Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone

The Forbidden Zone. A nurse’s impressions of the First World War. Mary Borden. Hesperus Press. London. 2008

¡Zona prohibida! Una enfermera norteamericana en la Gran Guerra. Trad. Teresa Gómez Reus y Peter Lauber. Biblioteca Javier cay d’Estudis Nord-Americans. Valencia. 2011


It seems quite difficult to figure out a poem without words. The idea may sound like a cliche; it actually sounds like the title of a song or a painting and it probably is but, anyway: when we think about poetry we always think about words and writing.
Then, we get to know Mary Borden’s testimonies about the First World War and everything turns upside down. We thought we knew what a poem was; we thought we knew what a chronicle of a war was but we were wrong.
By reading her impressions, anyone can feel the disease she’s talking about: the illness of the World War. She’s not only a nurse that helps people not dying, she’s also a bard, a voice hidden in chaos. She writes poems but not with words.
She bleeds and screams, sinks her pen in terror of the battlefield and in despair of the hospital when it is no longer a real one, but a sad bunch of tents covered in mud.
«We conspire against his right to die. We experiment with his bones, his muscles, his sinews, his blood. We dig into the yawning mouths of his wounds. Helpless openings, they let us into the secret places of his body. We plunge deep into his body. We make discoveries within his body. To the shame of the havoc of his limbs we add the insult of our curiosity and the curse of our purpose, the purpose to remake him. We lay odds on his chances of escape, and we combat with death, his Saviour(…)»
Anyone can feel dirty and desperate after reading those lines and this is not because they are dirty depictions, but because they remind us the saddest part of our soul, even if we had never been on the AID services during the First World War.
Thanks to the interesting work of Teresa Gómez Reus and Peter Lauber from the Universitat de València, Spanish readers can also reach the powerful voice of Mary Borden translated into their language.
We know it is not easy to translate literature, particularly those pieces of strong poetry whose strength is lost along the way. Maybe because as I first said: they are not written with words.
I’d better let E. E. Cummings to talk himself:
my sweet old etcetera


aunt lucy during the recent




war could and what


is more did tell you just


what everybody was fighting






my sister




isabel created hundreds




hundreds) of socks not to


mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers


etcetera wristers etcetera, my


mother hoped that




i would die etcetera


bravely of course my father used


to become hoarse talking about how it was


a privilege and if only he


could meanwhile my


self etcetera lay quietly


in the deep mud et








   cetera, of


Your smile


Eyes knees and of your Etcetera)
[Cummings, Edward Estlin, Collected Poems; N. Y., Harcourt, Brace and C.º, 1938]

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