Home > Uncategorized > Henri Barbusse: These murdered souls, covered with black veils; they are you and I

Henri Barbusse: These murdered souls, covered with black veils; they are you and I


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

Henri Barbusse: Selections on war


Henri Barbusse
From Light (1918)
Translated by Fitzwater Wray


Monsieur Gozlan looks like a master of masters — an aged collector of fortune, whose speculations are famous, whose wealth increases unaided, who makes as much profit as he likes and holds the district in the hollow of his hand. His vulgar movements flash with diamonds, and a bulky golden trinket hangs on his belly like a phallus. The generals beside him — those glorious potentates whose smiles are made of so many souls — and the administrators and the honorables only look like secondary actors.


And the people of to-day — overloaded with gloom and intoxicated with prejudice — see blood, because of the red hangings of rostrums; they are fascinated by the sparkle of diamonds, of necklaces, of decorations, of the eyeglasses of the intellectuals. They have eyes but they see not, ears but they hear not; arms which they do not use; and they are thoughtless because they let others do their thinking! And the other half of this same multitude is yonder, looking for Man and looked for by Man, in the big black furrows where blood is scattered and the human race is disappearing. And still farther away, in another part of the world, the same throne – like platforms are crushing into the same immense areas of men; and the same gilded servants of royalty are scattering broadcast words which are only a translation of those which fell on us here.

Some women in mourning are hardly stains on this gloomy unity. They wander and turn round in the open spaces, and are the same as they were in ancient times. They are not of any age or any century, these murdered souls, covered with black veils; they are you and I.


While we watch the festival, the shining hurly-burly, murmuring and eulogistic, the Baroness espies me, smiles and signs to me to go to her. So I go, and in the presence of all she pays me some compliment or other on my service at the front. She is dressed in black velvet and wears her white hair like a diadem. Twenty-five years of vassalage bow me before her and fill me with silence. And I salute the Gozlans also, in a way which I feel is humble in spite of myself, for they are all-powerful over me, and they make Marie an allowance without which we could not live properly. I am no more than a man.

I see Tudor, whose eyes were damaged in Artois, hesitating and groping. The Baroness has found a little job for him in the castle kitchens.

“Isn’t she good to the wounded soldiers?” they are saying around me. “She’s a real benefactor!”

This time I say aloud, “There is the real benefactor,” and I point to the ruin which the young man has become whom we used to know, to the miserable, darkened biped whose eyelids flutter in the daylight, who leans weakly against a tree in face of the festive crowd, as if it were an execution post.

“Yes — after all — yes, yes,” the people about me murmur, timidly; they also blinking as though tardily enlightened by the spectacle of the poor benefactor.


A mother, mutilated in her slain son, is giving her mite to the offertory for the Lest-we-Forget League. She is bringing her poverty’s humble assistance to those who say, “Remember evil; not that it may be avoided, but that it may be revived, by exciting at random all causes of hatred. Memory must be made an infectious disease.” Bleeding and bloody, inflamed by the stupid selfishness of vengeance, she holds out her hand to the collector, and drags behind her a little girl who, nevertheless, will one day, perhaps, be a mother.

Lower down, an apprentice is devouring an officer’s uniform with his gaze. He stands there hypnotized; and the sky-blue and beautiful crimson come off on his eyes. At that moment I saw clearly that beauty in uniforms is still more wicked than stupid.

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