Allied field hospital, France, 1917:
The British soldier, barely more than a boy, laid on a stretcher with his feet dangling off the end. His right arm was in a cast and bloodied bandages covered his bared torso. One side of his head had been shaved and a thick line of stitches ran from behind his ear to the top of his forehead. His right eye was swollen shut and what skin wasn’t hidden under bandages was black and purple. He had lain there for three days without waking. Every few hours, he would become restless and groan in pain. After a few minutes, he would settle again.
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon when he first awoke to the sound of a woman talking. His eyes closed, the voice was distant and indistinct. As he slowly woke, her voice seemed to grow closer. An Irish accent, she was reading. For a long time he listened without hearing the words. Slowly, ever so slowly, he became aware of the pains in his body. And as he did, he heard her voice more clearly. Until finally, he could make out words:
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Bonus points if you can name the poem she’s reading without looking it up and before she does or I do…