The Argonne, France
Dear Mother,—I go on with this letter in the billet, where the great worry of accumulated work fills up the void which Melancholy would make her own.
Dark days have come upon me, and nothingness seems the end of all, whereas all that is in my being had assured me of the plenitude of the universe. Yes, devotion, not to individuals but to the social ideal of brotherhood, sustains me still. Oh, what a magnificent example is to be found in Jesus and in the poor. That righteous aristocrat, showing by His abhorrent task the infinite obligation of altruistic duty, and teaching, above all, that no return of gratitude should be demanded. . . . To my experience of men and things I owe this tranquillity of expecting nothing from any one. Thus duty takes an abstract form, deprived of a human object.
An unspeakable sunrise to-day! Another spring draws near. . . . I want to tell you about our three days in the first line.
Snow and frost. We went down the slopes leading to our emplacement in the village. The night was then so beautiful that it moved the heart of every soldier to see it. I could never say enough about the fine delicacy of this country. How can I explain to you the chiselled effect, allied to the dream-like mists, with the moon soaring above? For three days my night-service took me straight to the heart of this purity, this whiteness.
Tarnished gold-work of the trees. And, in spite of the mist, many colours, rose and blue.
There are hours of such beauty that those who take them to themselves can hardly die. I was well in front of the first lines, and never did I feel better protected. This morning, when I came, a pink and green sunrise over the blue and rosy snow; the open country marked with woods and covered fields; far off, the distance, in which the silvery Meuse fades away. O Beauty, in spite of all!
Dear beloved Mother,—Your letter of the 29th has this moment come to the billet. A nameless day, a day without form, yet a day in which the spring most mysteriously begins to stir. Warm air in the lengthening days; a sudden softening, a weakening of Nature. Alas, how sweet this emotion would be if it could be felt outside this slavery, but the weakness which comes ordinarily with spring only serves here to make burdens heavier.
Dear mother, how glad I am to feel the sympathy of those who are far away. Ah, what sweetness there is!
I am delighted by the Reviews; in an admirable article on Louis Veuillot I noticed this phrase: ‘O my God, take away my despair and leave my grief!’ Yes, we must not misunderstand the fruitful lesson taught by grief, and if I return from this war it will most certainly be with a soul formed and enriched.
I also read with pleasure the lectures on Molière, and in him, as elsewhere, I have viewed again the solitude in which the highest souls wander. But I owe it to my old sentimental wounds never to suffer again through the acts of others. My dearly loved mother, I will write to you better to-morrow.