(in the dark).
I had begun this letter yesterday, when I was forced to leave off. It was then splendid weather, which has lasted fairly well. But we are now back again in our first lines. This time we are occupying the village itself, our pretty Corot village of two months ago. But our outpost is situated in a house where we are obliged to show no sign of life, so as to conceal our presence from the enemy. And so here we are at nine o’clock in the morning, in a darkness that would make it seem to be late on Christmas eve.
Your dear letter lately received has given me great joy. It is true that Grace and Inspiration are two names for the same thing.
If you are going to see the pictures of the great poet Gustave Moreau, you will see a panel called La vie de l’humanité (I believe). It consists of nine sections in three divisions, called l’Age d’or, l’Age d’argent, l’Age de fer. Above is a pediment from which Christ presides over this human panorama. But this is where this great genius has the same intuition as you had: each of the three parts bears the name of a hero—Adam, Orpheus, and Cain, and each one represents three periods. Now, the periods of the golden age are called Ecstasy, Prayer, and Sleep, while the periods of the silver age are called Inspiration, Song, and Tears.
Ecstasy is the same as Grace, because the picture shows Adam and Eve in the purity of their souls, in a scene of flowers, and in the enjoyment of divine contemplation. The harmony of Nature itself urges them on in their impulse towards God.
In the silver age, Inspiration is still Grace, but just beginning to be complicated by human artifice. The poet Orpheus perpetually contemplates God, but the Muse is always at his elbow, the symbol of human art is already born; and that great human manifestation of God, Song, brings with it grief and tears.
Following out the cycle and coming to human evil, Gustave Moreau shows the iron age—Cain condemned to labour and sorrow.
This work shows that the divine moment may be seized, but is fugitive and can never remain with man. It explains our failures. People say that the picture is too literary, but it touches the heart of those who wish to break through the ice with which all human expression is chilled.
Undoubtedly Rembrandt was the Poet of genius par excellence, at the same time as he was pure Painter. But let us grant that ours is a less rich time, our temperaments less universal; and let us recognise the beauty of Gustave Moreau’s poem, of which, in two words, you expressed the spirit.