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.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

We have been since yesterday in our second line positions; we came to them in marvellous snow and frost. A furious sky, with charming rosy colour in it, floated over the visionary forest in the snow; the trees, limpid blue low down, brown and fretted above, the earth white.

I have received two parcels; the Chanson de Roland gives me infinite pleasure—particularly the Introduction, treating of the national epic and of the Mahabharata which, it seems, tells of the fight between the spirits of good and evil.

I am happy in your lovely letters. As for the sufferings which you forebode for me, they are really very tolerable.

But what we must recognise, and without shame, is that we are a bourgeois people. We have tasted of the honey of civilisation—poisoned honey, no doubt. But no, surely that sweetness is true, and we should not be called upon to make of our ordinary existence a preparation for violence. I know that violence may be salutary to us, especially if in the midst of it we do not lose sight of normal order and calm.

Order leads to eternal rest. Violence makes life go round. We have, for our object, order and eternal rest; but without the violence which lets loose reserves of energy, we should be too inclined to consider order as already attained. But anticipated order can only be a lethargy which retards the coming of positive order.

Our sufferings arise only from our disappointment in this delay; the coming of true order is too long for human patience. In any case, however suffering, we would rather not be doers of violence. It is as when matter in fusion solidifies too quickly and in the wrong shape: it has to be put to the fire again. This is the part violence plays in human evolution; but that salutary violence must not make us forget what our æsthetic citizenship had acquired in the way of perdurable peace and harmony. But our suffering comes precisely from the fact that we do not forget it!

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

afternoon (in a billet).

What shall I say to you on this strange January afternoon, when thunder is followed by snow?

Our billet provides us with many commodities, but above all with an intoxicating beauty and poetry. Imagine a lake in a park sheltered by high hills, and a castle, or, rather, a splendid country house. We lodge in the domestic offices, but I don’t need any wonderful home comforts to perfect the dream-like existence that I have led here for three days. Last night we were visited by some singers. We were very far from the music that I love, but the popular and sentimental tunes were quite able to replace a finer art, because of the ardent conviction of the singer. The workman who sang these songs, which were decent, in fact moral (a rather questionable moral, perhaps, but still a moral), so put his soul into it that the timbre of his voice was altogether too moving for our hostesses. Here are the ideal people: perhaps their ideal may be said not to exist and to be purely negative, but months of suffering have taught me to honour it.

I have just seen that Charles Péguy died at the beginning of the war. How terribly French thought will have been mown down! What surpasses our understanding (and yet what is only natural) is that civilians are able to continue their normal life while we are in torment. I saw in the Cri de Paris, which drifted as far as here, a list of concert programmes. What a contrast! However, mother dear, the essential thing is to have known beauty in moments of grace.

The weather is frightful, but one can feel the coming of spring. At a time like this nothing can speak of individual hope, only of great general certainties.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

morning (in the trench).

I hope that when you think of me you will have in mind all those who have left everything behind: their family, their surroundings, their whole social environment; all those of whom their nearest and dearest think only in the past, saying, ‘We had once a brother, who, many years ago, withdrew from this world, we know nothing of his fate.’ Then I, feeling that you too have abandoned all human attachment, will walk freely in this life, closed to all ordinary relations.

I don’t regret my new rank; it has brought me many troubles but a great deal of experience, and, as a matter of fact, some ameliorations.

So I want to continue to live as fully as possible in this moment, and that will be all the easier for me if I can feel that you have brought yourself to the idea that my present life cannot in any way be lost.

I did not tell you enough what pleasure the Revues Hebdomadaires gave me. I found some extracts from that speech on Lamartine which I am passionately fond of. Circumstances led this poet to give to his art only the lowest place. Life in general closed him round, imposing on his great heart a more serious and immediate task than that which awaited his genius.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

. . . My consolations fail me in these days, on account of the weather. This horrible mess lets me see nothing whatever. I close with an ardent appeal to our love, and in the certainty of a justice higher than our own. . . .

Dear mother, as to sending things, I am really in need of nothing. Penury now is of another kind, but courage, always! Yet is it even sure that moral effort bears any fruit?

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

despatched on the 7th (in a mine).

I am writing to you at the entrance to an underground passage which leads under the enemy emplacement. My little job is to look out for the safety of the sappers, who are hollowing out and supporting and consolidating an excavation about twelve metres deep already. To get to this place we have to plunge into mud up to our thighs, but during the eight hours we spend here we are sheltered by earthworks several metres thick.

I have six men, with whom I have led an existence of sleeplessness and privation for three days: this is the benefit I derive from the joyful event of my new status; but as a matter of fact I am glad to take part in these trials again.

Besides, in a few days the temporary post which I held before may be given to me altogether. Horrible weather, and to make matters worse, I burnt an absolutely new boot, and am soaking wet, like the others, but in excellent health.

Dear, I am now going to sleep a little.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

. . . Yesterday, after the first satisfaction of finding myself freed from manual work, I contemplated my stripes, and I felt some humiliation, because instead of the great anonymous superiority of the ordinary soldier which had put me beyond all military valuation, I had now the distinction of being a low number in military rank!

But then I felt that each time I looked at my little bits of red wool I should remember my social duty, a duty which my leaning towards individualism makes me forget only too often. So I knew I was still free to cultivate my soul, having this final effort to demand of it.