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In Chapter 4, the soldiers move to the front. Paul encapsulates the the horror of the situation in the terse statement,
"...we reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals."
In the atmosphere of total destruction, only the earth still offers succor;
"Earth! - Earth! - Earth! Earth with thy folds, and hollows, and holes, into which a man may fling himself and crouch down. In the spasm of terror, under the hailing of annihilation, in the bellowing death of the explosions, O Earth, thou grantest us the great resisting surge of new-won life. Our being, almost utterly carried away by the fury of the storm, streams back through our hands from thee, and we, thy redeemed ones, bury ouselves in thee, and through the long minutes in a mute agony of hope bite into thee with our lips!"
In this passage which is almost a prayer, the author invokes images of motherhood, and a force all-powerful, like a god. The earth alone has the power to save and console in the soldiers' extremity; ironically, it provides a resting place in death as well.
The closeness between the earth and the living and dead is further explored in the grisly scene of the graveyard battle. The soldiers use the unearthed coffins of the dead in a desperate attempt to survive a ferocious bombardment. The line between the living and the dead becomes blurred, as Paul and the others take shelter in and among the coffins -
"I merely crawl still farther under the coffin, it shall protect me, though Death himself lies in it."
"Coffins and corpses lie strewn about. They have been killed once again; but each of them that was flung up saved one of us."
"Two of our dead lie in the upturned graves. We merely throw the earth in on them" (Chapter 4).
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