‘The Tragedy of Afghanistan’ A poem by Theodore Fontane, Written 1848

EnglishTranslation by Gabriele Campbell, 2010

Poem was written in 1848  after the elimination of entire British Elphinstone’army in 1842 during the First Anglo-Afghan War. There was only one sole survivor, William Brydon, an assistant surgeon, depicted in picture by Wikimedia Commons.

Snow like powder from the sky softly falls,
When before Djelalabad a rider halts.
“Who’s there” – “A cavalrist from Britain’s army
A message from Afghanistan I carry.”

Into a guard-house they guided him
And made him sit at the fire’s brim;
How warm was the fire, how bright was its shine,
He takes a deep breath, and begins to explain.

“Thirteen thousand men we had been,
When our outset from Kabul was seen – Now soldiers, leaders, women and bairn
They are betrayed, and frozen and slain.

“Dispersed is the entire host,
Who is alive, in the darkness is lost.
A God to me salvation has sent – To save the rest you may make an attempt.”

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