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Charles Péguy: Cursed be war, cursed of God

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

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Charles Péguy
From The Mystery of the Charity of Jeanne d’Arc (1910)
Translated by Julien Green

(The words are spoken by Joan of Arc. Four years later Péguy would not so much forsake as renounce the sentiments he gave such impassioned voice to by embracing the war of 1914, in and for which effort he was killed in the opening days of World War One, notwithstanding which in what follows the Muse or the Holy Spirit, as one prefers, spoke through him.)

What avail our efforts of a day? What avail our charities? I really can’t give all the time. I can’t give all. I can’t give to every one. I really can’t give the passers-by all my father’s bread. And even if I did, would it make any difference? In the mass of the famished…For every wounded man we happen to look after, for every child we feed, indefatigable war makes hundreds of wounded, of sick and homeless people, every day. All our efforts are vain. War has more power than anything when it comes to making people suffer. Ah, a curse on war! And a curse on those who brought it to the land of France.

Try as we may, try as we may, they will always go faster than we, they will always do more than we, a deal more than we. All that is needed to set a farm ablaze is a flint. It takes, it took years to build it. It isn’t difficult. One doesn’t have to be so clever. It takes months and months, it took work and more work to make the crop grow. And all that is needed to set a crop ablaze is a flint. It takes years and years to make a man grow, it took bread and more bread to feed him, and work and more work, and all kinds of work. And all that is needed to kill him is one blow. One sword-thrust and it’s done. To make a good Christian, the plough has to work twenty years. To kill a good Christian, the sword has to work one minute. It’s always that way. It’s like the plough to work twenty years and it’s like the sword to work one minute. It’s always that way. It’s like the plough to work twenty years and it’s like the sword to work one minute, and to do more, to be stronger, to make an end of things. So we people will always be the weaker ones. We will always go more slowly, we will always do less. We are the party of those who build up. They are the party of those who pull down. We are the party of the plough. They are the party of the sword. We will always be beaten. They will always get the better of us, on top of us. No matter what we say.

For one wounded man dragging himself along the roads, for one man we pick up on the roads, for one child dragging himself along the roadsides, how many people are wounded, and sick, and forsaken, how many women are made unhappy and children forsaken because of the war, and how many are killed, and how many unfortunates lose their souls. Those who kill lose their souls because they kill. And those who are killed lose their souls because they are killed. Those who are strongest, those who kill lose their souls through the murder which they commit. And those who are killed, the man who is weaker, lose their souls through the murder which they suffer, for, seeing how weak they are and how bruised, always the same being weak, and the same unhappy, and the same beaten, and the same killed, then, unhappy ones, they despair of their salvation, because they despair of the goodness of God. Thus, no matter where one may turn, on both sides, it is a game in which, no matter how one plays or what one plays for, salvation is always bound to lose and perdition always bound to win. There is nothing but ingratitude, nothing but despair and perdition.

And bread everlasting. He who is too much in lack of daily bread no longer has any desire for bread everlasting, the bread of Jesus Christ.

Cursed be war, cursed of God.

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