16

What does “kilo-stones” mean as in “Will stretch like kilo-stones or cypresses”?

The phrase is in this book. It is used in "To Any Young Soldier", a sonnet by F.G. Butler:

Lean your Bren against the white-washed wall
While peasants, laughing, thrust a grass-bound flask
Into your dusty hands. Smiling, bask
In their dark eyes' praise. Brief hero of them all,
Stretch your royal limbs, lean back and laugh:
You, whom last year's masters thought a fool
Have learnt from masters in another school
The meaning of a college cenotaph.

So light a fag, knock back a glass or two,
Look calmly on shell-torn terraces,
All last night's acre of especial hell;
And wonder if the years ahead of you
Will stretch like kilo-stones or cypresses
From eighteen on to eighty, or, the next shell.

  • 1
    My first guess, "a unit of weight equal to 14000 pounds", was way off. – Nate Eldredge Dec 1 '15 at 15:25
25

Kilo-stones are road stones marking distances in kilometers. The word is similar to milestone, but refers to kilometers instead of miles.

Here's a kilo-stone in Moldova (from velosamara.ru); note the km abbreviation for "kilometer":

enter image description here

Imagine yourself looking at a road that goes on far to the horizon. On the side of the road, there could be kilo-stones, and they "stretch ahead of you". Or, there could be trees, for example, cypresses.

So, this string of kilo-stones or cypresses "stretches" ahead of you. You are a young soldier, just 18 years of age. You shall travel along this road of life until you die. In a war, you could die at any moment. If you are spared, you could live to be 80 years of age. If you are unlucky, you will be killed by the next shell.


Usage example for kilo-stone:

The Suffolk and Welch battalions were now holding the line of the road from the 79th kilo stone to Mazirko, with their left flank refused. (The History of the Suffolk Regiment, 1914-1927)

  • 2
    @Usernew That's just Google trying to be helpful. When searching for the literal meaning of a word, the quotation marks are quite useful to tell the search engine not to try anything funny. CopperKettle's answer is correct. – Mast Nov 30 '15 at 9:33
  • 1
    Yes @StoneyB Copperkettle got it right :) I even said in my comments, "I agree 99% with both the answers, it's just the use of hyphen that's making me think of this weird assumption. :D " I will delete my comments now as they are not helpful in any way :) – Usernew Nov 30 '15 at 13:11
  • 1
    @Usernew - thank you for an interesting discussion! – CowperKettle Nov 30 '15 at 13:17
7

It is a metaphorical use of those words.

As CopperKettle says, 'milestones' are also known as 'kilo-stones'.

But then, I think the poet wants to say that the years ahead of someone are long, very long.

The word 'stretch' supports it. Stretched milestones - going far and far, and Cypresses are known for their longevity

5

The imagery being used is that of a road stretching out ahead of the 'young soldier'. The kilo-stones are the distance markers on the road, as others have commented. The reference to cypresses gives it away; cypress trees being commonly used to line country rounds all over Europe.

  • 1
    "country roads", probably. (0: Googling for "cypress road" I chanced upon a Van Gogh painting. – CowperKettle Nov 30 '15 at 9:37

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