Since half-past eight on the evening of the 12th we have been dragged about from place to place in the prospect of our taking part in a violent movement. We left at night, and in the calm of nature my thoughts cleared themselves a little, after the two days in billets during which one becomes a little too material. Our reinforcement went up by stealth. We awaited our orders in a barn, where we slept on the floor. Then we filed into the woods and fields, which the day, breaking through grey, red, and purple clouds, slowly lit up, in surroundings the most romantic and pathetic that could be imagined. In the full daylight of a charming morning we learnt that the troops ahead of us had inflicted enormous losses on the enemy, and had even made a very slight advance. We then returned to our usual posts, and here I am again, beholding once more the splendour of the French country, so touching in this grey, windy, and impassioned November, with sunshine thrown in patches upon infinite horizons.
Dear mother, how beautiful it is, this region of spacious dignity, where all is noble and proportioned, where outlines are so beautifully defined!—the road bordered with trees diminishing towards the frontier, hills, and beyond them misty heights which one guesses to be the German Vosges. There is the scenery, and here is something better than the scenery. There is a Beethoven melody and a piece by Liszt called ‘Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude.’ Certainly we have no solitude, but if you turn the pages of Albert Samain’s poems you will find an aphorism by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam: ‘Know that there will always be solitude on earth for those who are worthy of it.’ This solitude of a soul that can ignore all that is not in tune with it. . . .
I have had two letters from you, of the 6th and 7th. Perhaps this evening I shall have another. Do not let us allow our courage to be concerned only with the waiting for letters from each other. But the letters are our life, they are what bring us our joys, our happiness, it is through them that we take delight in the sights of this world and of this time.
If your eyes are not strong, that is a reason for not writing, but apart from your health do not by depriving me of letters hold back your heart from me.
Dear Mother whom I love,—Here we are again in our usual billet, and my heart is full of thoughts all tending towards you. I cannot tell you all that I feel in every moment, yet how much I should like to share with you the many pleasures that come one by one even in this monotonous life of ours, as a broken thread drops its pearls.
I should like to be able to admire with you this lovely cloud, this stretch of country which so fills us with reverence, to listen with you to the poetry of the wind from beyond the mountain, as when we walked together at Boulogne. But here a great many prosaic occupations prevent me from speaking to you as I feel.
I sent you with my baggage my note-book from August 18 to October 20. These notes were made when we could easily get at our light bags, in the calm of our trench-days, when our danger stopped our chattering, and I could let my heart speak. I found a happiness more intense, wider and fuller, to write to you about. That was a time of paradise for me. But I don’t like the billets, because the comfort and the security, relaxing our minds, bring about a great deal of uproar which I don’t like. You know how much I have always needed quiet and solitude. Still, I have excellent friends, and the officers are very kind.
But with a little patience and a few thoughts about you I can be happy. How kind this first half of November has been! I have not suffered once from cold. And how lovely it was! That All Saints’ Day was nothing but a long hymn—from the night, with its pure moonlight on the dark amber of the autumn trees, to the tender twilight. The immense rosy dream of this misty plain, stretching out towards the near hills. . . . What a song of praise! and many days since then have sung the glory of God. Cœli ennarrant. . . .
That is what those days brought to me.