Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

(4th day in the front line).

Beloved,—After the days of tears and of rebellion of the heart that have so shaken me, I pull myself together again to say ‘Thy will be done.’ So, according to the power and the measure of my faculties, I would be he who to the very end never despaired of his share in the building of the Temple. I would be the workman who, knowing full well that his scaffolding will give way and who has no hope of safety, goes on with his stone-carving of decoration on the cathedral front. Decoration. I am not one who will ever be able to lift the blocks of stone. But there are others for that job. Yes, I am getting back into a little quiet thinking. The equable tranquillity I had hoped for is not yet mine; but I have occasional glimpses of that region of peace and light in which all things, even our love, is renewed and transfigured.

I am now at the foot of a peaked hill where Nature has brought the loveliest lines of design together. Man is hunting man, and in a moment they will be locked in fight. Meanwhile the lark is rising.

Even as I write, a strange serenity possesses me. Something—extraordinary comfort. Be it a human quality, be it a revelation from on high. All around me men are asleep.

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Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

(2nd day in the front line).

It may possibly be a great intended privilege for our generation to be a witness of these horrors, but what a terrible price to pay! Well, faith, eternal faith, is over all. Faith in an evolution, an Order, beyond our human patience.

2nd Letter

In such hours as these one must perforce take refuge in the extra-human principle of sacrifice; it is impossible for mere humanity to go further.

Let go all poor human hope. Seek something beyond; perhaps you have already found it. As for me, I feel myself to be unworthy in such days to be anything more than a memory. I picked some flowers in the mud. Keep them in remembrance of me.

5 o’clock.

Courage through all, courage in spite of all.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

Another breathing-space in which, almost at my last gasp, I get a brief peace. The little reviving breath comes again. I have had the good luck to be appointed corporal on guard in delightful quarters, where I am in command. Perfect spring weather. And what can I say of this Nature? Never before have I so fully felt her amplitude of life. Hours and seasons following one another surely, infallibly, unalterably, in unchanging unity; the looker-on has a glimpse of the immensity of the force that first set them afoot.

I had often known the delight of watching the nearer coming of a season, but it had not before been given to me to live in that delight moment by moment. It is so that one learns, without the help of any kind of science, a certain intuition, vague perhaps, but altogether indisputable, of the Absolute. There was a man of science, possibly a great one, who declared that he had not discovered God under his scalpel. What a shocking mistake for an able mind to make! Where was the need of a scalpel, when the joy and the thrill of our senses are all-sufficient to convince us of the purpose commanding our whole evolution? The poet watches the coming of the seasons as it were great ships that will, he knows, set sail again. At times the storm may delay them, but at their next coming they will bring with them the rich fragrance of the unknown coasts. A season coming again to our own shores seems to bring us delights which it has learnt by long travel.

Ah, dearest mother, if one could have again a retreat for the soul! O solitude, for those worthy to possess it! How seldom is it inviolate!

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

Most dear and most beloved,—I have your splendid letter of the first. Please don’t hesitate to write what you think I would call mere chatter. Your love and the absolute identity of our two hearts appear in all your letters. And that is all I really care for. Yet they tell me a thousand things that interest me too.

We are living through hours of heavy labour. My rank gives me respite now and then; but for the men it means five nights at a time without sleep, and this repeatedly.

 

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

My dear beloved Mother,—After the sleepless night in our billet, we had to supply a working-party all the following night. So I have been sleeping up till the very moment of writing to you. Sleep and Night are refuges which give life still one attraction.

Mother dear, I am living over again the lovely legend of Sarpedon; and that exquisite flower of Greek poetry really gives me comfort. If you will read this passage of the Iliad in my beautiful translation by Lecomte de l’Isle, you will see that Zeus utters in regard to destiny certain words in which the divine and the eternal shine out as nobly as in the Christian Passion. He suffers, and his fatherly heart undergoes a long battle, but finally he permits his son to die, and Hypnos and Thanatos are sent to gather up the beloved remains.

Hypnos—that is Sleep. To think that I should come to that, I for whom every waking hour was a waking joy, I for whom every moment of action was a thrill of pride. I catch myself longing for the escape of Sleep from the tumult that besets me. But the splendid Greek optimism shines out as in those vases at the Louvre. By the two, Hypnos and Thanatos, Sarpedon is lifted to a life beyond his human death; and assuredly Sleep and Death do wonderfully magnify and continue our mortal fate.

Thanatos—that is a mystery, and it is a terror only because the urgency of our transitory desires makes us misconceive the mystery. But read over again the great peaceful words of Maeterlinck in his book on death, words ringing with compassion for our fears in the tremendous passage of mortality.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

Last night, on coming back to the barn, drunkenness, quarrels, cries, songs and yells. Such is life!. . . But when morning came and the wakening from sleep still brought me memories of this, I got up before the time, and found outside a friendly moon, and the great night taking wing, and a dawn which had pity on me. The blessed spring day gilds everything and scatters its promises and hopes.

Dear, I was reflecting on Tolstoi’s title, War and Peace. I used to think that he wanted to express the antithesis of these two states, but now I ask myself if he did not connect these two contraries in one and the same folly—if the fortunes of humanity, whether at war or at peace, were not equally a burden to his mind. By all means let us keep faithful to our efforts to be good; but in spite of ourselves we take this precept a little in the sense of the placards: ‘Be good to animals.’ How hard it is, in the midst of daily duties, to keep guard upon oneself.