Home > Uncategorized > Henri Barbusse: All battles spring from themselves and necessitate each other to infinity

Henri Barbusse: All battles spring from themselves and necessitate each other to infinity


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

Henri Barbusse: Selections on war


Henri Barbusse
From Light (1918)
Translated by Fitzwater Wray


They are motionless at last, they who forever marched, they to whom space was so great! I see their poor hands, their poor legs, their poor backs, resting on the earth. They are tranquil at last. The shells which bespattered them are ravaging another world. They are in the peace eternal.

All is accomplished, all has terminated there. It is there, in that circle narrow as a well that the descent into the raging heart of hell was halted, the descent into slow tortures, into unrelenting fatigue, into the flashing tempest. We came here because they told us to come here. We have done what they told us to do. I think of the simplicity of our reply on the Day of Judgment.

The gunfire continues. Always, always, the shells come, and all those bullets that are miles in length. Hidden behind the horizons, living men unite with machines and fall furiously on space. They do not see their shots. They do not know what they are doing. “You shall not know; you shall not know.”

But since the cannonade is returning, they will be fighting here again. All these battles spring from themselves and necessitate each other to infinity! One single battle is not enough, it is not complete, there is no satisfaction. Nothing is finished, nothing is ever finished. Ah, it is only men who die! No one understands the greatness of things, and I know well that I do not understand all the horror in which I am.


The clouds are crowning themselves with sheaves of stars. It is an aviary of fire, a hell of silver and gold. Planetary cataclysms send immense walls of light falling around me. Phantasmal palaces of shrieking lightning, with arches of star-shells, appear and vanish amid forests of ghastly gleams.

While the bombardment is patching the sky with continents of flame, it is drawing still nearer. Volleys of flashes are plunging in here and there and devouring the other lights. The supernatural army is arriving! All the highways of space are crowded. Nearer still, a shell bursts with all its might and glows; and among us all whom chance defends goes frightfully in quest of flesh. Shells are following each other into that cavity there. Again I see, among the things of earth, a resurrected man, and he is dragging himself towards that hole! He is wrapped in white, and the under-side of his body, which rubs the ground, is black. Hooking the ground with his stiffened arms he crawls, long and flat as a boat. He still hears the cry “Forward!” He is finding his way to the hole; he does not know, and he is trailing exactly toward its monstrous ambush. The shell will succeed! At any second now the frenzied fangs of space will strike his side and go in as into a fruit. I have not the strength to shout to him to fly elsewhere with all his slowness; I can only open my mouth and become a sort of prayer in face of the man’s divinity. And yet, he is the survivor; and along with the sleeper, to whom a dream was whispering just now, he is the only one left to me.

A hiss — the final blow reaches him; and in a flash I see the piebald maggot crushing under the weight of the sibilance and turning wild eyes towards me.

No! It is not he! A blow of light — of all light—fills my eyes. I am lifted up, I am brandished by an unknown blade in the middle of a globe of extraordinary light. The shell – I! And I am falling, I fall continually, fantastically. I fall out of this world; and in that fractured flash I saw myself again — I thought of my bowels and my heart hurled to the winds — and I heard voices saying again and again—far, far away — “Simon Paulin died at the age of thirty-six.”


I am dead. I fall, I roll like a broken bird into bewilderments of light, into canyons of darkness. Vertigo presses on my entrails, strangles me, plunges into me. I drop sheer into the void, and my gaze falls faster than I.

Through the wanton breath of the depths that assail me I see, far below, the seashore dawning. The ghostly strand that I glimpse while I cling to my own body is bare, endless, rain-drowned, and supernaturally mournful. Through the long, heavy and concentric mists that the clouds make, my eyes go searching. On the shore I see a being who wanders alone, veiled to the feet. It is a woman. Ah, I am one with that woman! She is weeping. Her tears are dropping on the sand where the waves are breaking! While I am reeling to infinity, I hold out my two heavy arms to her. She fades away as I look.

For a long time there is nothing, nothing but invisible time, and the immense futility of rain on the sea.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Kathleen
    May 23, 2013 at 2:40 am

    Hidden behind the horizons, living men unite with machines and fall furiously on space. They do not see their shots. They do not know what they are doing.

    Did you ever have to take a shot that hit someone that was clearly a civilian?

    “There was one. That’s actually my second shot…. This guy was some sort of a lieutenant of the commander of the area. There were supposedly 3 people left in the building and all were military males. We just aim at the corner of the building, we are going to fire, and we do. And there’s about six seconds left before the missile impacts, and something runs around the corner of the building.” … But Bryant insists, “It was a person. It was a small person. Like, there was no doubt in my mind that that was not a – an adult.”

    A former US assassination drone pilot
    National Public Radio

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