I am looking for a poem. I have very scanty details. All I know is that is Italian, and that it is told as a conversation between two dead soldiers, from opposing sides of the conflict, who are buried underground beside each other. From what I can gather, they reach the conclusion that buried in the earth they are equals, and that it is only the living men above the ground that make the differences. Do you have any leads that could help me locate and identify this piece?
— claireellent (@claireellent) November 27, 2014
You can read Wilfred Owen’s ‘Strange Meeting’ on Wikipedia. If this is where the story ends, I’m quite thankful to @claireellent for turning me on to ‘Strange Meeting’. It is new to me, and it is a haunting work that is worth a few minutes of your time to reflect upon.
However, I’m not 100% sure that ‘Strange Meeting’ is exactly what I’m looking for. My original lead for this mysterious poem came from an interview with RH Thomson (20:58 mark). Thomson says:
It was a sergeant in Italy… I said, “Well, what do you think of this project? You’re in the Italian [military].” He said, “You know, there’s an Italian poem and it’s about two dead soldiers in their graves — from opposite sides — talking to each other in the earth. And they say, ‘In the earth we’re equals, it’s only the living men above the ground that makes the differences.'”
Wilfred Owen is British, and it seems to me that if Thomson’s story is true, it would be unlikely for an Italian sergeant to mistakenly think that Owen was Italian. More to the point, the whole idea that ‘In the earth we’re equals’ is not exactly explicit at all Owen’s poem at all, which leads makes me wonder if there is indeed another Italian poem that is just far less known in English-speaking regions?
(Also, today I remembered reading Blaise Pascal’s thoughts on the injustice of war and subjectivity of nation-state divides: one person asks another, “Why do you kill me?” And the reason is because he lives “on the other side of the river.”)
I will badger my Italian in-laws about this over the Christmas holidays. If you know any Italian speakers (or people super-savvy in Italian literature) could you do a little ask for me? Thanks. (And thanks to everyone who have already invested some time looking into this — that’s you, @ronnyzoo.)