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Jean Giono: Rats and worms were the only living things


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

Jean Giono: Led to the slaughterhouse

Jean Giono: War, nourishment and dismemberment

Jean Giono: War! Who’s the madman in charge of all this? Who’s the madman who gives the orders?


Jean Giono
From To the Slaughterhouse (Le grand troupeau) (1931)
Translated by Norman Glass


Twice already Oliver had stopped running to look at his feet. What was that running between his legs. And everywhere in the meadow, under the grass, like dew, and leaving such a trail behind! Rats! Waves of rats! Rats from all those burning walls, from all those disembowelled barns, rats from destroyed villages, rats from the battle and the corpses, rendered up into a black wave by the upheaval of the ground, they came out of the meadow below, overran the slope, and poured through the hollows of the tilled land like shining pitch.


At dawn, at the hour when the earth gives off its vapours there was always a truce. The dew sparkled on the greatcoats of the dead. Light and green, the early morning wind blew straight ahead. Water creatures were splashing at the bottom of the shell-holes. Red-eyed rats walked quietly along the trench. Rats and worms were the only living things there. There were no more trees, no more large furrows, no more grass. The hillside had been skinned down to its chalk bones. A mist rose gently. You could hear the silence pass by with its slight electric crackling. The faces of the dead were buried in the mud, or they jutted partly out of the holes, peacefully, with their hands resting on the rim and their heads lying on their arms. The rats came to sniff them. They jumped from one corpse to another. They selected the young ones first, those without any hairs on their cheeks. They sniffed the cheek, then they crouched down into a ball and started eating the flesh between the nose and the mouth, next the edge of the lips, and eventually the green apple of the cheeks. Every now and then the rats cleaned their paws on their whiskers. When they came to the eyes, they scratched them out slowly and licked the eyelids. They bit into the eye as though it was a little egg and chewed it gently, slanting their mouths to suck up the juice.


“Regotaz! Regotaz!” Oliver called.

He knew that Regotaz could no longer hear him, lying out as he was flat on the ground. But the sight of those broad shoulders, the solid torso, and the big legs with the feet turned in made him call. Oliver tried to push him on to his back to see his face, but he was too heavy. He was heavy and at the same time soft to touch. Oliver lay down beside the corpse, He dug his hands into Regotaz’s hair, he tried to lift up the face. No more face remained. No more mouth, no more nose, no more cheeks, no more expression. Only pulverised flesh and white, bristling bones. Just a scrap of forehead was left and that was dripping away into the ground.


The dead man’s hand held on to a clod of earth in which a little clump of grass was growing.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Kathleen
    August 26, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Rats and dead bodies again, a veteran’s account is worse than a horror film.

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