poverty we have so long shared together, — I was wont to make you a present. Very often this gift had to be simply a bunch of lilies. But always have you received it as if it were the most precious jewel, a thing which set great value on the poor lilies and showed your infinite kindness.

Here where I am this year, there are not even lilies together with which I might send you my best wishes and my New Year’s kiss. Here spring only mountain poppies, dyed with the blood of men. Their color does not fit our peaceful love, and I fear the color of the blood is not love’s fitting symbol. But I must keep my custom.

I send you with the bearer another small gift, an ornament of a very cheap metal, which, nevertheless has cost me very dear, since I have almost paid for it with my life. I send you a beautiful shining Mauser bullet, a pretty work of art.

This bullet has pierced my breast, and the other day the surgeon made me a present of it, after a long struggle he had to extract it from within me. The bullet is an heroic gift, is it not? But, I beg of you not receive it in its heroic meaning. I would not like that very much; and would not have you believe that I send it to you as a witness of any heroism of mine. I am not sending you this bullet, either as a title or as a medal I have acquired, nor am I sending it that it might speak before you of any sacrifices. And, it is not for this reason that I want you to admire it or to be proud of it. It is a bullet that was washed in my blood. It passed very near my heart and heard its throbs, which were all for you, my beloved. It is, you see, a bullet which has lost all its heroism, and has become mild, peaceful, passive, — just like a flower.

Keep it, hang it on your necklace, wear it next to your heart, — give it a sympathetic friendship in your life. It was a good kind bullet to me. It did not wish to separate us forever, my beloved Christine, although it could have done so very well.

I am going to be out of the hospital in a few days. Perhaps another bullet will not be as kind as this one has been. Perhaps you will not see me again. Who knows? But this small gift which I send to you, this worthless little thing, which passed so near my heart as if it wished to know my innermost secrets, will always tell you how I loved you, even up to the last moment of my life in this world. Perhaps this will help you not to be jealous of my other lover, for whose sake I am now sacrificing myself. For in dying for the fatherland, you will understand that I die for you, for within our love for fatherland lie hidden all other loves, longings, and anxieties.

But all these things will be told you much better by my little gift, which I send you together with my sweetest kisses.