Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

 (in a billet).

A sweet day, ending here round the table. Quiet, drawing, music. I can think with calm of the length of the days to come when I realise how swift have been these days that are past. Half the month is gone, and Christmas comes in the midst of war. The only thing for me is to adapt myself entirely to these conditions of existence, and, owing to my union with you, to gain a degree of acceptance which is of an order higher than human courage.

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Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

(in a new billet).

. . . Last night we left behind all that was familiar when we came out of the first-line trenches after three days of perfect peace there. We were told off to the billet which we occupied on October 6th and 7th. One can feel in the air the wind of change. I don’t know what may come, but the serenity of the weather to-day seems an augury of happiness.

These have been days of marvellous scenes, which I can appreciate better now than during those few days of discouragement, which came because I allowed myself to reckon things according to our miserable human standards.

I write to you by a window from which I watch the sunset. You see that goodness is everywhere for us.

3 o’clock.

. . . I take up this letter once more in the twilight of an exceptional winter: the day fades away as calmly as it came. I am watching the women washing clothes under the lines of trees on the river bank; there is peace everywhere—I think even in our hearts. Night falls. . . .

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

Yesterday in our shelter I got out your little album—very much damaged, alas—and I tried to copy some of the lines of the landscape. I was stopped by the cold, and I was returning dissatisfied when I suddenly had the idea of making one of my friends sit for me. How can I tell you what a joy it was to get a good result! I believe that my little pencil proved entirely successful. The sketch has been sent away in a letter to some friend of his. It was such a true joy to me to feel I had not lost my faculty.

 

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

morning.

I have had your dear letter of the 9th, in which you speak of our home. It makes me happy to feel how fine and strong is the force of life which soon adjusts itself to each separation and uprooting. It makes me happy, too, to think that my letters find an echo in your heart. Sometimes I was afraid of boring you, because though our life is so fine in many ways, it is certainly very primitive, and there are not many salient things to relate.

If only I could follow my calling of painter I could have recourse to these wonderful visions that lie before me, and I could find vent for all the pent-up artist’s emotion that is within me. As it is, in trying to speak of the sky, the tree, the hill, or the horizon, I cannot use words as subtle as they, and the infinite variety of these things can only be named in the same general terms, which I am afraid of constantly repeating. . . .

(later)

One must adapt oneself to this special kind of life, which is indigent as far as intellectual activity goes, but marvellously rich in emotion. I suppose that in troubled times for many centuries there have been men who, weary of luxury, have sought in the peace of the cloister the contemplation of eternal things; contemplation threatened by the crowd, but a refuge even so. And so I think our life is like that of the monks of old, who were military too, and more apt at fighting than I could ever be. Among them, those who willed could know the joy which I now find.

To-day I have a touching letter from Madame M——, whose spirit I love and admire.

Changeable but very beautiful weather.

It is impossible to say more than we have already said about the attitude we must adopt in regard to events. The important thing is to put this attitude in practice. It is not easy, as I have learnt in these last days, though no new difficulty had arisen to impede my path towards wisdom.

. . . Tormenting anxiety can sometimes be mistaken for an alert conscience.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

 (splendid weather, with all the calm returned).

We are still here in the region of the first line, but in a place where we can lift our heads and behold the charm of my Meusian hills, clearing in the delicate weather.

Above the village and the orchards I see the lines of birches and firs. Some have their skeletons coloured with a diaphanous violet marked with white. Others build up the horizon with stronger lines.

I have been strengthened by the splendid lesson given me by a beautiful tree during a march. Ah, dear mother, we may all disappear and Nature will remain, and the gift I had from her of a moment of herself is enough to justify a whole existence. That tree was like a soldier.

You would not believe how much harm has been done to the forests about here: it is not so much the machine-guns as the frightful amount of cutting necessary for making our shelters and for our fuel. Ah well, in the midst of this devastation something told me that there will always be beauty, in man and in tree.

For man also gives this lesson, though in him it is less easily distinguished: it is a fine thing to see the splendid vitality of all this youth, whose force no harvest can diminish.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

. . . After a refreshing night I walked to-day in these woods where for three months the dead have strewn the ground. To-day the vanishing autumn displayed its richness, and the same beauty of mossy trunks spoke to me, as it did yesterday, of eternal joy.

I am sure it needs an enormous effort to feel all this, but it must be felt if we are to understand how little the general harmony is disturbed by that which intolerably assails our emotions.

We must feel that all human uprooting is only a little thing, and what is truly ourselves is the life of the soul.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

10 o’clock (card).

A soft day under the rain. All goes well in our melancholy woods. In various parts of the neighbourhood there has been a terrible cannonade.

Received your letters of the 4th and 6th. They brought me happiness: they are the true joy of life. I am glad you visited C——. I hope to write to you at greater length. It is not that I have less leisure than usual, but I am going through a time when I am less sensible to the beauty of things. I long for true wisdom. . . .

7 o’clock.

To-day, in spite of the changing beauty of sun and rain, I did not feel alive to Nature. Yet never was there such grace and goodness in the skies.

The landscape, with the little bridge and the man on horseback of which I have told you, softened under the splendour of the clouds. But I had lapsed from my former sense of the benediction of God, when suddenly the beauty, all the beauty, of a certain tree spoke to my inmost heart. It told me of fairness that never fails; of the greenness of ivy and the redness of autumn, the rigidity of winter in the branches;—and then I understood that an instant of such contemplation is the whole of life, the very reward of existence, beside which all human expectation is nothing but a bad dream.