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The Inferno
by Henri Barbusse
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But what about me—me, who am only a glance from the eye of destiny? I am like a poet on the threshold of a work, an accursed, sterile poet who will leave no glory behind, to whom chance /lent/ the truth that genius would have /given/ him, a frail work which will pass away with me, mortal and sealed to others like myself, but a sublime work nevertheless, which will show the essential outlines of life and relate the drama of dramas.

. . . . .

What am I? I am the desire not to die. I have always been impelled— not that evening alone—by the need to construct the solid, powerful dream that I shall never leave again. We are all, always, the desire not to die. This desire is as immeasurable and varied as life's complexity, but at bottom this is what it is: To continue to /be,/ to /be/ more and more, to develop and to endure. All the force we have, all our energy and clearness of mind serve to intensify themselves in one way or another. We intensify ourselves with new impressions, new sensations, new ideas. We endeavour to take what we do not have and to add it to ourselves. Humanity is the desire for novelty founded upon the fear of death. That is what it is. I have seen it myself. Instinctive movements, untrammelled utterances always tend the same way, and the most dissimilar utterances are all alike.

. . . . .

But afterwards! Where are the words that will light the way? What is humanity in the world, and what is the world?

Everything is within me, and there are no judges, and there are no boundaries and no limits to me. The /de profundis,/ the effort not to die, the fall of desire with its soaring cry, all this has not stopped. It is part of the immense liberty which the incessant mechanism of the human heart exercises (always something different, always!). And its expansion is so great that death itself is effaced by it. For how could I imagine my death, except by going outside of myself, and looking at myself as if I were not I but somebody else?

We do not die. Each human being is alone in the world. It seems absurd, contradictory to say this, and yet it is so. But there are many human beings like me. No, we cannot say that. In saying that, we set ourselves outside the truth in a kind of abstraction. All we can say is: I am alone.

And that is why we do not die.

Once, bowed in the evening light, the dead man had said, "After my death, life will continue. Every detail in the world will continue to occupy the same place quietly. All the traces of my passing will die little by little, and the void I leave behind will be filled once more."

He was mistaken in saying so. He carried all the truth with him. Yet we, /we/ saw him die. He was dead for us, but not for himself. I feel there is a fearfully difficult truth here which we must get, a formidable contradiction. But I hold on to the two ends of it, groping to find out what formless language will translate it. Something like this: "Every human being is the whole truth." I return to what I heard. We do not die since we are alone. It is the others who die. And this sentence, which comes to my lips tremulously, at once baleful and beaming with light, announces that death is a false god.

But what of the others? Granted that I have the great wisdom to rid myself of the haunting dread of my own death, there remains the death of others and the death of so many feelings and so much sweetness. It is not the conception of truth that will change sorrow. Sorrow, like joy, is absolute.

And yet! The infinite grandeur of our misery becomes confused with glory and almost with happiness, with cold haughty happiness. Was it out of pride or joy that I began to smile when the first white streaks of dawn turned my lamp pale and I saw I was alone in the universe?



CHAPTER XV

It was the first time I had seen her in mourning, and that evening her youth shone more resplendent than ever.

Her departure was close at hand. She looked about to see if she had left anything behind in the room, which had been made ready for other people, the room which was already formless, already abandoned.

The door opened. The young woman turned her head. A man appeared in the sunny doorway.

"Michel, Michel, Michel!" she cried.

She stretched out her arms, hesitated, and for a few seconds remained motionless as light, with her full gaze upon him.

Then, in spite of where she was and the purity of her heart and the chastity of her whole life, her legs shook and she was on the verge of falling over.

He threw his hat on the bed with a sweeping romantic gesture. He filled the room with his presence, with his weight. His footsteps made the floor creak. He kept her from falling. Tall as she was, he was a whole head taller. His marked features were hard and remarkably fine. His face under a heavy head of black hair was bright and clean, as though new. He had a drooping moustache and full red lips.

He put his hands on the young woman's shoulders, and looked at her, in readiness for his eager embrace.

They held each other close, staggering. They said the same word at the same time, "At last!" That was all they said, but they said it over and over again in a low voice, chanting it together. Their eyes uttered the same sweet cry. Their breasts communicated it to each other. It seemed to be tying them together and making them merge into one. At last! Their long separation was over. Their love was victor. At last they were together. And I saw her quiver from head to foot. I saw her whole body welcome him while her eyes opened and then closed on him again. They made a great effort to speak to each other. The few shreds of conversation held them back a moment.

"How I waited for you! How I longed for you!" he stammered. "I thought of you all the time. I saw you all the time. Your smile was everywhere." He lowered his voice and added, "Sometimes when people were talking commonplaces and your name happened to be mentioned, it would go through my heart like an electric current."

He panted. His deep voice burst into sonorous tones. He seemed unable to speak low.

"Often I used to sit on the brick balustrade at the top of the terrace of our house overlooking the Channel, with my face in my hands, wondering where you were. But it did not matter how far away you were, I could not help seeing you all the same."

"And often I," said Anna, bending her head, "would sit at the open window warm evenings, thinking of you. Sometimes the air was of a suffocating sweetness, as it was two months ago at the Villa of the Roses. Tears would come to my eyes."

"You used to cry?"

"Yes," she said in a low voice, "for joy."

Their mouths joined, their two small purple mouths of exactly the same colour. They were almost indistinguishable from each other, tense in the creative silence of the kiss, a single dark stream of flesh.

Then he drew away a little to get a better look at her, and the next moment caught her in his arms and held her close.

His words fell on her like hammer blows.

"Down there the scent of the sap and the flowers from the many gardens near the coast used to intoxicate me, and I wanted to burrow my fingers in the dark burning earth. I would roam about and try to remember your face, and draw in the perfume of your body. I would stretch my arms out in the air to touch as much as possible of your sunlight."

"I knew you were waiting for me and that you loved me," she said, in a voice gentler but just as deep with emotion. "I saw you in your absence. And often, when the light of dawn entered my room and touched me, I thought of how completely consecrated I was to your love. Thinking of you sometimes in my room in the evening, I would admire myself."

A thrill went through him, and he smiled.

He kept saying the same things in scarcely different words, as if he knew nothing else. He had a childish soul and a limited mind behind the perfect sculpture of his forehead and his great black eyes, in which I saw distinctly the white face of the woman floating like a swan.

She listened to him devoutly, her mouth half open, her head thrown back lightly. Had he not held her, she would have slipped to her knees before this god who was as beautiful as she.

"The memory of you saddened my joys, but consoled my sorrows."

I did not know which of the two said this. They embraced vehemently. They reeled. They were like two tall flames. His face burned hers, and he cried:

"I love you, I love you! All through my sleepless nights of longing for you—oh, what a crucifixion my solitude was!

"Be mine, Anna!"

She radiated consent, but her eyes faltered, and she glanced round the room.

"Let us respect this room," she breathed. Then she was ashamed at having refused, and immediately stammered, "Excuse me."

The man also looked around the room. His forehead darkened with a savage frown of suspicion, and the superstition of his race shone in his eyes.

"It was here—that he died?"

"No," she said.

* * * * * * * * *

Afterwards they did as the others had done, as human beings always do, as they themselves would do many times again in the strange future—they sat with their eyes half-closed and the same uneasy look of shame and terror in them as Amy and her lover.

But these two required no artificial stimulus for their love. They had no need of the night. And they felt no culpability. They were two grand young creatures, driven together naturally by the very force of their love, and their ardour cleansed everything, like fire. They were innocent. They had no regrets and felt no remorse. They thought they were united.

He took her soft hand in his dark hand, and said: "Now you are mine for always. You have made me know divine ecstasy. You have my heart and I have yours. You are my wife forever."

"You are everything to me," she answered.

They went forth into life like a couple in legend, inspired and rosy with anticipation—he, the knight with no shadows falling on him except the dark of his hair, helmeted or plumed, and she, the priestess of the pagan gods, the spirit of nature.

They would shine in the sunlight. They would see nothing around them, blinded by the daylight. They would undergo no struggles except the strife of the sexes and the spying of jealousy; for lovers are enemies rather than friends.

I followed them with my eyes going through life, which would be nothing to them but fields, mountains, or forests. I saw them veiled in a kind of light, sheltered from darkness, protected for a time against the fearful spell of memory and thought.

. . . . .

I sat down and leaned on my elbows. I thought of myself. Where was I now after all this? What was I going to do in life? I did not know. I would look about and would surely find something.

So, sitting there, I quietly indulged in hopes. I must have no more sadness, no more anguish and fever. If the rest of my life was to pass in calm, in peace, I must go far, far away from all those awful serious things, the sight of which was terrible to bear.

Somewhere I would lead a wise, busy life—and earn my living regularly.

And you, you will be beside me, my sister, my child, my wife.

You will be poor so as to be more like all other women. In order for us to be able to live together I shall work all day and so be your servant. You will work affectionately for us both in this room, and in my absence there will be nothing beside you but the pure, simple presence of your sewing machine. You will keep the sort of order by which nothing is forgotten, you will practice patience which is as long as life, and maternity which is as heavy as the world.

I shall come in, I shall open the door in the dark, I shall hear you come from the next room, bringing the lamp. A dawn will announce you. You will tell me the quiet story of your day's work, without any object except to give me your thoughts and your life. You will speak of your childhood memories. I shall not understand them very well because you will be able to give me, perforce, only insufficient details, but I shall love your sweet strange language.

We shall speak of the child we shall have, and you will bend your head and your neck, white as milk, and in our minds we shall hear the rocking of the cradle like a rustling of wings. And when we are tired out, and even after we have grown old, we shall dream afresh along with our child.

After this revery our thoughts will not stray, but linger tenderly. In the evening we shall think of the night. You will be full of a happy thought. Your inner life will be gay and shining, not because of what you see, but because of your heart. You will beam as blind people beam.

We shall sit up facing each other. But little by little, as it gets late, our words will become fewer and less intelligible. Sleep will lay bare your soul. You will fall asleep over the table, you will feel me watching over you more and more.

Tenderness is greater than love. I do not admire carnal love when it is by itself and bare. I do not admire its disorderly selfish paroxysms, so grossly short-lived. And yet without love the attachment of two human beings is always weak. Love must be added to affection. The things it contributes to a union are absolutely needed—exclusiveness, intimacy, and simplicity.



CHAPTER XVI

I went out on the street like an exile, I who am an everyday man, who resemble everybody else so much, too much. I went through the streets and crossed the squares with my eyes fixed upon things without seeing them. I was walking, but I seemed to be falling from dream to dream, from desire to desire. A door ajar, an open window gave me a pang. A woman passing by grazed against me, a woman who told me nothing of what she might have told me. I dreamed of her tragedy and of mine. She entered a house, she disappeared, she was dead.

I stood still, a prey to a thousand thoughts, stifled in the robe of the evening. From a closed window on the ground floor floated a strain of music. I caught the beauty of a sonata as I would catch distinct human words, and for a moment I listened to what the piano was confiding to the people inside.

Then I sat down on a bench. On the opposite side of the avenue lit by the setting sun two men also seated themselves on a bench. I saw them clearly. They seemed overwhelmed by the same destiny, and a mutual sympathy seemed to unite them. You could tell they liked each other. One was speaking, the other was listening.

I read a secret tragedy. As boys they had been immensely fond of each other. They had always been of the same mind and shared their ideas. One of them got married, and it was the married one who was now speaking. He seemed to be feeding their common sorrow.

The bachelor had been in the habit of visiting his home, always keeping his proper distance, though perhaps vaguely loving the young wife. However, he respected her peace and her happiness. The married man was telling him that his wife had ceased to love him, while he still adored her with his whole being. She had lost interest in him, and turned away from him. She did not laugh and did not smile except when there were other people present. He spoke of this grief, this wound to his love, to his right. His right! He had unconsciously believed that he had a right over her, and he lived in this belief. Then he found out that he had no right.

Here the friend thought of certain things she had said to him, of a smile she had given him. Although he was good and modest and still perfectly pure, a warm, irresistible hope insinuated itself into his heart. Listening to the story of despair that his friend confided to him, he raised his face bit by bit and gave the woman a smile. And nothing could keep that evening, now falling grey upon those two men, from being at once an end and a beginning.

A couple, a man and a woman—poor human beings almost always go in pairs—approached, and passed. I saw the empty space between them. In life's tragedy, separation is the only thing one sees. They had been happy, and they were no longer happy. They were almost old already. He did not care for her, although they were growing old together. What were they saying? In a moment of open-heartedness, trusting to the peacefulness reigning between them at that time, he owned up to an old transgression, to a betrayal scrupulously and religiously hidden until then. Alas, his words brought back an irreparable agony. The past, which had gently lain dead, rose to life again for suffering. Their former happiness was destroyed. The days gone by, which they had believed happy, were made sad; and that is the woe in everything.

This couple was effaced by another, a young one, whose conversation I also imagined. They were beginning, they were going to love. Their hearts were so shy in finding each other. "Do you want me to go on that trip?" "Shall I do this and that?" She answered, "No." An intense feeling of modesty gave this first avowal of love so humbly solicited the form of a disavowal. But yet they were already thinking of the full flower of their love.

Other couples passed by, and still others. This one now—he talking, she saying nothing. It was difficult for him to master himself. He begged her to tell him what she was thinking of. She answered. He listened. Then, as if she had said nothing, he begged her again, still harder, to tell him. There he was, uncertain, oscillating between night and day. All he needed was for her to say one word, if he only believed it. You saw him, in the immense city, clinging to that one being. The next instant I was separated from these two lovers who watched and persecuted each other.

Turn where you will, everywhere, the man and the woman ever confronting each other, the man who loves a hundred times, the woman who has the power to love so much and to forget so much. I went on my way again. I came and went in the midst of the naked truth. I am not a man of peculiar and exceptional traits. I recognise myself in everybody. I have the same desires, the same longings as the ordinary human being. Like everybody else I am a copy of the truth spelled out in the Room, which is, "I am alone and I want what I have not and what I shall never have." It is by this need that people live, and by this need that people die.

But now I was tired of having desired too much. I suddenly felt old. I should never recover from the wound in my breast. The dream of peace that I had had a moment before attracted and tempted me only because it was far away. Had I realised it, I should simply have dreamed another dream.

. . . . .

Now I looked for a word. The people who live my truth, what do they say when they speak of themselves? Does the echo of what I am thinking issue from their mouths, or error, or falsehood?

Night fell. I looked for a word like mine, a word to lean upon, a word to sustain me. And it seemed to me that I was going along groping my way as if expecting some one to come from round the corner and tell me everything.

I did not return to my room. I did not want to leave the crowds that evening. I looked for a place that was alive.

I went into a large restaurant so as to hear voices around me. There were only a few vacant places, and I found a seat in a corner near a table at which three people were dining. I gave my order, and while my eyes mechanically followed the white-gloved hand pouring soup into my plate from a silver cup, I listened to the general hubbub.

All I could catch was what my three neighbours were saying. They were talking of people in the place whom they knew, then of various friends. Their persiflage and the consistent irony of their remarks surprised me.

Nothing they said was worth the while, and the evening promised to be useless like the rest.

A few minutes later, the head waiter, while serving me with filets of sole, nodded his head and winked his eye in the direction of one of the guests.

"M. Villiers, the famous writer," he whispered proudly.

I recognised M. Villiers. He resembled his portraits and bore his young glory gracefully. I envied that man his ability to write and say what he thought. I studied his profile and admired its worldly distinction. It was a fine modern profile, the straightness of it broken by the silken point of his well-kept moustache, by the perfect curve of his shoulder, and by the butterfly's wing of his white necktie.

I lifted my glass to my lips when suddenly I stopped and felt all my blood rush to my heart.

This is what I heard:

"What's the theme of the novel you're working on?"

"Truth," replied Pierre Villiers.

"What?" exclaimed his friend.

"A succession of human beings caught just as they are."

"What subject?" somebody asked.

People turned and listened to him. Two young diners not far away stopped talking and put on an idling air, evidently with their ears pricked. In a sumptuous purple alcove, a man in evening clothes, with sunken eyes and drawn features, was smoking a fat cigar, his whole life concentrated in the fragrant glow of his tobacco. His companion, her bare elbow on the table, enveloped in perfume and sparkling with jewels, and overloaded with the heavy artificiality of luxury, turned her simple moon-like face toward the speaker.

"This is the subject," said Pierre Villiers. "It gives me scope to amuse and tell the truth at the same time. A man pierces a hole in the wall of a boarding-house room, and watches what is going on in the next room."

. . . . .

I must have looked at the speakers just then with a rather sorry expression of bewilderment. Then I quickly lowered my head like a child afraid to be seen.

They had spoken for /me,/ and I sensed a strange secret service intrigue around me. Then, in an instant this impression, which had got the better of my common sense, gave way. Evidently a pure coincidence. Still I was left with the vague apprehension that they were going to notice that I /knew,/ and were going to recognise me.

One of the novelist's friends begged him to tell more of his story. He consented.

He was going to tell it in my presence!

. . . . .

With admirable art in the use of words, gestures, and mimicry, and with a lively elegance and a contagious laugh, he described a series of brilliant, surprising scenes. Under cover of his scheme, which brought all the scenes out into peculiar relief and gave them a special intensity, he retailed a lot of amusing oddities, described comical persons and things, heaped up picturesque and piquant details, coined typical and witty proper names, and invented complicated and ingenious situations. He succeeded in producing irresistible effects, and the whole was in the latest style.

They said, "Ah!" and "Oh!" and opened their eyes wide.

"Bravo! A sure success! A corking funny idea!"

"All the characters who pass before the eyes of the man spying upon them are amusing, even the man who kills himself. Nothing forgotten. The whole of humanity is there."

But I had not recognized a single thing in the entire show.

A stupor and a sort of shame overwhelmed me as I heard that man trying to extract the utmost entertainment possible from the dark happenings that had been torturing me for a month.

I thought of that great voice, now silenced, which had said so clearly and forcefully that the writers of to-day imitate the caricaturists. I, who had penetrated into the heart of humanity and returned again, found nothing human in this jiggling caricature! It was so superficial that it was a lie.

He said in front of me—of me the awful witness:

"It is man stripped of all outward appearances that I want people to see. Others are fiction, I am the truth."

"It has a philosophical bearing, too."

"Perhaps. But that wasn't my object. Thank God, I am a writer, and not a thinker."

And he continued to travesty the truth, and I was impotent—the truth, that profound thing whose voice was in my ears, whose shadow was in my eyes, and whose taste was in my mouth.

Was I so utterly forsaken? Would no one speak the word I was in search of?

. . . . .

The Room was flooded with moonlight. In that magnificent setting there was an obscure white couple, two silent human beings with marble faces.

The fire was out. The clock had finished its work and had stopped, and was listening with its heart.

The man's face dominated. The woman was at his feet. They did nothing. An air of tenderness hovered over them. They looked like monuments gazing at the moon.

He spoke. I recognised his voice. It lit up his face for me, which had been shrouded from my sight before. It was /he,/ the nameless lover and poet whom I had seen twice before.

He was telling Amy that on his way that evening he had met a poor woman, with her baby in her arms.

She walked, jostled and borne along by the crowd returning home from work, and finally was tossed aside up against a post under a porch, and stopped as though nailed there.

"I went up to her," he said, "and saw she was smiling.

. . . . .

"What was she smiling at? At life, on account of her child. Under the refuge where she was cowering, facing the setting sun, she was thinking of the growth of her child in the days to come. However terrible they might be, they would be around him, for him, in him. They would be the same thing as her breath, her walk, her look.

"So profound was the smile of this creator who bore her burden and who raised her head and gazed into the sun, without even looking down at the child or listening to its babbling.

"I worked this woman and child up into a poem."

He remained motionless for a moment, then said gently without pausing, in that voice from the Beyond which we assume when we recite, obeying what we say and no longer mastering it:

"The woman from the depths of her rags, a waif, a martyr—smiled. She must have a divine heart to be so tired and yet smile. She loved the sky, the light, which the unformed little being would love some day. She loved the chilly dawn, the sultry noontime, the dreamy evening. The child would grow up, a saviour, to give life to everything again. Starting at the dark bottom he would ascend the ladder and begin life over again, life, the only paradise there is, the bouquet of nature. He would make beauty beautiful. He would make eternity over again with his voice and his song. And clasping the new-born infant close, she looked at all the sunlight she had given the world. Her arms quivered like wings. She dreamed in words of fondling. She fascinated all the passersby that looked at her. And the setting sun bathed her neck and head in a rosy reflection. She was like a great rose that opens its heart to the whole world."

The poet seemed to be searching for something, to be seeing things, and believing infinitely. He was in another world where everything we see is true and everything we say is unforgettable.

Amy was still on her knees with eyes upraised to his. She was all attention, filled with it like a precious vase.

"But her smile," he went on, "was not only in wonder about the future. There was also something tragic in it, which pierced my heart. I understood it perfectly. She adored life, but she detested men and was afraid of them, always on account of the child. She already disputed over him with the living, although he himself was as yet scarcely among the living. She defied them with her smile. She seemed to say to them, 'He will live in spite of you, he will use you, he will subdue you either to dominate you or to be loved by you. He is already braving you with his tiny breath, this little one that I am holding in my maternal grasp.' She was terrible. At first, I had seen her as an angel of goodness. Now, although she had not changed, she was like an angel of mercilessness and vengeance. I saw a sort of hatred for those who would trouble him distort her face, resplendent with superhuman maternity. Her cruel heart was full of one heart only. It foresaw sin and shame. It hated men and settled accounts with them like a destroying angel. She was the mother with fearful nails, standing erect, and laughing with a torn mouth."

Amy gazed at her lover in the moonlight. It seemed to me that her looks and his words mingled.

"I come back as I always do to the greatness of mankind's curse, and I repeat it with the monotony of those who are always right—oh, without God, without a harbour, without enough rags to cover us, all we have, standing erect on the land of the dead, is the rebellion of our smile, the rebellion of being gay when darkness envelops us. We are divinely alone, the heavens have fallen on our heads."

The heavens have fallen on our heads! What a tremendous idea! It is the loftiest cry that life hurls. That was the cry of deliverance for which I had been groping until then. I had had a foreboding it would come, because a thing of glory like a poet's song always gives something to us poor living shadows, and human thought always reveals the world. But I needed to have it said explicitly so as to bring human misery and human grandeur together. I needed it as a key to the vault of the heavens.

These heavens, that is to say, the azure that our eyes enshrine, purity, plenitude—and the infinite number of suppliants, the sky of truth and religion. All this is within us, and has fallen upon our heads. And God Himself, who is all these kinds of heavens in one, has fallen on our heads like thunder, and His infinity is ours.

We have the divinity of our great misery. And our solitude, with its toilsome ideas, tears and laughter, is fatally divine. However wrong we may go in the dark, whatever our efforts in the dark and the useless work of our hearts working incessantly, and whatever our ignorance left to itself, and whatever the wounds that other human beings are, we ought to study ourselves with a sort of devotion. It is this sentiment that lights our foreheads, uplifts our souls, adorns our pride, and, in spite of everything, will console us when we shall become accustomed to holding, each at his own poor task, the whole place that God used to occupy. The truth itself gives an effective, practical, and, so to speak, religious caress to the suppliant in whom the heavens spread.

. . . . .

"I have such respect for the actual truth that there are moments when I do not dare to call things by their name," the poet ended.

"Yes," said Amy, very softly, and nothing else. She had been listening intently. Everything seemed to be carried away in a sort of gentle whirlwind.

"Amy," he whispered.

She did not stir. She had fallen asleep with her head on her lover's knees. He looked at her and smiled. An expression of pity and benevolence flitted across his face. His hands stretched out part way toward the sleeping woman with the gentleness of strength. I saw the glorious pride of condescension and charity in this man whom a woman prostrate before him deified.



CHAPTER XVII

I have given notice. I am going away to-morrow evening, I with my tremendous memory. Whatever may happen, whatever tragedies may be reserved for me in the future, my thought will not be graver or more important when I shall have lived my life with all its weight.

But my whole body is one pain. I cannot stand on my legs any more. I stagger. I fall back on my bed. My eyes close and fill with smarting tears. I want to be crucified on the wall, but I cannot. My body becomes heavier and heavier and filled with sharper pain. My flesh is enraged against me.

I hear voices through the wall. The next room vibrates with a distant sound, a mist of sound which scarcely comes through the wall.

I shall not be able to listen any more, or look into the room, or hear anything distinctly. And I, who have not cried since my childhood, I cry now like a child because of all that I shall never have. I cry over lost beauty and grandeur. I love everything that I should have embraced.

Here they will pass again, day after day, year after year, all the prisoners of rooms will pass with their kind of eternity. In the twilight when everything fades, they will sit down near the light, in the room full of haloes. They will drag themselves to the window's void. Their mouths will join and they will grow tender. They will exchange a first or a last useless glance. They will open their arms, they will caress each other. They will love life and be afraid to disappear. Here below they will seek a perfect union of hearts. Up above they will seek everlastingness among the shades and a God in the clouds.

. . . . .

The monotonous murmur of voices comes through the wall steadily, but I do not catch what is being said. I am like anybody else in a room.

I am lost, just as I was the evening I came here when I took possession of this room used by people who had disappeared and died—before this great change of light took place in my destiny.

Perhaps because of my fever, perhaps because of my lofty pain, I imagine that some one there is declaiming a great poem, that some one is speaking of Prometheus. He has stolen light from the gods. In his entrails he feels the pain, always beginning again, always fresh, gathering from evening to evening, when the vulture steals to him as it would steal to its nest. And you feel that we are all like Prometheus because of desire, but there is neither vulture nor gods.

There is no paradise except that which we create in the great tomb of the churches. There is no hell, no inferno except the frenzy of living.

There is no mysterious fire. I have stolen the truth. I have stolen the whole truth. I have seen sacred things, tragic things, pure things, and I was right. I have seen shameful things, and I was right. And so I have entered the kingdom of truth, if, while preserving respect to truth and without soiling it, we can use the expression that deceit and religious blasphemy employ.

. . . . .

Who shall compose the Bible of human desire, the terrible and simple Bible of that which drives us from life to life, the Bible of our doings, our goings, our original fall? Who will dare to tell everything, who will have the genius to see everything?

I believe in a lofty form of poetry, in the work in which beauty will be mingled with beliefs. The more incapable of it I feel myself, the more I believe it to be possible. The sad splendour with which certain memories of mine overwhelm me, shows me that it is possible. Sometimes I myself have been sublime, I myself have been a masterpiece. Sometimes my visions have been mingled with a thrill of evidence so strong and so creative that the whole room has quivered with it like a forest, and there have been moments, in truth, when the silence cried out.

But I have stolen all this, and I have profited by it, thanks to the shamelessness of the truth revealed. At the point in space in which, by accident, I found myself, I had only to open my eyes and to stretch out my mendicant hands to accomplish more than a dream, to accomplish almost a work.

What I have seen is going to disappear, since I shall do nothing with it. I am like a mother the fruit of whose womb will perish after it has been born.

What matter? I have heard the annunciation of whatever finer things are to come. Through me has passed, without staying me in my course, the Word which does not lie, and which, said over again, will satisfy.

. . . . .

But I have finished. I am lying stretched out, and now that I have ceased to see, my poor eyes close like a healing wound and a scar forms over them.

And I seek assuagement for myself. I! The last cry, as it was the first.

As for me, I have only one recourse, to remember and to believe. To hold on with all my strength to the memory of the tragedy of the Room.

I believe that the only thing which confronts the heart and the reason is the shadow of that which the heart and the reason cry for. I believe that around us there is only one word, the immense word which takes us out of our solitude, NOTHING. I believe that this does not signify our nothingness or our misfortune, but, on the contrary, our realisation and our deification, since everything is within us.

THE END

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