The Soldier

By David Ferry b. 1924 David Ferry
Saturday afternoon. The barracks is almost empty.   
The soldiers are almost all on overnight pass.   
There is only me, writing this letter to you,
And one other soldier, down at the end of the room,   
And a spider, that hangs by the thread of his guts,   
His tenacious and delicate guts, Swift’s spider,   
All self-regard, or else all privacy.
The dust drifts in the sunlight around him, as currents   
Lie in lazy, drifting schools in the vast sea.
In his little sea the spider lowers himself
Out of his depth. He is his own diving bell,
Though he cannot see well. He observes no fish,   
And sees no wonderful things. His unseeing guts   
Are his only hold on the world outside himself.
I love you, and miss you, and I find you hard to imagine.   
Down at the end of the room, the other soldier   
Is getting ready, I guess, to go out on pass.
He is shining his boots. He sits on the edge of his bunk,   
Private, submissive, and heedful of himself,   
And, bending over himself, he is his own nest.   
The slightest sound he makes is of his being.   
He is his mother, and nest, wife, brother, and father.   
His boots are bright already, yet still he rubs
And rubs till, brighter still, they are his mirror,   
And in this mirror he observes, I guess,   
His own submissiveness. He is far from home.

David Ferry, “The Soldier” from Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999). Copyright © 1999 by David Ferry. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (The University of Chicago Press, 1999)

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Poet David Ferry b. 1924

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 David  Ferry


David Ferry is an acclaimed American poet and translator. Ferry’s translations, which include some of the world's major works of poetry including The Odes of Horace, and both The Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, are known for their fluency and grace. In addition to his lauded translations, Ferry is also a prize-winning poet in his own right. His poetic works include Dwelling Places (1993) and Of No Country I Know: New and . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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