Home > Uncategorized > Cesare Pavese: A moment of peace, to be reborn into a bloodless world

Cesare Pavese: A moment of peace, to be reborn into a bloodless world


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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Cesare Pavese: Every war is a civil war


Cesare Pavese
From The House of the Hill (Prima che il gallo canti) (1949)
Translated by R. W. Flynt

CESARE pavese

“It may be lost, but it’s not over,” I muttered to myself. “There’ll be some dying yet.” And I looked at the faces, the houses. “Before the summer is over, how many of us will be here? How much blood splashed on the walls?” I stared at the faces, the dark-ringed eyes of people coming and going, the peaceful confusion. “It will touch that fair-haired boy. It will touch that trolley conductor, that woman, that news seller. That dog.”


The war raged far away, methodical and futile. We had fallen, this time with no escape, into the hands of our old masters, now more expert and blood-stained. The jolly bosses of yesterday became ferocious in defense of their skins and their last hopes. Our only escape was in disorder, in the very collapse of every law. To be captured and identified was death. Peace, any kind of peace…now seemed a joke.


What had been happening all over Europe was now happening to us – cities and countrysides in equal terror, crossed by armies and fearful voices. Not only the autumn was dying. On a pile of rubble in Turin I had seen a big rat, tranquil in the sunshine. So tranquil that it didn’t so much as move when I approached. It sat up on its hind legs and watched me…The city became more savage than my woods. That war in which I had been sheltering, convinced of having accepted it, of having made my own uncomfortable peace, grew more ferocious, bit deeper, reached into one’s nerves and brain. I began to look about me as tremulously as a scared rabbit.


No one spoke of the end. Nobody reckoned the time element. Not even the old woman. They said “Another year” or “Next year” as if it were a matter of no importance, as if flight, bloodshed and death by ambush had become our normal life.


Peace was enough, the end of blood-spilling. I remember I was crossing a square and the thought stopped me dead. I froze; it was an unexpected joy, a happiness. To pray, enter a church, I thought, is to live a moment of peace, to be reborn into a bloodless world.


Truly the war was not going to end before it had destroyed every memory and hope. I had understood that for some time.


I wanted to pay him something for the food I had eaten. His mother didn’t say no; she only sighed and wondered why the war never ended. “If it lasts a century,” I said, “who is better off than you?” Under a portico one could still see a streak of blood from a skinned rabbit. “There you are,” Otino said, pointing at it. “That’s how we’ll end.”


The war is burning our houses. It is sowing our squares and streets with the dead. It drives us like hares from refuge to refuge. It will end by forcing the rest of us to fight as well, extorting our active consent. A day will come when nobody is outside the war…

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