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Romain Rolland: Chorus of war’s secular high priests and intellectual carpet knights

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Liluli
Translator unknown

THE GRAND DERVISH turning toward the Fat-of-Fats, the Diplomats, the Journalists, etc.
To your posts, gentlemen! The time has come for singing. Poets, philosophers, dry-as-dusts, pedants, penny-a-liners and literary men, lords of the inkhorn, you whose blood bears a flood of generous ink, come now, complete the chorus! Let there be no one heard but you. Fly on your best goose quills, fly to the rescue of Right! Holy guardians of the capitol, blow, blow your clarion notes! Be Brutuses, be Catos! Immolate all for the Fatherland – all except your lives, for you must be left to sing of those you kill. All honor to those magnificent voices of yours that crucify and resurrect, that make corpses and heroes!…In the baser ranks let us put the counterbasses: theologians, metaphysicians – my 18-inch howitzers, who crash upon the barbarians, the Jack Johnsons of the absolute and the aerial torpedoes of the ideal!…Above them come the baritones – the historians, the jurists, all the skillful camouflagers of the
Law and the Past. Let us also have a few ministers, economists and the big industrial journalists to send up the munition shares. A few Secretaries of State: they sing out of tune; but the croak of a bird with fine feathers sounds always sweet…And now my contraltos and tenors – the writers of every sex or of – no sex (they will be the sopranos): the Amazons of the pen who, like their grandmother Venus, burn for Mars; and the despised poets who, in their effort to regain lost love and lost laurels, are all dressed up as warriors…Ah! how handsome they are, my military men, quinquagenarians, tight-laced, be-medaled, marking time!…Left, right; left, right! Keep in step! They’re regular thunderbolts – on parade. What will they be like in a battle? But fortunately – I breathe again – they don’t fight. They are the guards, and, wisely, they remember that the guard’s first duty is to guard itself. All honor to the men of duty!…Finally, on top, at their posts among the timbrels and cymbals, we shall place the fanatics, the mystics, the Mad Mullahs of journalism; they can be delirious to order, can bark away for so much the yelp, and with their howling rouse the old instinct in the sleeping crowd, the lust of blood…As soloists, one Socialist and one Catholic shall sing a duet to celebrate the virtues according to the Church and the Councils. They are not of the same brew. But what matters the wine, so long as it has no water in it! And what matters the vintage so long as men believe and drink?

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CHORUS OF INTELLECTUALS in doggerel verse. They chant in sprightly and monotonous tones, beating time with their whole body. At, isn’t it brave – to go down to the grave – when one’s quite a boy – one gets all life’s joy – and none of its worries, or flurries, or scurries. – If I were in – your youthful skin – how gladly I’d battle – or gladlier send – these stupid cattle – to meet their end. – For death and glory I thirst and hunger! – If only I were twenty years younger!

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THE GRAND DERVISH
Nothing will come of this…Despite our holy efforts to disgust them with it, these common people, my word! set great store by their wretched mortal bodies! [To the Intellectuals.] And these fellows hold their tongue and don’t say a word!…Sing, I say, sing, O heroes of the brain!

THE INTELLECTUALS
But one must take breath! My tongue is quite sore with singing. What a trade! We’re exhausted. Give us a drink! It’s too hot…And to tell the truth, I’d rather sing another time: I’m not Tyrtaeus. The bugles and drums, beaten with might and main, to lead to the fight these poor dolts fairly burst my ears; I’d rather suck at the whispering flute with tip of tongue or else the rheumy oboe. For the poet is made to celebrate love and the fields and peace.

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