February 4th, 1917.
My Dearest Mother:
Somewhere in the distance I can hear a piano going and men's voices singing A Perfect Day. It's queer how music creates a world for you in which you are not, and makes you dreamy. I've been sitting by a fire and thinking of all the happy times when the total of desire seemed almost within one's grasp. It never is—one always, always misses it and has to rub the dust from the eyes, recover one's breath and set out on the search afresh. I suppose when you grow very old you learn the lesson of sitting quiet, and the heart stops beating and the total of desire comes to you. And yet I can remember so many happy days, when I was a child in the summer and later at Kootenay. One almost thought he had caught the secret of carrying heaven in his heart.
By the time this reaches you I'll be in the line again, but for the present I'm undergoing a special course of training. You can't hear the most distant sound of guns, and if it wasn't for the pressure of study, similar to that at Kingston, one would be very rested.
Sunday of all days is the one when I remember you most. You're just sitting down to mid-day dinner,—I've made the calculation for difference of time. You're probably saying how less than a month ago we were in London. That doesn't sound true even when I write it. I wonder how your old familiar surroundings strike you. It's terrible to come down from the mountain heights of a great elation like our ten days in London. I often think of that with regard to myself when the war is ended. There'll be a sense of dissatisfaction when the old lost comforts are regained. There'll be a sense of lowered manhood. The stupendous terrors of Armageddon demand less courage than the uneventful terror of the daily commonplace. There's something splendid and exhilarating in going forward among bursting shells—we, who have done all that, know that when the guns have ceased to roar our blood will grow more sluggish and well never be such men again. Instead of getting up in the morning and hearing your O.C. say, "You'll run a line into trench so-and-so to-day and shoot up such-and-such Hun wire," you'll hear necessity saying, "You'll work from breakfast to dinner and earn your daily bread. And you'll do it to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow world without end. Amen." They never put that forever and forever part into their commands out here, because the Amen for any one of us may be only a few hours away. But the big immediate thing is so much easier to do than the prosaic carrying on without anxiety—which is your game. I begin to understand what you have had to suffer now that R. and E. are really at war too. I get awfully anxious about them. I never knew before that either of them owned so much of my heart. I get furious when I remember that they might get hurt. I've heard of a Canadian who joined when he learnt that his best friend had been murdered by Hun bayonets. He came to get his own back and was the most reckless man in his battalion. I can understand his temper now. We're all of us in danger of slipping back into the worship of Thor.
I'll write as often as I can while here, but I don’t get much time—so you'll understand. It's the long nights when one sits up to take the firing in action that give one the chance to be a decent correspondent.
My birthday comes round soon, doesn't it? Good heavens, how ancient I'm getting and without any "grow old along with me" consolation. Well, to grow old is all in the job of living.
Good-bye, and God bless you all.