Home > Uncategorized > Georges Duhamel: The demon of war had imprisoned us under his knee

Georges Duhamel: The demon of war had imprisoned us under his knee


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

Georges Duhamel: Selections on war


Georges Duhamel
From The Heart’s Domain (La Possession du monde) (1919)
Translated by Eleanor Stimson Brooks


It is repugnant to the spirit to admit that anything can be a blessing which the war has given. The desperate folly of the Western world has engendered and still holds in reserve such great misfortunes that we cannot ransack all these ruins, these heaps of bones, with any hope of extracting from them, as ragpickers do with their hooks, some fragment that is good, some useful bit of waste. No! There is no excuse for this ferocious, immeasurable stupidity.


At the beginning of the month of June of this year 1918, I found myself hard at work during one of those overwhelming afternoons that seem, on our barren Champagne, like a white furnace, a glistening desert. There were many wounded and the greater part had been uncared for for several days; the barrack that served us as an operating-hall was overcrowded; our task was a tragic one; the demon of war had imprisoned us under his knee. We felt crushed, exasperated, swamped in these immediate realities. Between two wounded men, as I was soaping my gloves, I saw my young comrade looking far away through a little window and his gaze was suddenly bathed with calm and peace. “What are you looking at?” I said to him. “Oh! nothing,” he replied; “only I’m resting myself on that little tuft of verdure down there: it refreshes me so much.”

It seems childish and paradoxical to oppose to all the concrete and formidable realities that are considered as the hereditary wealth of mankind an almost purely ideal world of joys that have no price, that remain outside all our bargainings, that are unstable, often fugitive, and always relative in appearance, whenever we put them to the test. Yet they alone are absolute, they alone are true. Where they are lacking there may be a place for amusement, there is no place for true happiness. They alone are capable of assuring the salvation of the soul. We ought to labor passionately to find them, to amass them as the veritable treasures of humanity.

The future we are permitted to glimpse seems the very negation of happiness and the ruin of the soul.

If this is true, we must examine it with open minds and then, with all our strength, refuse it.


We shall have great misfortunes and we shall often be bitterly deceived. It is because the war has succeeded in depriving the simplest and the most sacred things of the light of eternity. That is not the least consequence of the catastrophe. We must make a painful effort to recover that light and clear it of its blemishes. Silence, solitude, the sky, the vestiture of the earth, all the riches of the poor have been sullied as if forever. The works of art have been mutilated. They have taken refuge under the earth where they seem to veil their faces.


During the cruellest hours, when the war about me has been heaping agony upon agony, when I have been able to find nothing, nothing to which I could any longer attach my confidence and my need of hope, I have often been surprised to find, running through my head, one of those airs that I know so well, those airs that I love and that escort my soul, like watchful and radiant personages, through the chaos of the days. And I would think bitterly: “Just fifteen quite simple notes! but they carry a meaning so beautiful, so profound, so commanding that they would suffice, I am certain, to resolve all conflicts, to discourage all hatreds, if men knew them well enough to sing them all together with the same attentive tenderness.”

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: