Was it 5 or 7 million who died in the Napoleonic Wars, and how many more wounded, how many uniformed,
those sending tear-stained entreaties to the front, or those whose houses were burned,
whose fields were trampled, or whose grandfather ever after walked with a limp,
whose great grandfather had to have his meat cut for him and would never again utter a word
of French derivation, not even apricot?
Which languages called orders over seasons stripped
of holiday, configured in the coalitions’ advance or retreat, and in whose salons was love confessed?
From the deafening sound of his own gun, the whistle and thud of cannon balls, the flushed and perspiring faces of the crew, from the sight of blood of men and horses, the little puffs of smoke (followed by a ball flying past and striking the earth, a man, a gun, a horse),
a fantastic world has taken possession of us, the population of readers, its own small army entering upon the vast country of one man’s imagination and account, like the jungles of East Timor
for the scant count of visitors; we’ve climbed into our snug boat and pushed the known earth away to arrive days
or weeks later at the chapter in which Natasha receives a letter from Anatole, or in which the count, winded from a robust mazurka, pauses to draw a cloth over his face.