Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

in the morning sun.

The hard and splendid weather has this marvellous good—that it leaves in its great pure sky an open door for poetry. Yes, all that I told you of that beautiful time of snow came from a heart that was comforted by such triumphant beauty.

In the Reviews you send me I have read with pleasure the articles on Molière, on the English parliament, on Martainville, and on the religious questions of 1830. . . .

Did I tell you that I learnt from the papers of the death of Hillemacher? That dear friend was killed in this terrible war.

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Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

afternoon.

After two bad nights in the billet owing to the lack of straw, the third night was interrupted by our sudden departure for our emplacement in the second line.

Superb weather, frost and sun.

Great Nature begins again to enfold me, and her voice, which is now powerful again, consoles me.—But, dear, what a hole in one’s existence! Yes, since my promotion I have lived through moments which, though less terrible, recalled the first days of September, but with the addition of many blessings. I accept this new life, with no forecast of the future.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

Your dear letter of the 20th reached me last night. You must not be angry with me if occasionally, as in my letter of the 13th, I lack the very thing I am always forcing myself to acquire. But I ask you to consider what can be the thoughts of one who is young, in the fulness of productiveness, at the hour when life is flowering, if he is snatched away, and cast upon barren soil where all he has cherished fails him.

Well, after the first wrench he finds that life has not forsaken him, and sets to work upon the new ungrateful ground. The effort calls for such a concentration of energy as leaves no time for either hopes or fears. It is the constant effort at adaptation, and I manage it, except only in moments of the rebellion (quickly suppressed) of the thoughts and wishes of the past. But I need my whole strength at times for keeping down the pangs of memory and accepting what is.

I was thinking of the sad moments that you too endure, and that was why I encouraged you to an impersonal idea of our union. I know how strong you are, and how prepared for this idea. Yes, you are right, we must not meet the pain half-way. But at times it is difficult to distinguish between the real suffering that affects us, and that which is only possible or imminent.

Mind you notice that I have perfect hope and that I count on prevailing grace, but, caring more than anything to be an artist, I am occupied in drawing all the beauty out, in drawing out the utmost beauty, as quickly as may be, none of us knowing how much time is meted to us.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

. . . As for me, I have no desires left. When my trials are really hard to bear, I rest content with my own unhappiness, without facing other things.

When they become less hard, then I begin to think, to dream, and the past that is dear to me seems to have that same remote poetry which in happier days drew my thoughts to distant countries. A familiar street, or certain well-known corners, spring suddenly to my mind—just as in other days islands of dreams and legendary countries used to rise at the call of certain music and verse. But now there is no need of verse or music; the intensity of dear memories is enough.

I have not even any idea of what a new life could be; I only know that we are making life here and now.

For whom, and for what age? It hardly matters. What I do know, and what is affirmed in the very depths of my being, is that this harvest of French genius will be safely stored, and that the intellect of our race will not suffer for the deep cuts that have been made in it.

Who will say that the rough peasant, comrade of the fallen thinker, will not be the inheritor of his thoughts? No experience can falsify this magnificent intuition. The peasant’s son who has witnessed the death of the young scholar or artist will perhaps take up the interrupted work, be perhaps a link in the chain of evolution which has been for a moment suspended. This is the real sacrifice: to renounce the hope of being the torch-bearer. To a child in a game it is a fine thing to carry the flag; but for a man, it is enough to know that the flag will yet be carried. And that is what every moment of great august Nature brings home to me. Every moment reassures my heart: Nature makes flags out of anything. They are more beautiful than those to which our little habits cling. And there will always be eyes to see and cherish the lessons of earth and sky.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

. . . I have sent you a few verses; I don’t know what they are worth, but they reconciled me to life. And then our last billet was really wonderful in its beauty. Water running over pebbles . . . vast, limpid waters at the end of the park. Sleeping ponds, dreaming walks, which none of this brutality has succeeded in defiling. To-day, sun on the snow. The beauty of the snow was deeply moving, though certainly we had some bad days, days on which there was nothing for us but the wretched mud.

It seems that we won’t be coming back to this pretty billet. Evidently they are making ready for something; the regularity of our winter existence has come to an end.

2 o’clock.

Splendid weather, herald of the spring, and we can make the most of it, because in this place we are allowed to put our noses out of doors.

I write badly to-day. I can only send you my love. This war is long, and I can’t even speak of patience.

My only happiness is that during these five and a half months I have so often been able to tell you that everything was not ugliness. . . .

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

We are in our first-line emplacements. The snow has followed us, but alas, the thaw too. Happily, in this emplacement we don’t live in water as we do in the trenches.

Can any one describe the grace of winter trees? Did I already tell you what Anatole France says in the Mannequin d’Osier? He loves their delicate outlines and their intimate beauty more when they are uncovered in winter. I too love the marvellous intricate pattern of their branches against the sky.

From my post I can see our poor village, which is collapsing more and more. Each day shells are destroying it. The church is hollowed out, but its old charm remains in its ruins; it crouches so prettily between the two delicately defined hills.

We were very happy in the second line. That time of snow was really beautiful and clement. I told you yesterday about the sunset the other day. And, before that, our arrival in the marvellous woods. . . .

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

morning.

Do not think that I ever deprive myself of sleep. In that matter our regiment is very fitful: one time we sleep for three days and three nights; another time, the opposite.

Now Nature gives me her support once more. The frightful spell of rain is interrupted by fine cold days. We live in the midst of beautiful frost and snow; the hard earth gives us a firm footing.

My little grade gets me some solitude. I no longer have my happy walks by night, but I have them in the day; my exemption from the hardest work gives me time to realise the beauty of things.

Yesterday, an unspeakable sunset. A filmy atmosphere, with shreds of tender colour; underneath, the blue cold of the snow.

Dear mother, it is a night of home-sickness. These familiar verses came to me in the peace:

‘Mon enfant, ma sœur,
Songe à la douceur
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble
Au pays qui te ressemble.’

Yes, Beaudelaire’s Invitation au voyage seemed to take wing in the exquisite sky. Oh, I was far from war. Well, to return to earthly things: in coming back I nearly missed my dinner.

evening.

Acceptation always. Adaptation to the life which goes on and on, taking no notice of our little postulations.