The title of “The Bowmen of Shu” suggests a time and place far from the World War I foxholes that readers see the story’s hero, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, inhabiting. The twenty-three-year-old French sculptor, in whose work and intelligence the poet Ezra Pound discerned the signs of a twentieth century renaissance, has left his London studio for the trenches. Readers see him sleeping on mud and ice, fighting lustily, meditating on art, war, and nature, asking London correspondents about the art culture he is cut off from, and discussing labyrinths with the scholar and fellow soldier Robert de Launay. “The Bowmen of Shu” is named for a poem of the same title by Ezra Pound that Gaudier-Brzeska quotes in letters to friends in London. The poem presents the feelings of ancient Chinese warriors fighting a lingering war with a stubborn enemy. Their fight, like that of the soldiers of World War I, is a stalemate, with many battles fought but no victory. Gaudier-Brzeska savors the closeness of the centuries-old Chinese emotions to his own. The bowman who says, “Our sorrow is bitter, but we would not return to our country,” Gaudier-Brzeska echoes in a letter describing the surprising stoicism he feels about his most miserable circumstances: “Whatever the suffering may be it is soon forgotten and we want the victory.”
The story is a collection of images and anecdotes having to do with Gaudier-Brzeska’s life before, as well as during, the war. Selections from his foxhole...
(The entire section is 608 words.)