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To My Neighbor

I lift you higher,
lift you out
of your body cells
stuffed with anxiety
of your past -
an evil load that smells.

I'll fill each cell
with love and joy
that makes the
angels dance.
You'll glide through earthly
filth and stench -
a spiritual trance.

From your youth filled eyes,
your hands
and feet,
a holy peace shall flow,
so you and I
be filled with grace -
let us be still
and know.

William Hermanns


Seelentränen sind Gedichte,
rot mit Herzblut aufgeschrieben,
tiefem Menschenleid zum Ruhm,

Lies sie still in reinem Lichte,
frei von Trieben:
Du betrittst ein Heiligtum.

Wilhelm Hermanns

William Hermanns


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        God, the Uniform and I

God is cosmic, hence here, too,
above, below, without, within.
But I, so young and handsome, feel
I have His will, His fist, His chin.

Is not our Kaiser God on earth!
Announced: "I'll end this rot and strife.
The world is sick, has to be healed
now by the German way of life."

And how my ego craving glory
drives me to hang his painting up
above my bed. "Come Majesty,
make war. I'll drink your hero's cup."

My aunt, her name Veronica,
who brings me up an orphan child,
sits at my bedside every night:
"Come pray, with God be reconciled.

"Your Kaiser's crown through ages past
has lured enough our youth. Don't fall
into this trap as did our fathers.
Write poems, that's your inner call.

"The uniform makes man a beast.
Read Goethe, Schiller, Heine, read.
To hate our neighbor, what a curse!
They're human, too, the French you meet."

What means to me a little prayer
each night with folded wrinkled hands?
The world needs healing by us Germans.
Exist there holier demands?

O glorious fate, I'm German born!
My eyes with nineteen see a chance.
A million boots like hammer strokes
pass my aunt's door. She with one glance

discovers how they sweat, are thirsty.
Her maids bring pails with water out.
An officer jumps from his horse
to kick pails over with the shout:

"You dare break German discipline?
We march to war, and France shall fall."
He sees me. "And you come along,
sing with us 'Germany over all!'"

"Good-bye, my Aunt, I volunteer.
Good-bye, a thousand times good-bye.
Will soon become an officer,
return with monocle on my eye."

She weeps and presses in my hands
a pocketbook with Psalms and prayers:
"Read in it that you do not share
the curse of uniformed soothsayers."

I, pupil of a privileged school,
can join an officers' training course
with hundred other volunteers.
A general speaks, high on his horse:

"You, officer epaulette candidates,
crave for the battlefield. O bliss,
to smite the French, so vice debauched,
so full of wine and syphilis!"

This two months training makes hate sprout.
I join the war in the Argonne.
The Kaiser says: "At Christmas time
we're home again - the war is won!"

Behind the front in roofless ruins
of churches, ministers or priests
bless us, for God is with us Germans
to fight the godless Gallic beast.

But what is with the Kaiser's promise,
at Christmas we'd be home again.
A general gives the solemn answer:
"The war prolongs, but not in vain.

"Behold the Argonne, which is now ours!
Are you not Germany's chosen sons?
The burning trees are candles lit;
and Christmas carols sing our guns.

"'O Germany over all,' how glorious
when you march through the towns that burn!
The Kaiser will make peace in Paris.
The coal mines in Lorraine we earn."

Our Crown Prince, Lord of our Fifth Army,
commands now the offensive war:
"No more trench warfare; march and conquer
Verdun! Let German glory soar!"

Good-bye Argonne forest, good-bye.
And smoke to ashes! German boots
will change you, Fortress of Verdun.
Yea, tremble when our cannon shoots.

"Your glory is much more than death,"
the Crown Prince says. "Your glory leads
to monuments that hand in gold
your names to youth as future seeds."

We march through villages and towns.
Each forward step French bullets dread.
We leave behind us smoke, blood, rats.
French syphilis loves now the dead.

Yet comrades tell me while we rest
in shell holes that the Crown Prince lives
in elegance behind the front.
A blond child to French girls he gives;

distributes cigarettes to soldiers,
mud-soaked and tired, when marching by;
the noble officers get dinners
and talks of victory - we die!

One comrade, forty years he's old,
shoots through his hand with his own gun
a bullet. I give him first-aid.
He creeps back, thinks his war is done.

But fate let him not join wife, child.
He creeps, the rosary 'round his neck,
ten shell holes back to touch a mine.
His hope turns to a blood-soaked wreck.

Trained horses carrying bread to us
are torn to pieces with their leaders.
French airplanes watch each move and are,
for us, cut from the rear, death-feeders.

A miracle: With greenish gas clouds
our artillery covers the French line.
Loudspeakers cry, "Out of your shell holes.
At last you'll get French bread and wine!"

We jump from shell holes up the hill
toward Fort Souville, and suddenly
our feet have no more ground beneath.
What climbs out cries, "Turn back and flee!"

But now Verdun's fortress Tavannes
sends heavy shells like giant birds,
tears up big holes, and through the air
fly uniforms and blood-soaked shirts.

Have French defenders syphilis?
What have we Germans? Hunger, lice,
and over our dead bodies now
the Kaiser's glorious name will rise.

I, corporal, machine gun feeder,
must backward creep, warn artillery.
They aim too short, kill our own soldiers.
But now the powers of hell want me.

The battlefield, huge shells tear open:
Earth moves up, down - so I, the rat.
The French attack. The Kaiser's glory,
has it become a vampire-bat,

hangs in Verdun's Cathedral towers
to watch us, soon to suck our blood?
My comrade cries, "Down with the Kaiser!
Makes us, his soldiers, stinking mud."

He once announced: "We are in war.
The Bible word, Thou shalt not kill,
shall not be mentioned in the church.
Our German mission we fulfill."

Yet his own war chaplain each day
reads holy words to him. I wonder:
I, volunteer, have played this game
with God and man and hell and thunder.

My officer dream with monocle
to see France crushed beneath my boot
ends in a crater. Big rats look
down from the rim at me, their loot.

Two comrades, mother tongue is Polish,
forced in the German grey field shirt,
creep through the dark, hole after hole:
French leaflets lure them to desert.

Our artillery again shoots short.
I feel still some morality
to creep toward the rear to warn.
A giant earth-wave buries me.

I dig myself half out, sit up,
the right hand stretched to heaven high:
"God save me, and I will serve You
as long as I live. Let me not die."

Is God French, too? French Africans,
the black-skinned Spahis, storm and dump
me down a crater, grip me, plunder
watch, money, ring, then out they jump,

stand on the rim, speak in their language.
One takes at me another look,
climbs down to search again my pockets
and finds my little prayer book,

asks in bad French what this book means.
I kneel down in the mud to pray.
He calls up to the rim: "Don't shoot!"
then pulls me out. God has his way.

God let me live in French captivity.
In 1920 I return alive,
will be a League of Nations diplomat,
but Goebbels makes his famous Nazi drive.

He burns a hill of books, my story, too,
about the Battle of Verdun. He, dwarf
and limping, has a huge ally,
the Swastika lover, General Ludendorff.

He tells me: "At Verdun we lost no war.
Our glorious army was stabbed in the back:
The communists, the democrats, the Jews,
that German vermin, that subhuman pack!"

My Aunt Veronica proves through her gift:
The Kaiser, Hitler were of Satan's mold.
Her little prayer book in Spahis' hands
let God in their black killing fists unfold.

I live and breathe now three generations breath.
My vow: "God save me and You I will serve
as long as I can live!" has steered my life
into an upward saving curve.

                                          William Hermanns    [P511]

Note:  P511.  Desert Hot Springs, 10/24/1985 - The poet recounts his experience as a volunteer soldier of the Kaiser (see his book The Holocaust - from a Survivor of Verdun) and as a resistor to Hitler.  Presented November 3,1985 to the Chaparral Poetry Club, Palm Desert, California.

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Published Books

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 for it's webpage:

    Einstein and the Poet - In Search of the Cosmic Man by William Hermanns -  cover
Available at Amazon

Order Kindle e-book

Order Paperback


   The Holocaust - from a Survivor of Verdun by William Hermanns - cover
Inquire on out of print books



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