I Will Not Mourn Over My Dead Youth

From a letter of Eugène Lemercier, the French painter who fought and died in World War I.

February 14, 1915 (5th day on the front line)

All is movement about us; we too are afoot. Even as the inevitable takes shape, peace revisits my heart at last. My beloved country is defiled by these detestable preparations of battle; the silence is rent by the preliminary gun-fire; man succeeds for a time in cancelling all the beauty of the world. But I think it will even yet find a place of refuge. For twenty-four hours now I have been my own self.

Dear mother, I was wrong to think so much of my ‘tower of ivory.’ What we too often take for a tower of ivory is nothing more than an old cheese where a hermit rat has made his house.

Rather, may a better spirit move me to gratitude for the salutary shocks that tossed me out of too pleasant a place of peace; let us be thankful for the dispensation which, during certain hours—hours far apart but never to be forgotten—made a man of me.

No, no, I will not mourn over my dead youth. It led me by steep and devious ways to the tablelands where the mists that hung over intelligence are no more.


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