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The bombardment eases, but terrible cries break out-the screaming of horses. Detering, a farmer, finds their agony unendurable and cries for someone to shoot them. He even aims his own gun, though they're much too far away, and Kat has to knock his rifle into the air lest he hit a man. The appalling sounds continue, and some of the wounded horses run berserk, dragging their own intestines. The men in Paul's area hold their hands over their ears; they can't bear it, yet there's absolutely nothing they can do. Finally the horses are shot and it is mercifully still.
NOTE: THE HORSES
If you think back to Paul's earlier comments on the horses, you can see how deeply he appreciates the beauty of nature. Now he identifies their pain as nature itself protesting the savagery of human beings. To him the cries of the horses are "the moaning-of the world,... martyred creation, wild with anguish." It would not have been Paul alone who saw the horses as symbolic of all of creation. We tend to use the words romance and romantic to mean love story. But in literature romantic means an 18th-and 19th-century emphasis on mysticism, feeling, and sympathy for nature. That's the kind of literature Paul and his companions would have been familiar with before they were plunged into the war.
The presence of the horses also helps set the time of this novel. Horses and donkeys were used extensively in the First World War, since trucks, tanks, and planes were still in the early stages of development. That's also why Paul calls trucks motor lorries, to distinguish them from horse-drawn wagons, which were still sometimes called, in English, trucks or lorries.
As readers, we almost sigh with relief when the troops trudge back at three in the morning toward the place where the trucks will pick them up. They make their way through trenches and a small forest, and into a cemetery, but Kat, whose feelings are always accurate at the front, is uneasy. He's right: another bombardment begins. This time Paul receives a blow on the head and is struck by flying splinters, but he is not seriously wounded. Ironically, it is a coffin that shelters him; the arm he feels is that of a long-dead corpse, not a fellow soldier.
Bells and metal clappers warn of a new danger, poison gas. Paul and Kat don their gas masks in time, but some of the new recruits do not. They will cough out their seared lungs in clots. History tells us that gas victim died in great pain, their faces burnt and blackened. Tensely waiting to see if their masks are functioning, Kat and Paul and Kropp scowl at the obscene stuff, the gas hanging like a jellyfish over the field. A new bombardment churns up the cemetery, as if killing the dead a second time. When the explosions ease, Paul and Kat-heads buzzing from the stale air circulating through their masks-dig a man out from under a coffin, dumping the corpse to make the work go better. They bandage their comrade, using a coffin board. They also bandage the rookie that Paul comforted earlier. His hip is shattered and they think of shooting him as an act of kindness, but too many men gather. War may be war, but it's still not right to shoot a man in cold blood. Two dead men lie in an upturned grave; the living throw more dirt over them. The earth may sometimes protect a man, but as Paul will comment later on, she also erases all sign of his ever having existed.
NOTE: THE INDIFFERENCE OF NATURE
Earlier in this chapter Paul thought of the screaming of the horses as nature crying out in protest at what man was doing. If you keep an eye out for other comments on nature as the story develops, you'll notice that he never does this again.
Instead, his references to nature show that earth simply covers the dead and erases their identities. It's like the poem "Grass" by American poet Carl Sandburg. Nature just doesn't care one way or another, but goes calmly on. Grass covers all signs of what happened on a battlefield just as easily as it covers a front lawn. In Chapter 11 we will also see how the seasons march on, paying no attention at all to the desperate gyrations of the two-legged beings struggling on the surface of the earth.
Blossoms come out in spring; rain during the summer leaves the men soaked and caked with mud. Nature is so big it doesn't even notice man.
At last Paul's unit clambers numbly into the trucks, too battered to care about the insensitive men at the dressing station with all their babbling about numbers and labels. Driving back to camp, the standing men mindlessly duck their heads at each call of "Wire"- a warning of low, dense, overhead telephone lines. It is raining, and the rain, Paul says, "falls in our hearts."