Home > Uncategorized > Maurice Maeterlinck: Bloodshed, battle-cry and sword-thrust are the joys of barbarians

Maurice Maeterlinck: Bloodshed, battle-cry and sword-thrust are the joys of barbarians

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

Maurice Maeterlinck

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From The Treasure of the Humble (1898)
Translated by Alfred Sutro

The true artist no longer chooses Marius triumphing over the Cimbrians, or the assassination of the Duke of Guise, as fit subjects for his art; for he is well aware that the psychology of victory or murder is but elementary or exceptional, and that the solemn voice of men and things, the voice that issues forth so timidly and hesitatingly, cannot be heard amid the idle uproar of acts of violence. And therefor will he place on his canvas a house lost in the heart of the country, an open door at the end of a passage, a face or hands at rest, and by these simple images will he add to our consciousness of life, which is a possession that is no longer possible to lose.

But to the tragic author, as to the mediocre painter who still lingers over historical pictures, it is only the violence of the anecdote that appeals, and in his representation thereof does the entire interest of the work consist. And he imagines, forsooth, that we shall delight in witnessing the very same acts that brought joy to the hearts of the barbarians, with whom murder, outrage and treachery were matters of daily occurrence. Whereas it is a far cry from bloodshed, battle-cry and sword-thrust that the lives of most of us flow on, and men’s tears are silent to-day, and invisible, and almost spiritual…

***

From The Buried Temple (1902)
Translated by Alfred Sutro

There is in Flanders a breed of draught-dogs upon which destiny alternatively lavishes her favour and her spite. Some will be bought by a butcher, and lead a magnificent life. The work is trifling: in the morning, harnessed four abreast, they draw a light cart to the slaughter-house; and at night, galloping joyously, triumphantly, home through the narrow streets of the ancient towns with their tiny, lit-up gables, bring it back overflowing with meat. Between-times there is leisure, and marvelous leisure. among the rats and the waste of the slaughter-house. They are copiously fed, they are fat, they shine like seals, and taste in its fullness the only happiness dreamed of by the naive, ferreting instinct of the honest dog. But their unfortunate brethren of the same litter, that the lame sand-pedlar buys, or the old collector of household refuse, or the needy peasant with his great cruel clogs – these are chained to heavy carts or shapeless barrows; they are filthy, mangy, hairless, emaciated, starving; and follow till they die the circles of a hell into which they were thrust by a few coppers dropped into some horny palm. And, in a world less directly subject to man, there must evidently be partridges, pheasants, deer, hares, which have no luck, which never escape the gun; while others, one knows not how or why, emerge unscathed from every battue.

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