The Holy Night

This story, by Selma Lagerlöf (1858—1940), was first published in 1908.

When I was five years old I had such a great sorrow! I hardly know if I have had a greater since.

It was then my grandmother died. Up to that time, she used to sit every day on the corner sofa in her room, and tell stories.

I remember that grandmother told story after story from morning till night, and that we children sat beside her, quite still, and listened. It was a glorious life! No other children had such happy times as we did.

It isn’t much that I recollect about my grandmother. I remember that she had very beautiful snow-white hair, and stooped when she walked, and that she always sat and knitted a stocking.

And I even remember that when she had finished a story, she used to lay her hand on my head and say: “All this is as true, as true as that I see you and you see me.”

I also remember that she could sing songs, but this she did not do every day. One of the songs was about a knight and a sea-troll, and had this refrain: “It blows cold, cold weather at sea.”

Then I remember a little prayer she taught me, and a verse of a hymn.

Of all the stories she told me, I have but a dim and imperfect recollection. Only one of them do I remember so well that I should be able to repeat it. It is a little story about Jesus’ birth.

Well, this is nearly all that I can recall about my grandmother, except the thing which I remember best; and that is, the great loneliness when she was gone.

I remember the morning when the corner sofa stood empty and when it was impossible to understand how the days would ever come to an end. That I remember. That I shall never forget!

And I recollect that we children were brought forward to kiss the hand of the dead and that we were afraid to do it. But then some one said to us that it would be the last time we could thank grandmother for all the pleasure she had given us.

And I remember how the stories and songs were driven from the homestead, shut up in a long black casket, and how they never came back again.

I remember that something was gone from our lives. It seemed as if the door to a whole beautiful, enchanted world—where before we had been free to go in and out—had been closed. And now there was no one who knew how to open that door.

And I remember that, little by little, we children learned to play with dolls and toys, and to live like other children. And then it seemed as though we no longer missed our grandmother, or remembered her.

But even to-day—after forty years—as I sit here and gather together the legends about Christ, which I heard out there in the Orient, there awakes within me the little legend of Jesus’ birth that my grandmother used to tell, and I feel impelled to tell it once again, and to let it also be included in my collection.

It was a Christmas Day and all the folks had driven to church except grandmother and I. I believe we were all alone in the house. We had not been permitted to go along, because one of us was too old and the other was too young. And we were sad, both of us, because we had not been taken to early mass to hear the singing and to see the Christmas candles.

But as we sat there in our loneliness, grandmother began to tell a story.

“There was a man,” said she, “who went out in the dark night to borrow live coals to kindle a fire. He went from hut to hut and knocked. ‘Dear friends, help me!’ said he. ‘My wife has just given birth to a child, and I must make a fire to warm her and the little one.’

“But it was way in the night, and all the people were asleep. No one replied.

“The man walked and walked. At last he saw the gleam of a fire a long way off. Then he went in that direction, and saw that the fire was burning in the open. A lot of sheep were sleeping around the fire, and an old shepherd sat and watched over the flock.

“When the man who wanted to borrow fire came up to the sheep, he saw that three big dogs lay asleep at the shepherd’s feet. All three awoke when the man approached and opened their great jaws, as though they wanted to bark; but not a sound was heard. The man noticed that the hair on their backs stood up and that their sharp, white teeth glistened in the firelight. They dashed toward him. He felt that one of them bit at his leg and one at his hand and that one clung to his throat. But their jaws and teeth wouldn’t obey them, and the man didn’t suffer the least harm.

“Now the man wished to go farther, to get what he needed. But the sheep lay back to back and so close to one another that he couldn’t pass them. Then the man stepped upon their backs and walked over them and up to the fire. And not one of the animals awoke or moved.”

Thus far, grandmother had been allowed to narrate without interruption. But at this point I couldn’t help breaking in. “Why didn’t they do it, grandma?” I asked.

“That you shall hear in a moment,” said grandmother—and went on with her story.

“When the man had almost reached the fire, the shepherd looked up. He was a surly old man, who was unfriendly and harsh toward human beings. And when he saw the strange man coming, he seized the long spiked staff, which he always held in his hand when he tended his flock, and threw it at him. The staff came right toward the man, but, before it reached him, it turned off to one side and whizzed past him, far out in the meadow.”

When grandmother had got this far, I interrupted her again. “Grandma, why wouldn’t the stick hurt the man?” Grandmother did not bother about answering me, but continued her story.

“Now the man came up to the shepherd and said to him: ‘Good man, help me, and lend me a little fire! My wife has just given birth to a child, and I must make a fire to warm her and the little one.’

“The shepherd would rather have said no, but when he pondered that the dogs couldn’t hurt the man, and the sheep had not run from him, and that the staff had not wished to strike him, he was a little afraid, and dared not deny the man that which he asked.

“‘Take as much as you need!’ he said to the man.

“But then the fire was nearly burnt out. There were no logs or branches left, only a big heap of live coals; and the stranger had neither spade nor shovel, wherein he could carry the red-hot coals.

“When the shepherd saw this, he said again: ‘Take as much as you need!’ And he was glad that the man wouldn’t be able to take away any coals.

“But the man stooped and picked coals from the ashes with his bare hands, and laid them in his mantle. And he didn’t burn his hands when he touched them, nor did the coals scorch his mantle; but he carried them away as if they had been nuts or apples.”

But here the story-teller was interrupted for the third time. “Grandma, why wouldn’t the coals burn the man?”

“That you shall hear,” said grandmother, and went on:

“And when the shepherd, who was such a cruel and hard-hearted man, saw all this, he began to wonder to himself: ‘What kind of a night is this, when the dogs do not bite, the sheep are not scared, the staff does not kill, or the fire scorch?’ He called the stranger back, and said to him: ‘What kind of a night is this? And how does it happen that all things show you compassion?’

“Then said the man: ‘I cannot tell you if you yourself do not see it.’ And he wished to go his way, that he might soon make a fire and warm his wife and child.

“But the shepherd did not wish to lose sight of the man before he had found out what all this might portend. He got up and followed the man till they came to the place where he lived.

“Then the shepherd saw that the man didn’t have so much as a hut to dwell in, but that his wife and babe were lying in a mountain grotto, where there was nothing except the cold and naked stone walls.

“But the shepherd thought that perhaps the poor innocent child might freeze to death there in the grotto; and, although he was a hard man, he was touched, and thought he would like to help it. And he loosened his knapsack from his shoulder, took from it a soft white sheepskin, gave it to the strange man, and said that he should let the child sleep on it.

“But just as soon as he showed that he, too, could be merciful, his eyes were opened, and he saw what he had not been able to see before and heard what he could not have heard before.

“He saw that all around him stood a ring of little silver-winged angels, and each held a stringed instrument, and all sang in loud tones that to-night the Saviour was born who should redeem the world from its sins.

“Then he understood how all things were so happy this night that they didn’t want to do anything wrong.

“And it was not only around the shepherd that there were angels, but he saw them everywhere. They sat inside the grotto, they sat outside on the mountain, and they flew under the heavens. They came marching in great companies, and, as they passed, they paused and cast a glance at the child.

“There were such jubilation and such gladness and songs and play! And all this he saw in the dark night, whereas before he could not have made out anything. He was so happy because his eyes had been opened that he fell upon his knees and thanked God.”

Here grandmother sighed and said: “What that shepherd saw we might also see, for the angels fly down from heaven every Christmas Eve, if we could only see them.”

Then grandmother laid her hand on my head, and said: “You must remember this, for it is as true, as true as that I see you and you see me. It is not revealed by the light of lamps or candles, and it does not depend upon sun and moon; but that which is needful is, that we have such eyes as can see God’s glory.”

Featured: “The Shepherds and the Angel,” Carl Bloch; painted in 1879.

Who Did You Say was the Enemy?

First and foremost, the nation means sovereignty, for which its people will stand up and be counted.

Throughout History, France’s people have fought for her unity, independence, dignity, and for certain principles, legitimately upheld. That certainty rested upon an awareness that her destiny was interwoven between the government of the day, and the people. Never in her history had De Gaulle’s certaine idée de la France been cast overboard, even in the midst of frenzied partisan politics.

That interwoven sense of destiny is now frayed, given the citizenry’s current disregard for elections (I decline to entertain our politicians’ anecdotal excuses) and Frenchmen being notorious for their acute political conscience. In my view, rather than disinterest, what the no-show vote points to is distaste for the ruling class’ incompetence, along with a latent and intensifying hostility to the system, its policy and decisions. Add to the no-show vote those thronging the dissident, essentially right-wing, parties; and between the people and the ruling classes one sees a gulf looming.

A class of oligarchs, led by front-men of the Ecole nationale de l’Administration, has adopted lock-stock- and-barrel a web of foreign beliefs, spun through myriad societies and entities—all twanging away at that one, Unipolar, US string. A class whose collective brain is squatted upon by Anglo-American ideology, namely that a nation’s people are pawns in the game of international, US-run finance. That class has rushed to sign up for the EU and NATO, crony-clubs run out of Washington DC.

In the recondite mental-space that class inhabits, the citizen becomes a bleating consumer-sheep; national borders go up in puff of smoke—there will be no language heard but English, no armies formed save within NATO, no manufacture founded unless it feed US banks and interest-groups, no currency traded other than that of account, namely the US dollar (or some interim substitute), with the so-called Western World tugging its collective forelock before the Washington camarilla.

Amongst the phenomena attending this geopolitical nightmare—huge waves of immigration, designed to submerge protest in each nation; bring insecurity on every street to frighten the citizenry into submission; 24/7, wall-to-wall encouragement for the most abject, backward forms of behaviour; infantile methods of acculturation that void education of all content, vitiate Reason and free-will and erase Christianity as an approach to religious belief. The mass-media come amongst us not to inform but to indoctrinate, peddling disinformation and official untruths. History never happened, the family and decent mores went out with the horse-and-buggy… and so forth.

In a word, they wanted decadence, and they have got it in spades—the ruling class now in place has consciously chosen to dissolve France into some sort of barbarian magma, a vast seething sub-human cauldron, as Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, “Europe’s” éminence grise would have it. A magma to be push-me-pull-you’d by the US and its acolytes.

At the end of the day, mark my words, it is Man, and not France alone, in danger; Man in all his greatness as a thinking being. Should the nightmarish outlook described above prevail here and throughout Europe, it will take over the world, save for China and a few, doubtless Asian nations. Therefore, a French patriot who would defend his nation’s identity and the dignity of Man is a humanist, as I suggest in my latest book, Le patriotisme français est un humanisme (ED2A Publ.).

Throwing off the shackles of short-term thinking, allow me to recall a few amongst the more notorious US misdeeds with regard to France.
One’s first reaction is dismay, followed by dread, as one contemplates the authorities’ passivity before the advancing Hegemon. In theory, these leaders were elected to press France’s interests and her role in the world. I confess to mounting anger, as I observe our leaders complacently standing by, whilst the country falls prey to another, perfervidly nationalist state bent on conquest. Our leaders have allowed themselves to be dragged into hazardous adventures, solely to placate the xenophobia and hubris of Germany and the Anglo-Americans. Are these people collaborators? Is this treason?

No need to scroll too far back in history to find the US Hegemon lurking. From WWI on, when President Wilson caught up Theodore Roosevelt’s purported “peace” torch (thank Heavens for Clémenceau), the US resolve to rule the world has only stiffened. The end of the USSR was seen as a new and unlimited playing-field for the US, where limitless impertinence might prevail.

To illustrate: in 2010, Russia had ordered two Mistral class helicopter-carriers from France. With the ships already in the yards under construction, in 2014 the USA pressured President François Hollande to rescind the contract, on the specious pretext that the Crimea had been “annexed,” i.e., returned to the Russian fold, and that Russia was backing the threatened Russian majority in the Donbass area.
Another case in point: on 15th September 2021, Australia, at Washington’s instigation, unilaterally rescinded the contract for building 12 conventional submarines in France, then turned round and signed one with the USA and the UK for building nuclear submarines. A friendly attitude on the part of our allies, no doubt?

Or just very recently, the latest spot of intrigue cooked up by our German friends, in relation to the SCAF (Système de Combat Aérien Futur), originally a French programme with German and Spanish participation. All too readily, it became plain how keen were our German partners on technology transfer—and then we learnt they would be buying US F18s rather than the French Rafale. In a nutshell, to keep the EU on the straight and narrow, the USA’s key ally is Germany, which is why the USA holds no end of goodwill for Ursula von der Leyen (whose family, by the way, is more American than German).

By now, the French are quite alone in referring to the “Franco-German tandem,” one that Berlin has had shewn scant reluctance to crash. Put paid to the SCAF, put paid to the joint helicopter project (the Apache, rather than the Tigre), put paid to the joint patrol vessel; equip Europe’s armies with US materiel, obstruct French arms-exports—all stunts which the US has either incited underhandedly, or openly demanded. Not to speak of the attempt to destabilise French nuclear deterrence, by suggesting France share that, as well as her seat at the UN Security Council.

Pushing the boat ever-further out, Berlin now seeks to have qualified majority voting within the EU on security issues, rather than their remaining strictly a national matter. Should France consent, she will be dragged into wars willy-nilly, and watch her foreign policy and nuclear deterrence go down the drain.

The USA is behind these manoeuvres, which Germany will play along with as she intends to be its foremost partner. Matters have only got worse since France rejoined NATO in March 2009.

As for France enjoying an independent energy supply, the key is our nuclear reactors. But in order that US-German firms may invest and
dictate prices for most electrical energy sources, Germany has blithely helped sink EDF.

Lest we forget—the critical chunk of Alstom was sold to General Electric, thanks to the man who happens to be President of France. Alain Juillet testified thusly to the Parliamentary Defence Commission: “With this Alstom business, we’ve gone and sold to the USA the means to manufacture turbines for atomic submarines, which means that France can no longer build them without US permission.” That the USA preys on France’s high technology has become so glaringly obvious that the French government had to veto the Teledyne attempt to take over the defence optronics firm Photonis. Under pressure from public opinion, in 2019 an Act (loi Pacte) was adopted, to give the Economics Minister greater power to monitor foreign investment.

War is not the only area where US imperialism seeks to govern by its own rules. Set up by the Marrakesh Treaty en 1994, the WTO no longer suffices to serve that purpose, so extra-territoriality in law has become the latest Big Stick wielded by the USA.

Any foreign company trading worldwide may thus find itself on the receiving end of extra-territorial US laws, simply because somewhere, somehow, such firms necessarily have some kind of tie to the USA. The laws amount to a dictatorial system holding sway over players worldwide, no matter their country of origin. Competitors are weakened or crushed; over the past decade, billions of dollars in fines have come down upon French banks and firms, swelling the US Treasury, on the specious pretext that these firms had some tie to individuals or states which the USA considers “terrorist.”

As the USA controls liquidity flows, so can they mould minds. Whilst funds like Blackrock and Vanguard rule the economy, they also invest in the mass-media, 90% of which is held by 9 conglomerates, controlled in turn by the pension funds. Our screens are over-run with ghastly US films and videos—braying out from a cultural desert, let alone Halloween and English-language advertisements, trampling on an Act of Parliament (loi Toubon) meant to defend French.

There is method to all this madness: imposing a certain mindset, bringing all thought into line with Basic American, making an outcast of any non-conformist culture, and ensuring the US reign over Europe. The claim to manifest destiny, to self-evident intellectual superiority, was confirmed by the Monroe Doctrine and brandished by Zbignew Brzezinski, advisor to Presidents.

After WWII, the plot only thickens. On 28th May 1946, a France in dire straits had little option but to sign the Blum-Byrnes agreement, whereby she agreed to allow in, certain US products. One major French concession was that US films were no longer to be subject to quota, whilst France could henceforth reserve 4 weeks only out of 13 for French films. By the first semester of 1947, 340 US films had flooded in, with only 40 French shown! Thereafter, Hollywood would set about to retool the French mind, instill the American Way of Life and broadcast US propaganda.

When all is said and done—all is NOT said and done! I do not doubt but that France will overcome the onslaught of this erstwhile ally become a foe to nations and to civilisation tout court, a foe—pride cometh before a fall—who will most likely, and very shortly, taste defeat. By giving free rein to every manner of disorder, the USA has slammed the door on itself and turned away from the true Western world, whilst Russia, reborn, shews herself to be the leaven for renewal.

In the Ukraine, the ongoing conflict, eagerly sought by the USA, will doubtless prove the turning point. The USA, the EU and their NATO arm-bangle are likely heading straight for the wall, as the self-righteous obtusity of the USA beggars belief. Military academies in France (and I expect in the USA as well) teach us to coolly and objectively analyse an adversary top-down: weapons systems, environment, terrain, climate, men, officers whilst our initial operating orders take all these factors into account. One can only surmise that the USA’s overweening sense of superiority has so blinded its strategists, that it underestimates the adversary, having drawn no lessons from all the—lost—wars it has pursued since WWII. Leaving aside the fact that on no account can one truthfully say that the USA single-handedly won that War.

France has tangled herself into a conflict which in no way concerns her. There is no point in pretentiously waving the banner of liberty: the Ukrainian elite is utterly corrupt, the Ukrainians anything but unanimously hostile to their Russian brothers, whilst the territory is fast in the grip of British and American diplomatic and military power. President Macron has been sending the Ukraine equipment needed here by our own armed forces; he has led our country to lose huge investments in Russia, and our people to suffer on all fronts—economic, financial, energy. Meanwhile Francophone Africa looks to Moscow for safety, an outcome plainly due to France’s kowtowing to Washington. Should one care to analyse our waning influence and power in Africa, one will hear our African friends say things which should greatly disturb French leaders. No French patriot would have allowed such decadent, even perverse, influences to prevail in this country as they how do. Francophone Africa has taken note of our decadent state, and has decided to walk away—towards countries they recognise as dignified and respectable. Inevitably, the influence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation will continue to grow.

A sovereign France has at hand tools of greatness, into which feed her intellectual, scientific and economic wealth: nuclear weapons and deterrence, the overseas territories of the world’s second largest sea-power, her friendship with Africa within the wider French-speaking world, her seat at the Security Council, and the world’s second largest diplomatic network.

Meanwhile, our “friends” loot our technological potential, strive to cut us out of our role at the UN and to subject our nuclear power to NATO. They hold our language and civilisation in contempt, and impose upon us a lifestyle that flatly contradicts morality and French customs; they block our access to resources and to our habitual partners. Through twisted geopolitical manoeuvres, aided and abetted by the French ruling class who ply every trick in the rhetorician’s trade to blame Someone Else, they have plunged us into a dreadful economic crisis. What does one call such people?

Doubt not, but that Russia will win the war in the Ukraine. This is not wishful thinking, but a statement based on observation of facts. I DARE say that this will redound to France’s advantage, by breaking the chains of NATO and the EU. Totalitarian in their aims, dancing to the US piper’s tune, these two international bodies have revealed to all and sundry how false and how extremely dangerous they are. For the USA, this will prove the latest in a string of defeats.

Were France not in the grasp of petty, impulsive and ill-informed mannikins, she could seize the great occasions bearing down upon us to rise to her former heights. Russia is not our enemy!

Henri Roure is a retired general in the French Marines, educated at the prestigious École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr (ESM), and the École Supérieure de Guerre. He holds a doctorate in Political Science and has authored numerous books, including, Le patriotisme français est un humanisme (French patriotism is humanism), Un Dieu, une terre et des hommes (One God, one land and people), and Sauvons notre laïcité: La crise musulmane en France (Save our secularism: The Muslim crisis in France). [This article was translated from the French by Mendelssohn Moses).

Featured: “La France protège le drapeau national contre l’antipatriotisme” (France protecting the flag from anti-patriotism), poster from 1909.

The Lost Eden of Jean Giono

Let’s start by clearing up a misunderstanding: Giono is not a Provençal writer. He was certainly born and died in Manosque, and most of his stories do indeed take place somewhere between the plateau of Valensole and the mountain of Lure. But it is an invented, romanticized Provence. The Reader’s Digest, having first selected for its contest on “the most extraordinary character I have met” the manuscript of The Man Who Planted Trees—which remains today Giono’s most world-famous short story—finally rejected it for lack of proof of the existence of its main character, Elzéard Bouffier. They were expecting a documentary filmmaker, but instead they got a writer.

A writer, therefore, not an author of greeting cards. Giono’s lavender was gray. “These blues, these ochres, these reds, these greens that we see in the front of the stationery shops, if you like them, stay in front of the stationery shops. Here, what you get is gray.” The tourists who rushed to the beaches of the French Riviera to roast their flesh had no business stopping in these arid lands, where one hates the sun and gets drunk in the shade. Nor does Giono recognize himself in the Provence of regionalist authors, in Daudet’s Tartarin, Pagnol’s César, or the bucolic songs of Mistral and the Félibres—an attempt at best naive, at worst artificial and hypocritical, to promote an outdated folklore foreign to the real people. “I do not know Provence,” Giono the Manosquin said with irony. “When I hear about this country, I promise myself never to set foot there. According to what I am told, it is made of white cardboard, with decorations pasted on, where tenors and baritones coo, while walking their bellies girded by red belts.” Giono was obviously a writer deeply rooted in his region, but what he discovered there, the terrible beauty of the world, the violence and the tragedy of human passions, is universal. His Provence, in fact, is the one described “as well by Stendhal as by Shakespeare, or by Cervantes, by Dostoyevsky.”

The Peasantry against the Modern World

If Giono belongs to a country, it is the country of the peasantry. Like Ramuz in Switzerland, he knew how to tell the greatness and the cruelties of the life of the countryside. Like Céline with the urban proletarians, and better than the intellectual elucubrations of the Félibriges, Giono knew how to translate into writing the oral language of the land. “It comes from the fact that we have no education; what do you want us to do about it?” explains old Amédée in Un de Baumugnes [A Man of Baumugnes—translated into English as Lovers are Never Losers]. “This here piece of paper, it said more to me than all the others doing acrobatics around a clarinet.”

It is with his feet firmly planted in the earth, in what he calls “the peasant civilization,” that Giono observes and condemns the modern world. Les vraies richesses (The Real Wealth—not yet translated)—an essay dedicated to his friends from Contadour, with whom he formed a small peasant and poetic community from 1935 to 1939—opens on the misery of the modern city-dweller, cut off from the life-giving sources of his being, exhausted, emaciated by meaningless work. “In this city where men are piled up as if one had raked an anthill, what strikes me, seizes me and covers me with mortal cold, is emptiness.” Modern man accumulates futile pleasures and goods, of which he immediately tires, forgetting the real foods, the real wealth, simple and eternal. Like this bread, which a village woman has decided to make herself, in the old-fashioned way. “And now I see on my table bread made by the housewife and I think it is very serious. Of a beautiful gravity, sweet and full of joy… Because Mrs. Bertrand took yeast, flour, water, and made bread, not to sell it, but to eat it.” The greatness and freedom of the peasant comes precisely from this independence, from the fact that he alone is capable of feeding himself; from the fact that he participates in the gush of life, in the perpetual recreation of the world.

Modern alienation consists in breaking this direct link between man and the land, by interposing money, the greatest enemy of the peasant,” which ends up starving those who feed the world. In his film Crésus (Croesus), the only one he directed entirely, Giono tells the story of a shepherd, Jules, played by Fernandel, who discovers a treasure. Not knowing what to do with the loot, he begins to distribute it to the villagers, who in return cower over their manna, distrusting each other and most of all their benefactor. Money makes them miserable, unable to take advantage of “the real wealth,” of nature that is freely available to all. One of the characters, not knowing what to do with his money either, sets out to build a bridge, even if it is useless. Technology, as much as money, separates man from the earth. Under the pretext of less strenuous labor, it degrades the soil, extinguishes the joy of work, and transforms the peasant into an agricultural worker, enslaved to the market. This is what Bobi tries to make the communist farmer understand in Que ma joie demeure (That My Joy may Remain—translated as, Joy of Man’s Desiring): “This fragrant air, this morning, it is your horse, your dog, your goat, and the little crazy snake that drink it all in and enjoy it. And you, will you remain shut out all the time from yourself, with your miserable tools for torturing and scraping, your files, your saws, your planers and your spades, your iron jaws, your iron teeth, your firebreaks with which you can never stop fires?” Through technology, we must renounce the modern and Cartesian ambition to make ourselves masters and possessors of nature. “The important thing,” adds Bobi, “is to become again the fair-haired vagabonds of the world. I am against the power of men.” Humanity will only find joy again by abandoning its will to dominate, by reconnecting with nature. “There will be happiness for you only on the day when the big trees will crest the streets, when the weight of the lianas will make the obelisk collapse and the Eiffel Tower bend” [“Destruction de Paris,” in Solitude de la pitié]

Giono was all the more severe with modernity as he personally experienced its worst horrors. Having enlisted in the First World War, he returned, like so many others, deeply affected by the Great War, and his entire work bore the scar. “I cannot forget the war,” he wrote in 1934, “I bear its mark.” In Le grand troupeau (The Great Herd, translated as, To the Slaughterhouse), he recounts the comrades who fell at the front without understanding anything, physically and internally destroyed: “No more mouth, no more nose, no more cheeks, no more eyes—crushed flesh and spikes of small white bones…. The hand of the dead man clutched a clod of earth with a small blade of grass.” And he recounts the anguish and loneliness of the home-front, of fathers waiting for their sons, of wives pining for their husbands: “[The bed] was so used to Joseph that his place was still formed in it, and in the white of the sheets, there was as if the shadow of a man lying there.” Giono’s radical—and controversial—pacifist commitment during the Second World War must be understood in the light of this trauma, and the global rejection of modernity that he drew from it. He had understood, indeed, that it is the same system, namely the State (whether capitalist or communist), which seizes man as a raw material to be corvéed at will, which exploits the bodies in the factory and which sends them then to be massacred; and that the only way to escape from it is to refuse entirely, from the beginning, this seizure, by remaining faithful to the earth.

[Refusing to get involved in a war that he felt did not concern him, Giono was not afraid to publish in the collaborationist newspaper La Gerbe, nor to give a report to the Nazi newspaper Signal. He tended to lump together the crimes of the Occupiers, the bombings of the Allies, and the attacks of the Resistance. Declining all patriotism, all martial heroism, he preferred “to live lying down than to die standing up,” to be “a living German rather than a dead Frenchman.” Though stubbornly non-aligned, he also never rallied to a single point of Nazi ideology either. And during the war, he hid several refugees, including Jews, in his home, without any political claim, simply out of humanity. All this earned him, in any case, a few months in prison after the Liberation.]

An Impossible Pantheism

If we were to leave it at that—denunciation of money, technology, war, return to nature—Giono would not be very original, and would almost pass for a Zadist before his time, an ecological militant full of good feelings, inciting children to plant trees. This is not the case, of course. First of all, because he knew what he was talking about, because his peasant civilization was not an intellectual fantasy or a literary fiction, but his daily reality. He often mocked the skeptical Parisians who, from their salons, reproached him for the imaginary peasants that he met every day. His essays, moreover, never took the form of a demonstrative treatise, but rather of a narrative, of a collection of anecdotes—they are based less on arguments than on testimonies. One will not find in his work extensive developments on the Gestell or the self-valorization of capital—although he talks about it in his own way, and arrives globally at the same conclusions—but instead one hears the voice of a farmer disappointed by his tractor, which is too costly in gasoline: “I took back the horse. Of course, he eats every day. But I don’t buy what he eats, I produce it. It’s a freedom. And then, it is a horse.” And Giono comments: “In these last words, there was all the secret of the peasant” [Le poids du ciel]. Are these testimonies authentic? Embellished? It is true that Giono was a storyteller, that he liked to maintain the blur between reality and his story, but what does it matter, after all, if it gives us hope? “I have sometimes been reproached for only painting men with eagle wings, lion claws, sort of legendary giants. I reproach you for painting men without wings, without claws and very small. You reproach me with excessiveness, I reproach you with blindness. I see better than you the becoming. And, even if I see it badly, and even if I am wrong, I have at least the merit of trusting in the greatness of men, of pushing them to the mystical contract that binds them to the world, of launching them towards the epic life with what you call ‘their only poor little arms,’ but on which the heroic wind will make the feathers of the eagle grow” [Les vraies richesses].

[We will come back later on to this theme of the tale, of the imagination, of the narrative lie. But let us emphasize this point: Giono had all his life consciously mixed reality and imagination, a bit like Balzac asking for his fictitious doctor Bianchon on his deathbed. His daughter related, among other anecdotes, that when he asked her about mountains in the distance, he immediately answered that the castle of the Baroness of Quelte was there, before specifying, in front of the astonishment of his child, that he had just invented it. He was more than seventy years old, and was creating his last published novel. He was going to slip into this book a “please insert notice,” to the effect that by referring to a certain Mrs. Dieulafoy, there never was an iris in Susa. But it turns out that this archaeologist, whose work Giono had in his library, had precisely reported the presence of irises in Susa. One might as well say that Giono was not afraid to lie, to cheat, to embellish the truth, or simply to play with it.]

Giono’s first novel, Naissance de l’Odyssée [Birth of the Odyssey—not yet translated] (which was initially rejected and was not published until after his first successes), heralded his conception of literature: the cunning Odysseus lies to his own wife, but his lie is honorable since it maintains the illusion of greatness, since one likes “better to take pleasure in a lie than to yawn at ugly truths.”

What distinguishes Giono from technocritical philosophers, and of course from small-time ecologists, is simply that he is a writer. The return to nature is not a concept for him, but a style, and therefore a feeling. If you open any of his books, at least before 1939, on any page, you will see, hear, and feel pantheism jumping out at you, overflowing with tastes, smells, colors and materials. One character is enormous and robust like a “piece of wood that walks,” another has eyes “like mint leaves” [Regain]. Old Janet, “straight, hard as a laurel trunk,” “snakes in his fingers,” mocks his incredulous neighbors: “You think the house is a house and nothing more? The hill, a hill and nothing more? I didn’t think you were that stupid” [Colline], And Giono, with each line, makes us see more than a house, more than a hill, more than a silhouette, discovering the deep unity, the indefinite resonance of beings, dipping his brush “in this thick mud of life that is the mixture of men, beasts, trees and stone” [Le serpent d’étoilesThe Serpent of Stars].

This pantheism irrigates notably all the Gionian painting of love. The desire, purged of its moral prohibitions as much as of its pretended liberations, washed of its unhealthy fantasies of all kinds, appears there as the simple budding of spring, the attraction, banal but unsurpassable, of the male and the female, for the renewal of the life. “I knew by intuition,” we read in his novelized autobiography Jean le Bleu (Blue Boy), “that these gestures were beautiful and natural and that nothing in these gestures was forbidden, that all the roundness of the world, from my feet to the stars, and in the beyond of the stars, all the world, all these fruits of moons and suns were carried in the branches of knotted arms, joined mouths and assembled bellies. I understood all the simple beauty of it all, and that it was right, and that it was good.” Giono neither condemns nor exalts sexuality; he speaks of it little, and always with modesty, as of a thing at once simple and sacred, which one veils, not by repugnance, but to spare the intimate joy of the lovers. The breeze awakens the flesh of Arsule, “all the networks of her blood started to sing like the net of the brooks and the rivers of the earth.” She feels Panturle’s warm chest under her cheek, while he embraces her. “She fell into this arm like a sheaf of hay and lay down in the grass. It was, first, a sharp gust of wind and a cry of that wind deep in the wood; the moan of heaven, then an owl cried down into the grass. A wild turtle-dove began to sing. Here is the dawn” [Regain].

But Giono was not a Sunday Buddhist, and this symbiosis between man and his environment was never total with him. Here lies all the tragedy of our condition, and all the depth of the writer. Everything is linked in the cosmos, but everything is war, too. “He kills when he cuts a tree. He kills when he mows,” we read in Colline (Hill, or Hill of Destiny) his first published novel. And if man does not kill, he will be killed. Jaume is sensitive to Janet’s universal compassion, but he is wary of it: “’Caress,’ he said. But how easy is it, if you don’t clear everything around you, if you let, just once, the steel fall from your hands, the green swarm will smother your feet and your walls,” and the boars will begin to invade the village in broad daylight. And Regain (Revival, translated as Second Harvest) that great little novel of the return to life, does not end with the praise of the hunter-gatherer, but with a kind of mastery, modest, respectful, yet firm, of man on his land. The young household relearns how to make bread, transforms the wild moor into a cultivated field, and Panturle stands, finally, not like a tree, but “like a column.”

Total union with nature is impossible. It is only a flattering dream for idle city-dwellers—and real farmers know how hostile their environment can be. But the union is also made impossible by the heart of man. Taking in an exhausted man in a mountain shelter, Sarah, in Batailles dans la montagne (Battles in the Mountain—not yet translated) gives him some goat’s milk to drink. At first he drinks unconsciously, greedily, violently but innocently, “like a kid;” then he opens his eyes, recovers his senses, and continues to drink, more gently, and more calmly, “and it was nothing other than a miserable, selfish and unhappy appetite.”

The great story of failed, unattainable pantheism, which in spite of itself heralded the failure of the Contadour, is found in Que ma joie demeure (Joy of Man’s Desiring). A strange man, with the appearance of a prophet, who calls himself Bobi, arrives one fine evening on the dreary Grémone plateau, where each farm is busy with its own business, driven by the sole pragmatic concern of producing, selling and surviving. But Bobi makes Jourdan see the sky, he shows him the constellation of Orion, and compares it to “Queen Anne’s lace.” This little metaphor seems like nothing, yet it changes everything. For it introduces poetry into the prose of everyday life, for it sprinkles beauty into the furrow of the useful. “So you saw this Queen Anne’s lace in the sky and the sky was blooming.” Bobi makes him plant hawthorn hedges, beds of daffodils, with no other fruit than their brilliance and fragrance; he tells him to spread outside the surplus grain during the winter, to make the birds come; he brings back a stag, and does, so that the voice of the forest can be heard. All useless, counterproductive things, but which reenchant an existence, which revive joy. But this joy, precisely, does not remain. “Everything failed”, he has to conclude, bitterly. And everything failed because of this love of man and woman, more complicated in the end than what Giono had first suggested. Everything failed because joy is not peaceful, because it is haunted by desire, because it is not enough to listen to the wind, to talk to the animals or to give a name to the stars, because it is necessary to seize a hand, to touch lips, and because any embrace is fleeting. “There is perhaps no joy in the world,” Bobi thinks. Giono thus leaves us facing a paradox—there is no joy elsewhere than in the world, and yet the world is not enough; man cannot fully communicate with it, cannot forget his solitude.

Generosity Against Boredom

“Who speaks of countryside Edens?… He who seeks an Eden will not find it anywhere” [Le poids du ciel]. We have been warned. Eden is definitely lost since man is man; since he is marked by sin, or subjected to the cruelty of the gods like the cursed family in Le Moulin de Pologne (The Poland Mill—translated as The Malediction). Like all great literary works, Giono’s work is a meditation on evil. A meditation that deepens and darkens over the years, becoming all the more pessimistic as the horror of war returns, once again. The pantheistic lyricism of the first novels, still tinged with optimism, carrying the hope of a “revival,” however precarious and incomplete, gradually gives way to an exploration of human passions. If the individual cannot find the simplicity and purity of the beasts, if he must let himself be eaten away by boredom or remain haunted by his insatiable desire, then it is this desire that must be probed, in all its generosity and all its violence. How to explain the repetition of massacres, other than by a natural inclination to murder, by a fascination for blood? “It would be necessary to have a man who bleeds and to show him in the fairs,” we read in the Deux cavaliers de l’orage (Two Riders of the Storm). “Blood is the most beautiful theater. You charge for it, and they will bed, borrow or steal to come watch.”

Stylistically too, the Virgilian lyricism gives way to a less pictorial, more factual, drier, sharper narration, the “chronicle” is substituted for the georgic, the meanderings of psychology for the poem of nature. There is no longer any need for words; the text seems at first to be flatter and more arid; but in its austerity, it conceals an unprecedented force. The first novel of this second period, and which remains without doubt the greatest Gionian exploration of evil, the most metaphysical, the most refined, is Un roi sans divertissement (A King without Entertainment—translated as A King Alone). In winter, murders strike a small, isolated mountain village. The priest fears an incident at Christmas mass, but Langlois, the captain in charge of the investigation, reassures him: “Nothing can happen tonight,” because the monster has had “enough entertainment.” It is not a monster, and that is what is monstrous. “It was not the devil. It was much more disturbing.” The murderer turns out to be an ordinary man, like everyone else, who could have been our neighbor, who is rightly named Mr. V. Why did he commit all these crimes? The Pascalian title tells us—to relieve boredom. To throw a little color on the white immensity, “beautiful spots of fresh blood on the virgin snow.” The murderer is only an ordinary man, a bored man; he could be our neighbor, we say, but it is worse—it could be us. Langlois has to admit that there is something “familiar” about him. Doesn’t he himself also take pleasure in tracking down wolves and slitting the throats of geese? “When it was plucked, I looked. It was always at the same place. Standing there. He was looking at the blood of the goose at his feet.”

Desire, in all its generosity and all its violence, we said earlier. If Giono probed the fascination for evil, he also described the passion to love and to offer. The dreaded Thérèse of Les Âmes fortes (Strong Souls—not yet translated) thinks only of vampirizing the love of her victims: “If I found blood somewhere to drink, maybe it would be worth my while to slip into the burrow…. Love is the purest blood that is constantly being replenished. You’re going to take it so far”—but the Numance couple are willing victims, who only think about giving and giving themselves. Let us be clear, Giono’s generosity has something Nietzschean about it. It is neither a duty nor a sacrifice—it is an overflow, a largesse, a magnificence, a form of conquest, a “ferocious and egoistic passion” [Entretiens avec Jean Amrouche et Taos Amrouche]. “’What a terrible weapon,’ said Madame Numance! ‘I am almost ashamed to use it.—‘What do you mean?—The pleasure of giving.—Ah! it is a king’s weapon,’ said Mr. Numance.”

Basically, and this is what is most disturbing, Thérèse and Mme Numance, the succubus and the saint, are not so different, and this is why the title evokes, in the plural, “strong souls.” The pleasure of taking and that of giving are like the two facets of the same devouring passion, where the other is only an instrument, a prey or an outlet, the target of a ferocity where the border between good and evil dissolves. The Artist in Les Grands Chemins (translated as The Open Road), who cheats at cards, gives by betting, takes by stealing—but the main thing is to walk on a thread: “What mattered was his skin. It was what he risked; the big move only served to risk more. No reserve, except his four or five liters of blood which, from one minute to the next, can flow into the sawdust…. Cheating forced him to bet the essential. He was a person in full.” He is, if one can say so, and despite his egoism, a generous, expensive, prodigal thief. His only rule is to play “without a ceiling.” He does not play to get rich, any more than Therese cheats the Numance couple for their money. It’s not even about dominating. It is not only about fighting, about winning, but about having risked his skin. In the margin of a photograph, which served as model for Thérèse, Giono described her “chewing and re-chewing her will to power.” But the formula would apply just as much to the benefactress. Doesn’t she see her ruin as a triumph? She has “a fulfilled face.” “’Now that she has what she wants,’ observed Firmin, Thérèse’s husband, ‘she doesn’t even look at you anymore.’” And the Narrator, the companion of the Artist, who gives him everything, even to death, also does the same, in a sense, by play, by a game perhaps even more subtle. To “cheat against oneself,” he says to himself, one overturns the walls, the ceilings and even the horizon, “we can go at life straight off, without the risk of embarrassing the greats in the stratosphere.” If cheating against oneself prevails, if the weapon of gift prevails over that of theft, it is not in the name of a morality that has become obsolete, but, possibly, because it is more perilous and more noble.

This weapon of the king has a knight, Angelo, the hero of the Hussard cycle. If Giono was always a fervent reader of Stendhal, it was only in his second period that the influence came to be really felt. Like Fabrice del Dongo in The Charterhouse of Parma, but a little more valiant, Angelo is a young daredevil, eager for adventure, as ready to kill as to die, without hatred, without even seeking glory, without even poking himself in the eye for honor; only for the beauty of the gesture; for the taste of the risk, because a desire overcomes him, because something in him overflows. “He had an overflowing generosity,” says the posthumous postface of Angelo. “He always responded to the most minute generosities,” we read in Le Hussard sur le toit (The Horseman on the Roof) “with debauches of generosity.” All his temperament is there summarized. Thus replied Giono, moreover, to those who denounced his pacifism. He does not refuse combat out of cowardice, but because this war is unworthy, because modern war, as Bernanos also observed, does not leave any more room for heroism. If Angelo himself joined the troops, it was less to defend a fatherland than to find opportunities to shine in it. “It is undeniable that a just cause, if I devote myself to it, serves my pride. But I serve others. Only then… can I even put anything in place of the word freedom, on the sole condition that I replace the word freedom by an equivalent. I mean a word that has the same general value, as noble and as vague. So, struggle? Yes, that word can stay. Struggle. That is, a test of strength.”

The tension that runs through all the generous Gionians reaches its climax in Angelo—torn between his appetite for life and his need to burn, he cannot hope for anything other than a mad happiness, the expression that gives its title to the sequel to Le Hussard. “Angelo asked himself ten times the question: am I happy?” “I will only be happy if I am involved in great events.” The war was for him a promise of happiness; it will prove to be disappointing. Having left to join the Piedmontese revolutionaries, after having fought cholera in Manosque, Angelo quickly becomes disillusioned, plunged in spite of himself into the backstage of ideals, involved in low intrigues, plots and treasons. His foster brother leaves him at the border: “And you, you do not care. You are noble. But me, I know that a revolution must first get by.” He will betray him; and they will meet again only in the last pages, for a final duel. In the meantime, Angelo tries to avoid the sordid traps that are set for him, not so much out of fear as out of disgust, out of horror of perishing in a lowly way. He gets drunk on cavalcades; he “shakes the lethargy” which encircles him, and breathes freely when he finally comes upon a troop of furious madmen ready to die: “He was not afraid any more to be fooled. He had found his soul.” Disappointed by all his skirmishes, he starts to long for the “friendly hand” of Pauline, which he had neglected to seize when it was time. He did not find Eden in the wars of Italy. Did he let it slip away with his love of France? “’Ah!’ he said to himself, ‘France is far away!’” But can we imagine Angelo in a peaceful home? He could only live Eden on horseback.

What Angelo fights, it is not for a political party, or an ideology; he does not defend the good against the evil—he fights for the happiness to fight, for a form of greatness. And his only mortal enemies are mediocrity, cowardice, ugliness—all those symptoms of boredom. He would feel closer to the demonic Therese than to what his brother-in-law, the Machiavellian Giuseppe, has become. He is not one of those “who foresee, organize, surround themselves with the securities of their intelligence as with a fortification.” He is not one of those who aspire to a cozy garden of Eden. He is, like the Marquis of Theus, “a man of a great path,” animated by a “will to explode” [Angelo—translated as Panther] It is not by chance either that Giono had his hero born a century before his own. It is a way of signifying that such an aristocracy of the heart has become impossible. It is no longer the peasantry—it is heroism that he throws in the face of the modern world. The notebooks of the author are very explicit here: “To allow by distance sarcasm against the current times…. My goal—to paint the Romanesque and the passions of men who had only passions without romance.” The only real danger in all of Giono’s work is boredom, which Panturle overcomes in Regain, which Bobi almost manages to dispel in Que ma joie demeure, which leads to murder in Un roi sans divertissement, and which Angelo attacks with his sword. Giono takes from the warrior panache, what he already drew from the peasant land—a remedy for modern nihilism, a fury of living to be brandished in front of nothingness.

Are the exploits of Angelo as implausible as was the lyricism of Bobi? It doesn’t matter, once again, since it is a question, through literature, to overcome the mediocrity of our condition, to insufflate passion, and what is proper to passion is, precisely, to embrace the real. If Thérèse is a strong soul, it is that she is “clairvoyant… of the dream;” it is that “the truth did not count;” that she “was satisfied with illusions like a hero.” If the Artist of Les Grands chemins cheats at cards, it is to upset the boring rules of everyday life: “All the pleasure is in the false cards…. There is an abyss between the truth and life…. When one is well and truly in the presence of the problem which consists in what one calls ‘living’ which is simply in the end to spend one’s time, one realizes quickly that one does not manage to spend it without diverting the things from their direction.” And if Giono has written so much, imagined so much, told so much, inked so many notebooks, scaffolded and mixed so many plots and stories, sculpted so many sentences, painted so many landscapes, sniffed so many smells, perceived so many colors, so much projected and caressed characters, if he wrote so much—it is also first of all by passion to overcome the boredom by the pen as others did by the sword. To repaint the world with ink rather than with blood. The page was his land; the dream his horse; the stories his happiness. “If I invent characters and write, it is simply because I am struggling with the great curse of the universe: boredom” [Entretiens avec Jean Amrouche et Taos Amrouche].

He needed to create to find, to excavate joy. “My sensibility strips everyday reality of all its masks; and there it is, just as it is: magical. I am a realist.” Realist, in the sense that he gives rise to the telluric waves of the real. His excess is only another measure, another world, not celestial but superimposed on this world, not constructed but otherwise natural. “I bet that when Shakespeare made a tragedy of it, Hamlet would have cried out: ‘I crush Ophelia, I kill my mother, I gut my uncle (among others) and you make a tragedy of it?’ But it’s a world! Nothing is more natural!” [Noé] If Giono returns to the earth, it is not to cultivate his garden, it is to hear it tremble. Giono returns to nature, because the supernatural is hidden there.

If Giono takes us on the road, in the middle of lavender or battlefields, or to the top of mountains, it is not, as we will come to understand, to find a lost paradise, it is because the wind of passion blows stronger there. The unity of his work proceeds from this quest for strength. It is necessary to seize the soil to face nothingness. In this respect, the last novel published by the author, L’iris de Suse (The Iris of Susa—not yet translated), although less striking at first sight, and although it was not intended to be in any way testamentary, fortuitously offers a remarkable conclusion. It tells intertwined stories, portrays tortuous spirits, typical of the second period, and yet it revives with a hint of pantheist lyricism, a reminder of the beginnings. Tringlot, a brigand on the run, driven by a thirst for gold, finds refuge with a shepherd and his migrating flock. If this company is at first only useful to him, it quickly becomes a joy in itself. He gets a taste for the heights, for the simple and free life of the shepherds. “I intended to go far, but here, it was something else than far, it was elsewhere.” To the point that the passion to steal gradually turns into a passion to give. The lout does not repent; he does not restrain his greed; he turns it elsewhere; and, finally, increases it tenfold. “He had just passed from one burning bush to another.” He stops coveting the gilding, to protect the most beautiful and empty treasure, a mute and apathetic woman, nicknamed l’Absente (Absent). Thanks to her, thanks to this miraculous barrel of the Danaids, Tringlot can unfold all the paradoxical essence of his love, entirely selfish since it is unrequited, and entirely sacrificial since it is generous without expectation of return.

Eden, in Giono, is an empty look, a friendly hand lost at the end of the main roads, a kingdom that one had to have lost to be able to chase it. One will not find any peace along the way; only the terrible beauty of nature, the mysterious song of the world, which sometimes awakens, for better or for worse, in the one who lends it an ear—this sort of love which is beyond good and evil which is the selfish joy of giving.

Robin Touillon: Disciple of Dionysius, faithful to Christ.

The Man who Planted Some Trees

For a human character to fully disclose its truly exceptional qualities, one needs the good fortune to observe its actions through the span of long years. If these actions are stripped of all selfishness, if these actions function according to the principle of matchless generosity, if it is made absolutely clear that these actions were done for no reward whatsoever, but rather that they made a visible mark upon the world – only then can we say, without the risk of being wrong, that before us stands an absolutely unforgettable human character.

Some forty years ago, I set out on a long trip, on foot, through the highlands that were then entirely unknown to tourists in that very old region where the Alps thrust down into Provence. I speak of that part of France which, to the south-east and the south, is hemmed in by the middle course of the River Durance between Sisteron and Mirabeau, and to the north by the higher course of the River Drome, which flows out from its source to the municipality of Die. In the west, the area is bounded by the plains of Comtat Venaissin and the buttresses of Mount Ventoux. In all, I walked through the northern part of the province of the Low Alps, and the southern section of the province of Drome, including a small portion of the province of Vaucluse.

In those days, this entire area was a barren and monotonous expanse of land, more or less a desert, some 4000 feet above sea-level. Nothing could grow there, except wild lavender.

I had wanted to cross this region at its widest part and after a three-day walk found myself in a place more desolate than anyone could imagine. I set up camp near the skeleton of an abandoned village. I had been without water since the day before and I really needed to find some. The cluster of houses, now in ruins and resembling an old wasps’ nest, suggested to me that at one time there must have been a spring or a well nearby. And indeed, there was a spring, but it had gone dry. The five or six houses, all roofless and blasted by the wind and rain, and the small church, with its tumbled-down belfry, were laid out just like those found in living villages – but here all life had vanished.

It was a fine day in June with lots of sunshine, but across that high-perched and shelter-less land the wind blew with an unbearable brutality; it growled through the carcasses of the houses like some savage beast disturbed at its meal.

I had no choice but to raise camp and move on. After walking for five hours, I still had not found water, and nothing indicated to me that I had any hope of coming across any. As far as the eye could see, there was the same dryness, the same tough, woody growth. Then I thought I saw in the distance a small, black, upright silhouette. I took it for the trunk of some solitary tree. I let chance guide me and headed straight for it. It turned out to be a shepherd. Near him, some thirty sheep crouched on the scorching ground.

He let me drink from his gourd and a little later led me to his cottage tucked away in a fold of the plain. He drew his water – excellent and sweet – from a natural well that was very deep and over which he had set up a makeshift winch.

The man spoke little; such is the way of a recluse. But he was sure of himself, and this gave him confidence and poise – a remarkable thing to see in this land stripped entirely bare. He didn’t live in some cabin but in a real stone house, where the work of his hand was perfectly visible – he had renovated the ruin he had found. The roof was solid and watertight; the wind that struck the tiles made a sound like the sea upon the shore.

Inside, his house was in order – his dishes were washed, his parquet floor swept, and his gun well-oiled; soup simmered on the fire. I also noticed that he was freshly shaven, that all his buttons were solidly sewn, and that his clothes were so carefully mended that the patches were nearly invisible.

He shared his soup with me, and afterwards, I offered him my pouch of tobacco; he told me that he did not smoke. His dog, just as silent as he, was friendly without being submissive.

It was understood that I would stay the night; the nearest village was a good walk away, about a day-and-a-half. Besides, I knew perfectly well the character of the few villages that were to be found in this part of the country, four or five of them scattered upon flanks of hills, or in groves of white oaks, hidden away at the farthest ends of roads accessible only by carriage. The houses were dismal and inhabited by woodcutters who made charcoal. Life was harsh. The climate, cruel both in summer and in winter, forced the families to huddle together, to live on top of one another – and this led to selfishness, which coarsened them. Unreasonable ambition knew no limits in the ceaseless desire to escape village life.

The men took charcoal to the city in their trucks; then they returned. The most solid character cracks under such unending severity and starkness. The women stirred up rancor. They festered with competition over everything – whether the sale of charcoal, or a good pew at the church; they fought over the right things to do and over the wrong things to do, until it became an all-out battle over what was bad and what was good. There was never any let-up. Over all this, the relentless wind chafed the nerves. There was an epidemic of suicides and numerous cases of insanity, nearly always fatal.

Since the shepherd did not join me in smoking a pipe, he went instead looking for a sack, from which he emptied out a pile of acorns on the table. Then he sat down to examine them, one after the other, with great care, separating the good from the bad. I went on smoking. When I offered to help, he told me that it was work meant only for him. And seeing the diligence with which he undertook the task, I did not insist. That was the extent of our conversation. When he had a large number of acorns in the good pile, he began to count them out into heaps of ten. By doing so, he further removed the smaller ones and the ones that showed even the slightest of cracks, so closely did he inspect them. When he had before him one hundred perfect acorns, he stopped, and we went off to bed.

The company of this man imparted peace. The next morning I asked his permission to stay on for the day at his place and rest. He only thought it natural; or rather he gave me the impression that nothing bothered him. I did not really need to rest, but I was intrigued and wanted to find out more about him. He led his herd out to pasture, but before he headed off, he took the little sack containing the carefully chosen and counted acorns and left it to soak in a bucket of water.

I noticed that in place of a stick, he carried an iron rod, as thick as his thumb and a yard-and-a-half long. I too set out, as if taking a restful stroll, and followed a route parallel to his. When the sheep found pasture at the bottom of a valley, he left the little herd under the care of his dog and climbed up to the spot where I stood. I was afraid that he was coming up to reproach me for my indiscretion – but not all. It was the way he wanted to go and he invited me to accompany him, if I had nothing better to do. Then, he went two hundred yards further uphill.

Having come to the spot he had set out for, he thrust his rod of iron into the earth. He made a hole into which he placed an acorn; then he covered up the hole. He was planting oaks. I asked him if the land belonged to him. He replied and said, no. Did he know whose it was? He did not know. He supposed it was common land, or perhaps it belonged to someone who did not look after it. He was not really interested in finding out who the owner was. In this way, he planted one hundred acorns with extreme care.

After the midday meal, he began to sort out his acorns once more. I believe this time I was more persistent in my questions, because he responded. He had been planting trees in this solitary fashion for three years. He had planted a hundred thousand of them. From these hundred thousand, twenty thousand survived. Of these twenty thousand, he reckoned half would be further lost, because of rodents and everything else that is impossible to see beforehand according to the intentions of Providence. This left ten thousand oaks which would endure in this place where there had been no trees before.

Just at that moment, I began to think about the age of this man. He was obviously more than fifty years old. Fifty-five, he told me. He was called Elzéard Bouffier. He once farmed in the plains, where he had been content to live out his life. But he lost his only son, and then his wife. He withdrew into solitude so that he might live out his life slowly, with his sheep and his dog. He said that this land had died for a lack of trees. Then, he added that since he had nothing more important to do he had decided to make up for this lack.

As I too was leading a solitary life at that time, despite my young age, I knew how to touch the hearts of solitary people. But still, I made a mistake. It was precisely my youth that compelled me to imagine the future as I would have it, which included the search for happiness. I told him that in thirty years, these ten thousand oaks would be magnificent. He answered me very simply that if God gave him the years to live, in thirty years he would have planted so many others that these ten thousand would be like a drop in the ocean.

In fact, he had also begun to study how best to propagate beech trees, and near his house he had made a seedbed in which beechnuts had sprouted. These experimental shoots, which he protected from the sheep by a wire fence, were truly beautiful. He was thinking of planting birches in those low-lying areas where, he told me, a little moisture was always to be found a few feet below the surface of the soil.

The following year came the war of 1914 in which I took part for five years. An infantryman hardly thinks of trees. To be honest, the shepherd had not made a deep impression on me; and I took his planting to be nothing more than a hobby-horse, like a stamp-collection – and I forgot all about him.

Coming out of the war, I found myself in possession of a small demobilization allowance and a great desire to breathe some fresh air. With no other idea than that, I headed out along the path of those deserted regions.

The country had not changed. But beyond the abandoned, dead village, I saw in the distance a kind of gray fog that covered the heights like a carpet. Just the day before, in fact, the shepherd who planted trees had come to mind. “Ten thousand oaks,” I said to myself, “take up a lot of space.”

I had seen too many people die during the last five years not to easily imagine that Elzéard Bouffier was also dead, especially since when one is twenty years old one regards men of fifty as ancient, who have nothing better to do than die. But he was not dead. He was in perfectly good health. He had changed his occupation. He now owned no more than four ewes but, on the other hand, had a hundred beehives. He had gotten rid of the sheep because they threatened his saplings. And the war, he told me, had not bothered him at all. He had peacefully gone on with his planting.

The oaks of 1910 were now ten years old and were higher than him and me. It was an impressive sight. I was lost for words and grew just as silent as he; we spent the day without speaking as we walked in his forest. It grew in three sections and was nearly seven miles long; three miles at its widest. When one recalled that all this came out of the hands and heart of this single man – and with no technical aid – one understood that people can be just as effective as God in efforts other than destructive.

He had followed through on another idea, and as a testimony to the truth of it, took me out to where there were beech trees all around, shoulder-height, spreading out as far as the eye could see. There were oaks as well, thick and beyond the age where they might be at the mercy of rodents; as for the intentions of Providence itself, it would now require a cyclone to destroy what had been created here. He then showed me fine thickets of birches that went back five years, that is, back to 1915, when I was fighting at Verdun. He had planted them in those low-lying places where he had rightly suspected that there was moisture close to the surface of the soil. These birches were tender as young maidens and quite as determined.

All this creation gave the impression of being linked as by a chain. But he was not concerned with it; he simply and obstinately went about his task. When I went down again by the village, I saw water running in brooks that in local memory had always been dry – this was the most astonishing natural result of his work. These dried-up brooks had carried water long ago, in very ancient times. Some of the sad villages of which I spoke at the beginning of my account were built on the sites of old Gallo-Roman settlements, the traces of which still remained, and in which archaeologists had found fish-hooks. These were the very same places in which the people of the twentieth-century were forced to make cisterns in order to have but a little water.

The wind also began to do its work and spread seeds. When the water reappeared in these villages, there reappeared also willows, osiers, meadows, gardens, flowers, and a certain reason to live.

But the transformation was so slow and gradual that it went unnoticed, without provoking astonishment. The hunters who climbed the solitary high-places to look for hares or wild boars had noticed the growth of little trees, but they assumed it to be some natural caprice of the land. For this reason no one touched the work of this single man. If people had found out, they would have stopped him. But no one suspected him. Who could even imagine, among the bureaucrats and in the villages, this solitary man’s determination and splendid generosity of spirit?

After 1920, I did not let more than a year go by without paying a visit to Elzéard Bouffier. I never saw him step back from, or doubt, what he did. And yet, God alone knows how God functions. I have not written about his setbacks. One can only imagine that behind such success lay much adversity that had to be overcome; to ensure the victory of such passion, there had to be struggle and despair. One year, he had planted more than ten thousand maples. They all died. The following year, he did not plant maples, but beech trees, which had proved as hardy as oaks.

To get a true idea of the exceptional nature of this man, we must not forget that he worked in complete solitude – so complete that near the end of his life he lost the habit of speech. Or, perhaps, he no longer had the need for it?

In 1933, he was visited by an entirely astonished forest-ranger. This civil servant came to tell him about the order recently issued – not to build fires, so as not to endanger the growth of this natural forest. This naïve man told him that it was the first time he had ever seen a forest appear out of nowhere, all by itself. At that time, Elzéard Bouffier was thinking of planting beeches some seven miles from his house. To avoid a long trip home – he was then seventy-five years old – he planned on building a stone cabin near the place where he was going to start planting. And this is exactly what he did the following year.

In 1935, a veritable delegation of government officials came to have a look at the “natural forest.” Among them was an important administrator from the Department of Water and Forests, as well as a Deputy and some technical people. They spoke a lot of useless words. They even decided to take “certain steps,” but fortunately did nothing at all, except for one very useful thing – they placed the forest under the protection of the State, which promptly prohibited charcoal-makers from coming there. It was impossible not to be entranced by the beauty of these young trees, so vigorous and strong. And this forest exerted its power of seduction even on the Deputy himself.

In the delegation was a friend of mine, who also happened to be a captain of the forest-rangers. I explained the mystery to him. One day, in the week that followed, we both went to look for Elzéard Bouffier. We found him, busy at work, some twelve miles from the place where the delegation had stopped by.

This captain of the forest-rangers was not my friend for nothing. He knew the real value of things. He would remain silent. For lunch, I had brought a few boiled eggs, which we three shared. After our meal, several hours passed in silent contemplation of the land.

We looked out towards the direction from which we had come; it was covered by trees some twenty feet high. I remembered the look of this region in 1913 – a desert… Peaceful and regular work, the clear air of the highlands, frugality, and especially serenity of heart had given this old man robust health. He was an athlete of God. I wondered how many more hectares of land he would yet cover with trees.

Before we left, my friend made a simple suggestion about the types of species the land was best suited for, but he did not insist, of course. “For a very simple reason,” he told me afterwards, “because that good man knows far more than me.” After we had walked for an hour, he gave voice to an idea that he had been pondering for some time: “He knows much more than anybody else. He has found the best way to be happy.”

Thanks to my friend not only the forest but the happiness of this old man came to be protected. Being a captain, my friend appointed three forest rangers to look after the forest, and whom he also frightened enough that they became impervious to the many jugs of wine that the woodcutters offered as bribes.

Elzéard Bouufier’s handiwork did not face any serious risk until the war of 1939, when cars began to be run on wood alcohol, and there was never enough wood. People began to cut down the oaks of 1910, but the location where they grew was so distant from the major roadways that the entire operation was not financially viable. And it was abandoned. The shepherd saw nothing of this. He was some twenty miles away, peacefully carrying out his work, unaware of the war of 1939, just as he had been unaware of the war of 1914.

I saw Elzéard Bouffier for the last time in June 1945. He was eighty-seven. Once again I set out for that barren region. But now, despite the ravages of war, a bus ran between the valley of the Durance and the mountain. No doubt because of this fast means of travel, I could not recognize any of the places from my previous foot-expeditions. It seemed that the road took me into places entirely new. Only when I found out the name of a village did I realize that I was in that very same region which had once been desolate and barren. The bus let me off at Vergons.

In 1913, this hamlet of ten, maybe twelve, houses had only three inhabitants. They were savages, who hated each other, and who lived by trapping – physically and morally akin to prehistoric men. Nettles stifled the abandoned houses around them. They lived without hope. All they did was wait for death – a situation that hardly makes a person prone to virtue.

Now, everything had changed. Even the very air. Instead of the dry and brutal gusts of wind that had assaulted me long before, I was met by the breath of a fragrant breeze. A noise like that of water came from the highlands – it was the wind in the forests. And most astonishing of all, I heard the real sound of water running into a basin. I saw that people had made a fountain, that it was over-flowing; and what touched me deeply was that near it they had planted a linden tree, which was already four years old, already thick – an undeniable symbol of a resurrection.

In addition, Vergons showed signs of that labor for which hope is necessary. And so, hope had returned. People had cleared the ruins, had knocked down the broken parts of the walls and rebuilt five houses. The hamlet now had twenty-eight inhabitants, including four young couples. The new houses, freshly plastered, were surrounded by gardens where grew, mixed but well-ordered, vegetables and flowers, cabbages and rose trees, leeks and snapdragons, celery and anemones. It was now a place where one would very much want to live.

From there, I made my way onwards by foot. The war, which we had just left behind, had not allowed the full blooming of life; but Lazarus was out of the tomb. On the lower flanks of the mountains, I saw small fields of barley and young rye; at the bottom of the narrow valleys, the meadows were green.

This was only eight years ago. And now, the entire country is filled with well-being and comfort. In place of the ruins I had seen in 1913, there are now good farms, well-built, reflecting happiness and ease. The old springs, fed by rains and snows that fall in the forests, have again begun to flow. People have channeled the water. Beside each farm, amidst thickets of maple, fountain-basins overflow onto carpets of fresh mint. The villages have been rebuilt a little at a time. An entire population has come from the plains, where property is expensive, and settled on this land, bringing their youth, their energy, their spirit of adventure. On the pathways and roads one meets men and women who are well nourished, boys and girls who know how to laugh and who have rediscovered the joys of country fairs. If the old population, which in fact is unrecognizable now given their good life, is counted along with the newcomers, more than ten thousand people owe their happiness to Elzéard Bouffier.

When I think that one single man, relying solely on his simple physical and moral resources, was able to change this desert into the land of Canaan, I find that, despite everything, the human condition is indeed admirable. But when I take account of all that was constantly needed – the nobility, greatness and generosity of soul – to bring about this result, I am overtaken by immense respect for this old peasant, uncultured, unrefined – but who knew how to accomplish work worthy of God.

Elzéard Bouffier died peacefully in 1947 at the home for the aged in Banon.

Jean Giono (1895-1970) was among the greatest French writers of the previous century. He wrote over fifty novels as well as scores of poems, plays and essays, and he was also the translator of Moby Dick. He was elected to the Goncourt Academy in recognition of his contribution to French literature. The Man Who Planted Trees was first published in 1954, in Vogue magazine, under the title, “The Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness.” Giono offered this story to the world, free of copyright. [Translated by N. Dass].

Featured: “L’homme qui plantait des arbres,” Frédéric Back, 1987.

The Romanesque Faith of Simone Weil: An Occitan Christianity

In 1942, Simone Weil wrote two articles about the Occitan region of the 12th century. Inspired by the Song of the Albigensian Crusade, she presented not so much facts as the spirit that, according to her, animated the ancient Pays d’Oc, of which Romanesque Toulouse was the new Troy. According to her, by destroying the Cathar region, Simon de Montfort deprived Europe of a spiritual freedom that it has never managed to regain.

Because of the persecutions carried out against the Jews by the Nazis and their allies, Simone Weil, Jewish by birth, published, in the Cahiers du sud, in 1942, two articles under the pseudonym of Émile Novis, which Claude Le Manchec published in 2014, under the title of L’Inspiration occitane (ed. L’éclat). At that time, modern civilization reached the paroxysm of its material unconsciousness: brute force, drunk with its new technical powers, was unleashed before the banners of that “satiated spider, swollen with blood” of which Mauriac speaks. But the Third Reich is only the actualization of the same tendency that corrupts humanity since it chose sin against God: here is the “empire of force” that reproduces itself, the one of the Greeks annihilating Troy, the one of Rome annihilating Toulouse, the Cathar, the chivalrous, the courteous. It is of this last great confrontation that Simone Weil speaks, through the reading of the poem of 9578 verses, written in the langue d’oc, the Song of the Albigensian Crusade (Chanson de la croisade albigeoise).

Weil does not see the conflict between Catholic Rome and Cathar Toulouse as a war of religions, in the plural. The Song of the Albigensian Crusade shows that allusions to religious controversies are rare, too rare when one knows how much “the disasters that befell this country could have led the population either to attack the Cathars as the cause of its misfortune and to persecute them, or to adopt their doctrine out of hatred for the invader and to look upon the Catholics as traitors.” But it seems that “neither of these reactions occurred. This is extraordinary.” This can be explained by the fact that in medieval Occitania, there was “a spiritual freedom” which was that of a collective tolerance made religion, permeating the whole country of Occitania. In contrast, modern tolerance inherited from the Enlightenment “only eliminated from the struggle of ideas the crudest forms of force,” without eliminating the struggle between ideas. This spiritual impotence had no other effect than to logically lead the democratic mentality to lock itself in “the constitution of crystallized parties.” The modern tolerance “substituted material constraints for spiritual barriers.”

And for good reason, intolerance is the product, not of fate, but of a historical and civilizational “decision.” Ever since “the father of St. Louis, as the poem tells us, thought he was serving God by coldly authorizing the massacre of an entire city after it had surrendered,” Europe has chosen force, against the spirit. Failing to choose the spirit, the Enlightenment could only try to imagine a tolerance in force. With Manichean belief, Weil estimates that “the alliance of the throne and the altar,” of which the Catholic tradition affirms the possibility, is not realizable: a struggle opposes ineluctably the logic of the world, which is that of force, and the logic of the Kingdom, which, not being of this world, ignores force and knows only the spirit.

The Occitans of the twelfth century were on a crusade against force itself, which they did not use beyond the necessity that desperation made them feel. Only then did the population of Toulouse, “crushed and unarmed, rose up” against the conqueror Simon de Montfort. Although they lost the war, “they won repeated victories over an enemy powerfully armed and puffed up by his triumphs;” and, as in the Bible David against Goliath, “a stone thrown by a woman’s hand killed Simon de Montfort.” But the use of force did not go beyond the necessity of duty. The Cathar decision was that of the spirit, Weil assures us—this is why the tolerance that was in force was indeed that of a spiritual freedom where “ideas did not clash,” but “they circulated in a sort of continuous environment,” achieving what the Enlightenment did not even desire. It is in any case what superbly suggests the epic poem of which we speak, where Weil finds the same inspiration that founded the Iliad of Homer.

The Two Renaissances

In her article, ” En quoi consiste l’inspiration occitanienne?” (What does the Occitan Inspiration Consist of?”), Weil, in the perspective of her Lettre aux religieux (Letter to Religious), indicates in what way the religion of each civilization has valued one of the complementary aspects of supernatural truth. She cites Israel, which worshipped God in His unitary nature, as well as India, focused on the holy identification of man with God, but also Persia, China and Egypt. As for Greece, it was the aspect of mediation that inspired its religion and its activities, haunted as it was by the “infinite distance between God and man,” which had to be bridged. Thus were born philosophy, science and the cults of the Greek Mysteries, with the aim of establishing bridges between the finite and the Infinite. “It is this idea which was expressed in their notion of harmony, of proportion, which is in the center of all their thought, of all their science, of all their conception of the life.”

The Roman conquest broke this “bridge-building vocation.” The rebirth of the Greek spirit could thus be made only by the rebirth of the concern for mediations. Now “the idea of mediation received the fullness of reality; the perfect bridge appeared. Divine Wisdom, as Plato had wished, became visible to the eyes”: it is the revelation of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the Mediator between Heaven and Earth. By baptizing Greek heritage, Christianity gave life to its spirit. This spirit was to give rise to an entire civilization, a civilization of spiritual freedom, the only living and free Christian tradition, on the occasion of the Carolingian Renaissance:

“After the tenth century, security and stability had become sufficient for the development of a civilization; the extraordinary mixing accomplished since the fall of the Roman Empire could from then on bear fruit. Nowhere could it do so to the same degree as in this country of Oc where the Mediterranean genius seems to have been concentrated… Spiritual riches flowed in from all sides without obstacle. The Nordic mark was quite visible in a society that was above all chivalrous; the Arab influence easily penetrated into countries closely linked to Aragon; an incomprehensible prodigy made the genius of Persia take root in this land and flourish there, at the very time when it seems to have penetrated as far as China. This is not all perhaps; do we not see in Saint-Sernin, in Toulouse, sculpted heads that evoke Egypt? The ties of this civilization were as distant in time as in space.”

On the other hand, the humanism of the Renaissance of the 15th century constitutes only “the last pale and confused image that we possess of the supernatural vocation of man,” elaborated on the opposition of Christianity and the Greek spirit, “while they are in the same place.” With the modern conception of science, art and philosophy, these bridges have been taken for permanent dwellings; these mediations between the human and the divine have been taken for the very hypostases of Divinity. Human intelligence has progressively closed in on itself, denying itself realistic access to that which transcends it. The destruction of the “chivalric civilization” of medieval Occitania even took with it that “intense civic feeling” by which, “in spite of certain conflicts between lords, and in the absence of any centralization, a common feeling united these regions; one saw Marseilles, Beaucaire, Avignon, Toulouse, Gascony, Aragon, and Catalonia spontaneously unite against Simon de Montfort.” According to the Song of the Albigensian Crusade, the medieval Occitans “even had a word to designate the fatherland; they called it language.” It is a common language, a common fabric of representations and ways of conducting life that these disparate regions defended against the armies of Rome.

The Roman versus the Gothic

Traditional Christianity includes two aesthetics, and with them, two ways of ordering the human world to the divine Principle: Romanesque art, elaborated during the High Middle Ages, and Gothic art, later, which accompanied the great movement of building cathedrals. We see there two complementary representations of the relation of the human to the divine. But Weil’s judgment is harsh: these two styles embody for her two antithetical religious options within the Christian world.

In the Romanesque, art shines forth the same inspiration as that of courtly love. Courtly love designates that supernatural love which, in contrast to natural love, is not based on the force of passionate and egocentric possession, but, freed from lust, it “is only an expectation directed towards the beloved and which calls for consent… Such love in its fullness is love of God through the beloved.” The troubadours used a word to designate this love: Merci. Courtly love denotes gratitude. Likewise, Romanesque art frees itself from the empire of force to assent to the spirit: “the architecture, although having borrowed a form from Rome, does not have any concern for power nor for force, but only for balance.” This balance, as on the Cross “the body of Christ was the counterweight of the universe,” is verified as well in “Romanesque churches,” the “sculpted entities,” the sublime “Gregorian chant,” and in “Occitan poetry”—everywhere this kind of deliberate awkwardness which is “a nudity,” the sensitive mark of the pure presence of Being which, unlike modern religion, does not seek to fill an interior poverty by an external effusion of grandiloquent representations.

On the contrary, according to Weil, “there is some defilement of strength and pride in the momentum of the Gothic spires and the height of the ogival vaults.” The Gothic still remains the sacred art of Christianity; but already a spiritual degradation is evident, because the sacred domain feels the need to dominate and exclude to prove its superiority. “The Gothic Middle Ages, which appeared after the destruction of the Occitan homeland, was an attempt at totalitarian spirituality,” writes Weil harshly; and she adds, in a highly questionable way, that “the profane as such had no right to be present,” while in Romanesque Occitania, “the supernatural did not mix with the profane, did not crush it, did not seek to suppress it. It left it intact and thus remained pure. It was the origin and the destination.”

Weil died a Catholic, baptized at the moment of death, on August 24, 1943, in Ashford, where she wrote her last profession of faith. But she was, singularly, a Roman Catholic rather than a Roman; tolerant, she considered that demanding “more faith” in the “incorruptible rigor” of Catholic dogma should not have resulted in the “extermination” of the Cathars. Worse, she discerned the value and greatness of the Christian faith according to a double criterion, not of originality and strength, which were the pride of Gothic religiosity, but on the contrary of archaicity and love, which were the pride of Romanesque piety. Archaism, on the one hand, since it is the “ability to combine different environments, different [previous] traditions” that seduced Simone Weil to “the Christian civilization [which] is the Romanesque civilization.” On the other hand, her life and her holy devotion to the working condition are commanded by an ethic of “human love” which, as in the Pays d’Oc; it is Christianly regarded as “one of the bridges between man and God.” So, the task of contemporary man is certainly not to restore what has “prematurely disappeared after an assassination,” but to irrigate his future projects with the inspiring source of Romanesque faith. “To the extent that we contemplate the beauty of this age with attention and love, to that extent its inspiration will descend into us and gradually make impossible at least some of the baseness that constitutes the air we breathe.”

Paul Ducay, Professor of philosophy with a medievalist background. Heir to the metaphysics of Nicolas de Cues and the faith of Xavier Grall. Gascon by race and French by reason. “The devout infuriate the world; the pious edify it.” Marivaux. [This article comes through the kind courtesy of PHILITT].

Lourdes to Paris and Back Again

Several years ago, on a solitary pilgrimage to France, I spent an afternoon sitting before the Holy Grotto at Lourdes and praying upon the many, many petitions that I carried with me in two great manila envelopes. I was very much moved by my parishioners’ expressions of faith in, and love for, Our Lord and Our Lady. Each of their notes and letters, signs of interior devotion, was attentively left at the special place designated for such messages within the Grotto itself, just a few feet away from where the Virgin had stood and St. Bernadette had knelt during the apparitions of 1858. Lourdes never fails to inspire. There is such a tremendous outpouring of love and charity here that no one can honestly deny the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.

The Visionary, Saint Bernadette Soubirous.

One night, after the iconic candlelight procession, I encountered a Chinese couple named Kang and Yan. They had been enticed away from the hustle and bustle of Paris to the mystique of Lourdes. The husband had been exposed to Catholicism in Hong Kong but was a non-Christian. His wife, Yan, came from mainland China, just next to the North Korean border. She actually showed me on her iPhone a fascinating photo that she had taken of the People’s Paradise from across the river that separates her Chinese hometown from that de facto nation prison camp. Her parents are Communist Party members and she was raised in an atheistic home. But she was deeply moved as she stood before the Holy Grotto. Kang could not cease commenting about the evident power of Lourdes, and aptly noted that the countless volunteers who care for the sick are in a way proof of the veracity of the apparitions.

During my stay I was lured away by beckoning friends to spend a few days in Paris, although I was reluctant to leave Mary’s peaceful enclave in the picturesque Pyrenees mountains. The “City of Light” is a looming magnet and is the heart of the revolutionary engine of 1789. Still, I took the slow train to Bordeaux and then the lightning-fast TGV northwards to Paris and plunged into the secular arena.

The peasant’s veil and shoes St Bernadette wore during the apparitions of 1858.

Arriving, I walked out of the Montparnasse train station and was quite surprised when the first thing I heard was a plaintive call, “Bonjour, mon Père,” I turned to see a young Frenchman looking at me hoping for a few Euros. Yet he was not typically bedraggled (at least not outwardly). We began to chat and I encountered a life that had spun out of control and was caught in the web of disorder. Hunger made its imperious demands and he was in the humiliating state of holding out his hand for help. I asked if he would like a blessing, and he responded, “No, I am an atheist. I have seen too much suffering to believe in God.” I repeated my offer, this time looking more intently at him. He paused, then with bowed head, said, “Oui, mon Père…” My trip thus began by blessing an uncertain atheist in the streets of Paris.

On the steps of the glorious church of la Madeleine a very distressed young Frenchman frantically approached me. He wore a beard and a longish topcoat that gave him the appearance of a 19th Century rationalist. He told me of his alienation and despair. For a moment he began to ramble about Nietzsche but then desperately asked me if God really exists. It was another moment of unexpected humanity and Christianity. I put a few coins in his hand and laid my own upon his head in blessing.

I will always wonder if his presence on those church steps revealed the Hand of the Good God drawing him away from nihilist darkness towards the Light from Light.

Back safely at Lourdes again, one fair morning I found myself standing alone in a little park before a statue of St. Bernadette. But I was outside of the “pilgrim zone” of the village. Suddenly I was approached by a different sort of Frenchman. He must have seen his opportunity to pounce since I was isolated for the moment from the protective pious throngs. At first, I could not catch his slurry patois, but it was evident that he was an anti-clerical and was berating our Holy Religion. I wanted to be sure I understood him before I responded, so I explained that I was not French and could he speak more clearly, s’il vous plait. He said with obvious disdain, “What are you then, Italian?” Taking that as the one compliment I’d get from this unpleasant encounter, I nevertheless answered, “Je suis américain.” At this he bellowed, “C’est pire!!” (That’s even worse!). And then a new torrent of abusive language poured forth.

Now here I must interject that being Catholic and American is something I thank God for every day. The virtue of patriotism demands at least that of any man. For patriotism, love of country, is an essential ingredient to uprightness of character. Even more so is love of our higher country, that indefectible Kingdom of God which is the Church of Christ.

Patriotism is not quite nationalism. It is a moral virtue akin to filial piety writ large. Patriotism does not despise the patriotism of another country. Nor is patriotism naïve to the continual necessity of bettering one’s native land and mores. In fact, as an American patriot I appreciate and hope to be enriched by the patriotism of the French. One can have a hierarchy of loves that are not mutually opposed. I am an American patriot, but I also have a deep love for France, along with all that which is good and noble in its people, history, culture, language and religion. And as a Catholic priest, France has a claim on me as La Fille aînée de l’Église (“the Eldest daughter of the Church”).

All this is in my heart and mind. But my apoplectic Gallican interlocutor—un véritable bête noir—apparently had not evolved past brute to the level of authentic human sophistication that would have enabled him to engage in the least modicum of proper human discourse with a stranger. He was a bleak contradiction of all that was noble in his own land. He chose, instead of gracious hospitality, the barbarity of gratuitously assailing someone he did not even know, indeed, a visitor who had come in good will to honor la Belle France and its people.

I said simply in response to his anti-Catholic and anti-American slurs, “C’est pas vrai…” (“What you say is not true…”). His rage boiled over and he began shouting louder. He was losing it. I chose to walk away yet he followed close upon me. I was wondering where this was going to end up because he was menacing me physically at this point. And to be honest, I was asking myself how my old Tae Kwan Do moves could be managed in a cassock, but decided this would produce quite an awful headline. I said to him, “Que Dieu vous benisse,” and made my escape. He roared at me as I turned the corner and slipped out of danger’s way.

This particular member of homo sapiens had really disturbed me, my spiritual force field had been punctured. I stopped momentarily on the sidewalk to consider what had just occurred. I resolved to return to the park, when suddenly before me blocking my way were two kindly, smiling Sicilian faces of an elderly husband and wife on pilgrimage. They greeted me warmly and immediately we were immersed in a lovely conversation about the Faith and Our Lady and all things beautiful and good. God sent them just in time, literally within minutes of a near disaster in the park.

I continued down the sidewalk and headed back to the safety of the Grotto (I needed to talk about this with Our Lady), when I came across an old man begging, yet another gypsy. His name was unusual, something like “Geor.” He was clearly not faring well and needed someone to care that he existed, at least for a moment. We exchanged a few words and I gave him something to help him. Then I blessed him. He took my hand and kissed it and tears welled up in his eyes.

Still contemplating the vitriol to which I had been subjected in the park, I ran into a rotund, avuncular, italianissimo priest, who asked, “Ma che c’è, fratello mio? Che succede?” (What has bothered you, brother?). I told him about the enraged Frenchman who had accosted me. The good Padre immediately took me for a cappuccino and lent a listening ear until my nerves were sedated. His quintessentially “good Italian padre” approach rescued me from my temporary discombobulation. In turn, I had rescued him from the trinket shops—a fair sacerdotal exchange.

This all happened within a space of 30 minutes during my morning walk.

France is a culturally and religiously occupied territory. The destructive spirit of 1789 has to have had something to do with the poison coursing through the veins of the angry man in the park. The very Church of God, which made France great (not perfect) for over a millennium, has been undermined and attacked in this country for far too long. The secular ruling elite have banished the Gospel from public life and horribly twist the people’s perception of what is in fact the best thing that has ever happened to them, viz., their conversion to the Faith.

They are so fanatical about this suppression of Catholicism that they cannot see that only the Faith will be able to save them from the twofold jeopardy of laicisme and islamisme, or whatever it is that is bothering them. Each one of us is created imago Dei—children of God with a destiny in Christ Jesus. Understanding this is key to finding our way out of Europe’s existential malaise, for it is essential to the re-conversion of France to the Faith. And I hold that it can happen.

In the post-Nice, pre-Covidian era there was a heightened worry even in Lourdes that there would be a terrorist attack. Huge concrete barriers have been erected to prevent car bombs or trucks from ravaging the shrine which daily swells up with thousands of pilgrims. The workers there had repeatedly told me they have occasionally noticed strange men in long beards and long tunics, as if they are doing reconnaissance. I myself noticed this one night. And in fact, to some I myself am also a strange man with a long beard and long robe!

In any event, the man in the park (who is emblematic of the militantly irrational secular Left) is truly a tragic, and unarmed figure. Europe is in a civilizational crisis that could be assuaged by shelving Voltaire and revisiting Aquinas. At least that would be a worthy start.

There is so much suffering in the world! It either crushes us or redeems us. At Lourdes, however, there is redemption. This is demonstrated in the vivid scenes of so many sick people endlessly streaming to the Holy Grotto; processing in their wheelchairs, candles in hand; attending Mass after Mass and standing in endless lines for confession and access to the healing waters. All these actions are signs that suffering can wound but need not destroy us. There is always hope beyond the suffering, and we can look toward the example of our Divine Lord and His Sorrowful Mother. Heaven is in solidarity with mankind in our suffering.

I hope and pray that each of us realize the tremendous blessing that is ours. We profess the True Faith, we join together in common prayer before the Altar of God each day, we are enriched by the grace of the Sacraments, we know and love Our Lady, the sweet Immaculate Heart of the plan of salvation. We even know that we are so very imperfect, yet have the faith to be able to see how God’s loving Hand still guides us. There is so much good in our parish life. And there is so much bewilderment and chaos in the world swirling about. Bless the Lord every day for what we have been given and let us never forget how good indeed God is…

Lourdes in its holy splendor.

Father Francis M. de Rosa is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A graduate of Niagara University, the Ateneo della Santa Croce in Rome and Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Maryland, he also holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C. He has published articles on bioethics in the Linacre Quarterly and the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. He was ordained in 1997 and is the pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Colonial Beach, Virginia and St. Anthony of Padua Mission in King George, Virginia.

Featured: “Our Lady of Lourdes,” by Francisco Oller; painted in 1878.

Ukraine, Trapped in a Spiral of War: Pierre de Gaulle

The speech that follows was given by Pierre de Gaulle, the grandson of Charles de Gaulle, at the French Embassy in Paris, on June 14, 2022, to mark Russia Day. It is a speech that has been heavily censored in France, and we are happy to provide this English translation.

Mr. de Gaulle addresses the current Ukraine-Russia conflict by way of a blunt and brave denouncement of the French political elite who have succeeded in undermining the great ideals of his grandfather who always sought the inclusion of Russia within Europe. The opening words of greetings Mr. de Gaulle made in Russian.

Здравствуйте ! От имени французского народа горячо приветсвую русские народ и его правителей и президент Владимир Путин.

[Good Day! On behalf of the French people, I warmly greet the Russian people and its leaders and President Vladimir Putin].

Your Excellencies, Official Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you, on behalf of my family and my father, Admiral de Gaulle, for inviting us to celebrate your national holiday.

Our peoples are linked by long years of friendship and by the blood shed against the Nazis. This is an opportunity for me to repeat that the Franco-Russian relationship was of particular importance to General de Gaulle. France and Russia are close to each other, but are also united by the awareness of their common interests and destinies.

Furthermore, Russia was seen by my grandfather as an inverse ally, indispensable for his security, but also because it was part of his conception of the stability of Europe and of Europe’s place in the world. The General even said, “Napoleon’s disastrous decision to attack Alexander I is the biggest mistake he ever made. Nothing forced him to do so. It was contrary to our interests, to our traditions, to our genius. It is from the war between Napoleon and the Russians that our decadence dates”

I have come here to affirm once again, loud and clear, that it is in France’s interest to maintain good relations with Russia and to say that we must work together in order to help the union and security of our continent, as well as the balance, progress and peace of the entire world.

Today, everyone recognizes the responsibility of the United States in the current conflict, the disastrous role of NATO, which is constantly expanding, and the reckless policy of the Ukrainian government. The latter, strengthened by beautiful promises and fed by American and European illusions, has led a very condemnable policy towards the Russian-speaking populations of Donbass, multiplying discrimination, plundering, embargoes and bombings. Unfortunately, the West has allowed Zelensky, his oligarchs and the neo-Nazi military groups to be trapped in a spiral of war.

This blindness has serious consequences for the Ukrainian people. But let’s make no mistake—what do the Americans want, if not to provoke a new East-West confrontation, whose only goal is to weaken and divide Europe in order to impose their directives, their economy and their system? Since the First World War, the Americans have made a pact to establish a necessary balance of forces in Europe and to be involved in the security of the European continent. It is not by organizing a systematic military escalation in Ukraine that they will fulfil their commitment, nor their great principles of freedom and democracy!

The United States is wrong, NATO is wrong, whose unbridled and thoughtless expansionism leads inexorably to the imbalance of the world and to injustice. The beautiful promises of the Americans not to enlarge NATO to the East, nor to the North, have not been respected. The Minsk agreements have not been respected.

The reality is that the Americans have never accepted, nor the West with them, that after the difficult transition of 1991 and the reconstruction that followed, Russia would not fit into their unipolar world. Neither the Americans nor Europe have ever accepted that Russia should transform itself according to the Western model—in its own way.

Because of this, and from the beginning, President Putin was perceived as a dictator, whereas he is a great leader for his country!

The United States has also never accepted the loss of the role of the dollar as the dominant currency in the settlement of international trade in the world. The worst thing is that, in this blindness, they are only reinforcing, by moving the economic and financial interests to the East, the position of China and the Chinese currency that they also want to fight! Sanctions—which are the policy of the weak—are inoperative, except to weaken the Europeans and other nations of the world. Even Africans, through the intermediacy of the President of the African Union, Mr. Macky Sall, are very worried about this.

By provoking a deep, systemic and lasting economic crisis that is already affecting us all, from the price of bread to heating and fuel, but also by the shortage of food, raw materials and industrial metals that all this entails, the Americans are weakening the Europeans for their own benefit. Have we forgotten that for at least a century, all the major financial crises have come from the United States? Our dollar, your problem,” said Henry Kissinger. The Americans still hold us by their debt, which they export.

By imposing a cultural and social model based on the cult of pleasure and consumption, the Americans are undermining the foundation of our traditional values and the two pillars of civilization—the family and tradition.

Europe, and of course France, have everything to lose, if they entrap themselves into this military and ideological escalation desired by the United States and NATO. As Charles de Gaulle said, “America is not part of Europe. I believe I discovered that on the map.”

France can and must play a key role in the current terrible and formidable situation. France and Russia are both daughters of Europe. France must not forget that she is the eldest of the European nations and that none of them has such a long trail of glory behind her. My grandfather always supported and defended the imperative need, even in the most difficult moments of history, to build and preserve a strong and shared relationship with Russia.

He loved Russia. My family and I love Russia and its people. The Russian people, whose property rights are so unjustly violated around the world. It reminds me of the worst moments of the occupation and the Vichy regime in France. And are Russian artists and sportsmen also responsible?

This systematic and blind policy of confiscation and discrimination of the entire Russian people is scandalous and shocks me greatly.

Allow me to quote General de Gaulle once again: “In France, we have never considered Russia as an enemy. I am for the development of Franco-Russian friendship; and I have never sent and I will never send arms to people who would have fought against Soviet Russia.”

The Americans give money (and weapons). We pay them with slices of our independence. I regret that the French government is committing itself to this submission to NATO and thus to American policy.

I deplore the fact that, because of the will of certain French presidents, France has dissolved into NATO. However, General de Gaulle always tried to maintain France’s independence in the integrated command of NATO.

NATO is absorbing Europe. And so the Americans no longer speak to France and no longer consider us a strong and independent nation.

Do we need to recall the recent slap in the face suffered by France in the brutal and unilateral breach of the contract for the purchase of Australian submarines by Australia, a member of the Commonwealth, which was orchestrated by the British and the Americans? Can France be satisfied, in addition to its loss of sovereignty, with the three-day advance in ammunition and fuel that NATO grants it? I do not understand the policy of the French President.

On the strength of his convictions, his army and the deterrent force that he himself built to the great displeasure of the Americans, General de Gaulle had the determination to leave NATO, while remaining a full member of the Atlantic Alliance. I wish that the French President had this courage and this will, rather than being subjected to the throes of single-mindedness and the common policy imposed by the Americans, which make him dependent.

In the same way, I do not recognize myself in today’s France, in this policy of “en même temps,” which weakens us. I do not recognize myself in the current abandonment of values, of our history, of our culture, of our great principles of freedom, duty and security.

General de Gaulle wrote, “There is a twenty-fold pact between the greatness of France and the freedom of the world.” Our goal is and must remain to establish a European entente between the Atlantic and the Urals. In the midst of the alarms of the world and the dangers of the present crisis, France can and must once again throw all her weight behind seeking an arrangement with the belligerent countries, and Russia in particular.

One does not wage war alone!

It is a conviction that ideologies, and therefore the regimes that express them, in Ukraine as elsewhere, are only temporary. “Only the patina of centuries and the capacity of countries to remain great count, based on political foundations.”

As General de Gaulle said in 1966 during his second trip to Russia: “The visit I am finishing to your country is a visit from the France of always to the Russia of always.”

I thank you.

The entire speech may be viewed here…

Pierre de Gaulle speaking in Paris.

The French text of the speech comes courtesy of Pierre Yves Rougeyron and Maison russe des sciences et de la culture à Paris. [Translated from the French by N. Dass}.

Featured: Napoleon silver Specimen Essai “Friendship” Medallic 2 Francs L’An IX (1801), by Tiolier.

François Villon, the Heavenly Robber

This essay, by the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) was written in 1910 (or perhaps 1912) and revised in 1927 and is a tribute not only to the medieval poet, but a meditation on exile and the quest for unadorned reality and the Divine.


Astronomers accurately predict the return of a comet, after a long period of time. For those who know Villon, the Verlaine phenomenon appears to be just such an astronomical miracle. The resonance of both voices is strikingly similar. But apart from timbre and biography, the two poets are bound together by almost the same mission in the literature of their time. Both were destined to appear in an age of artificial, hothouse poetry, and just as Verlaine smashed the serres chaudes [an allusion to Maeterlinck’s collection of poems Hothouses (1889)] of symbolism, Villon challenged the mighty rhetorical school that can rightly be considered fifteenth-century symbolism. The famous Roman de la Rose first built an impenetrable fence, within which the warming atmosphere necessary for the survival of the allegories created by this Romance continued to flourish. Love, Danger, Hate, and Insidiousness are not dead abstractions. They are not incorporeal. Medieval poetry gives these ghosts an astral body, as it were, and tenderly cares for the artificial air so necessary to sustain their fragile existence. The garden where these peculiar characters live is enclosed by a high wall. The lover, as the beginning of the Roman de la Rose tells us, wandered for a long time around this fence in a vain search for an unobtrusive entrance.

Poetry and life in the fifteenth century were two independent, hostile dimensions. It is hard to believe that Maître Allain Chartier was subjected to real persecution and endured life’s troubles, arming public opinion of the time with a too-harsh sentence on the Cruel Lady, whom he drowned in a well of tears, after a brilliant trial, with all the subtleties of medieval legal procedure. Fifteenth-century poetry is autonomous; it occupies a place in the culture of the time, like a state within a state. Recall the Court of Love of Charles VI: a variety of seven hundred ranks, from the highest signoria to petty bourgeois and lower clerics. The exceptionally literary character of this institution explains the disdain for class partitions. The hypnosis of literature was so strong that members of such associations walked around the streets adorned with green wreaths, a symbol of falling in love, wishing to prolong the literary dream in reality.


François Montcorbier (de Loge) was born in Paris in 1431, during the English rule. The poverty that surrounded his cradle combined with the misery of the people and, in particular, with the misery of the capital. One might expect the literature of the time to be filled with patriotic pathos and a thirst for revenge for the offended dignity of the nation. Neither Villon nor his contemporaries, however, had such sentiments. France, enslaved by foreigners, showed herself to be a real woman. As a woman in captivity, she gave her main attention to the minutiae of her cultural and domestic toilette, looking curiously at the victors. High society, following its poets, was still carried away dreaming into the fourth dimension of the Gardens of Love and the Gardens of Joy, while for the people the tavern lights were lit in the evenings and farces and mysteries played out on holidays.

The feminine and passive era left a deep imprint on Villon’s destiny and character. Throughout his dissolute life he carried the unshakable conviction that someone had to take care of him, manage his affairs and bail him out of difficulties. Even as a mature man, thrown by the Bishop of Orleans into the lower dungeon of Meung sur Loire, he cried out to his friends: “Le laisserez-vous là, le pauvre Villon” [Will you leave there, poor Villon]. Francois Montcorbier’s social career began when he was taken into the care of Guillaume Villon, honorary canon of the monastery church of Saint Benoit le Bestourné. By Villon’s own admission, the old canon was “more than a mother” to him. In 1449 he received his baccalaureate degree; in 1452 his licentiate and maître. “Oh Lord, if I had studied in the days of my reckless youth and devoted myself to good manners—I would have had a home and a soft bed. But what can I say! I ran away from school like a wicked boy; as I write these words my heart bleeds.” Strange as it may seem, Maitre François Villon at one time had several pupils and taught them, as best he could, the wisdom of school. But, in his characteristic honesty, he was aware that he had no right to be called Master, and he preferred to call himself a “poor little scholar” in his ballads. And it was especially difficult for Villon to study, since, as if on purpose, the student riots of 1451-1453 happened during his years of study.

Medieval people liked to think of themselves as children of the city, the church, the university. But the “children of the university” exceptionally acquired a taste for mischief. A heroic hunt was organized for the most popular signs of the Paris market. The deer was to marry the Goat and the Bear, and the Parrot was supposed to be presented to the young as a gift. The students stole a boundary stone from the possessions of Mademoiselle La Bryuère, erected it on Mount St. Genevieve, calling it La Vesse (the fart) and, forcibly grabbing it from authorities, fastened it to the spot with iron hoops. On the round stone they placed another, oblong one, the Pêt au Diable, and worshipped them at night, showering them with flowers, dancing around them to the sound of flutes and tambourines. The enraged butchers and the offended lady made a case. The Prevost of Paris declared war on the students. The two jurisdictions clashed—and the defiant sergeants had to kneel, with lighted candles in their hands, to beg the rector’s forgiveness. Villon, who was undoubtedly at the center of these events, chronicled them in his novel Pêt au Diable [the Devil’s Fart], which has not survived.


Villon was a Parisian. He loved the city and idleness. He had no affection for nature and even mocked it. Already in the fifteenth century, Paris was the sea in which one could swim without being bored and forgetting about the rest of the universe. But how easy it is to stumble upon one of the countless reefs of idle existence! Villon became a murderer. The passivity of his fate is remarkable. It is as if it were waiting to be impregnated by chance, whether evil or good. In a ridiculous street fight on June 5, Villon kills the priest Chermoit with a heavy stone. Sentenced to hang, he appealed and, pardoned, went into exile. Vagrancy finally shook his morals, bringing him into the criminal gang la Coquille, of which he became a member. On his return to Paris, he participated in a major theft at the Collège de Navarre and immediately fled to Angers—because of unrequited love, he asserted, but in reality to set things up for robbing his rich uncle. Fleeing from the Parisian skyline, Villon published the Little Testament. Years of indiscriminate wandering followed, with stops at feudal courts and prisons. Amnestied by Louis XI on 2 October 1461, Villon went into deep creative turmoil, his thoughts and feelings became unusually acute, and he created the Great Testament, his monument to the ages. In November 1463 Francois Villon was an eye-witness to a quarrel and a murder in the Rue Saint Jacques. Here ends our account of his life and his dark biography.


The fifteenth century was cruel to personal fates. It turned many decent and sober people into Job, grumbling at the bottom of their stinking dungeons and accusing God of injustice. A special kind of prison poetry was created, imbued with biblical bitterness and severity, as far as it is accessible to the polite Romance soul. But out of the chorus of prisoners, Villon’s voice stands out sharply. His rebellion is more like a court trial than a rebellion. He managed to combine in one person the plaintiff and the defendant. Villon’s attitude never crossed the known boundaries of intimacy. He is gentle, considerate, caring to himself no more than a good lawyer is to his client. Self-pity is a parasitic feeling, detrimental to the soul and the body. But the dry legal pity with which Villon invests himself is for him a source of vivacity and unwavering confidence in the rightness of his “case.” A thoroughly immoral “amoral” man, as a true descendant of the Romans, he lives entirely in the legal world and cannot think of any relationship outside the jurisdiction and norm. The lyric poet, by nature, is a bipolar being, capable of innumerable cleavages in the name of inner dialogue. In no one is this “lyrical hermaphroditism” more pronounced than in Villon. What a diverse selection of charming duets: the grief-stricken and the comforter, mother and child, judge and defendant, proprietor and beggar.

Property, all his life, beckoned to Villon like a musical siren and made him a thief… and a poet. A miserable vagabond, he appropriated for himself the goods unavailable to him with a sharp irony.

Modern French Symbolists are in love with things, like possessive owners. Perhaps the very “soul of things” is nothing other than the sense of ownership, spiritualized and ennobled in the laboratory of successive generations. Villon was well aware of the gulf between subject and object, but understood it as the impossibility of possession. The moon and other neutral “objects” are irrevocably excluded from his poetic habitat. On the other hand, he is immediately animated when he speaks of ducks roasted with sauce or of eternal bliss, which he never loses the final hope of appropriating for himself.

Villon paints a charming intérieur in Dutch taste, peeking through the keyhole.


Villon’s sympathy for the scum of society, for everything suspicious and criminal, is by no means demonic. The shady company, which he so quickly and intimately became part of, captivated his feminine nature with a great temperament, a powerful rhythm of life that he could not find in other walks of life. One should listen with what savor Villon tells, in the Ballade de la grosse Margot, about the profession of pimping, to which he was obviously no stranger: “When clients come, I grab a jug and run for wine.”

Neither ebbing feudalism nor the newly emerged bourgeoisie, with its pull for Flemish gravity and importance, could provide an outlet to the enormous dynamic capacity, somehow miraculously accumulated and concentrated in the Parisian cleric. Withered and black, beardless, as thin as a Chimera, with a head that resembled, by his own admission, a peeled and toasted walnut, hiding his sword in the half-woman’s garb of a student—Villon lived in Paris like a squirrel in a wheel, not knowing a moment’s peace. He loved the ravenous, gaunt beast in him and treasured his battered skin: “Isn’t it true, Granier, that I did well to appeal,” he writes to his prosecutor, having escaped the gallows, “not every beast would have managed to wriggle out like that.” If Villon had been able to give his poetic credo, he would surely have exclaimed, like Verlaine:

Du mouvement avant toute chose! [Movement above all else – Verlaine: Music above all]

A powerful visionary, he dreams of his own hanging, on the eve of his probable execution. But, strangely, with incomprehensible exasperation and rhythmic fervor, he depicts in his ballad how the wind sways the bodies of the unfortunate, back and forth, at will… And he endows death with dynamic qualities and here manages to show a love of rhythm and movement… I think it wasn’t the demonism that captivated Villon, but the dynamics of the crime. I don’t know if there is an inverse relationship between the moral and the dynamic of the soul? In any case, both of Villon’s Testaments, big and little—this feast of magnificent rhythms, the kind French poetry still does not know—are incurably immoral.

The wretched vagabond writes his will twice, distributing left and right his imaginary possessions like a poet, ironically asserting his dominion over all the things he wishes to possess: if Villon’s mental experiences, for all their originality, were not particularly profound, his relationships in life—a tangled web of acquaintances, connections, accounts—represented a complex of ingenious complexity. This man contrived to become a living, vital relation to a huge number of persons of the most varied rank, at all rungs of the social ladder, from the thief to the bishop, from the alewife to the prince. With what pleasure he tells their background! How precise and marked he is! Villon’s Testaments are ever captivating because they report a lot of accurate information. The reader feels that he can make use of them, and he feels like a contemporary of the poet. The present moment can withstand the pressure of centuries and retain its integrity, remain the same “now.” One has only to be able to pluck it out of the soil of time without damaging its roots—otherwise it will wither away. Villon knew how to do this. The bell of the Sorbonne that interrupted his work on the Little Testament still rings.

Like the troubadour princes, Villon “sang in his Latin”: once, as a schoolboy, he had heard of Alcibiades—and as a result the stranger Archipiade joins the graceful procession of the Ladies of former times.


The Middle Ages clung tenaciously to its children and did not voluntarily yield to the Renaissance. The blood of the true Middle Ages flowed in Villon’s veins. To it he owed his integrity, his temperament, his spiritual peculiarity. The physiology of the Gothic—and such it was, and the Middle Ages are precisely the physiologically-genius era—replaced Villon’s worldview and rewarded him abundantly for his lack of a traditional connection to the past. Moreover, it provided him with a place of honor in the future, as nineteenth-century French poetry drew its strength from the same national treasury, the Gothic. They will say: what has the magnificent rhythmic of the Testaments, now trickling like a bilboquet, now slowed down like a church cantilena, to do with the mastery of Gothic architects? But isn’t the Gothic the triumph of dynamism? Another question is, what is more fluid, more dynamic—the Gothic cathedral or the oceanic ripple? What, if not a sense of architectonics, explains the wondrous balance of the stanza in which Villon entrusts his soul to the Trinity through the Mother of God—the Chambre dela Divinité—and the nine heavenly legions. It is not an anemic flight on the wax wings of immortality, but an architecturally based ascent, corresponding to the tiers of the Gothic cathedral. He who first proclaimed in architecture the moving equilibrium of the masses and built the crossed vault gave an ingenious expression to the psychological essence of feudalism.

Medieval man considered himself in the world building as necessary and bound as any stone in the Gothic edifice, enduring with dignity the pressure of his neighbors and entering as an inevitable stake in the general game of forces. To serve was not only to be active for the common good. Unconsciously, medieval man regarded service, a kind of deed, as the unvarnished fact of his existence. Villon, an afterthought, an epigone of the feudal worldview, was immune to its ethical side, the circular bond. The stable, moral in the Gothic was quite alien to him. On the other hand, indifferent to the dynamic, he elevated it to the level of amorality. Villon twice received letters of pardon—lettres de remission—from kings: Charles VII and Louis XI. He was firmly convinced that he would receive the same letter from God, with forgiveness for all his sins. Perhaps, in the spirit of his dry and reasoned mysticism, he put up the ladder of feudal jurisdictions into infinity, and a wild but deeply feudal feeling roamed vaguely in his soul that there was a God above God…

“I know well that I am not the son of an angel crowned with the diadem of a star or another planet,” said of himself the poor Parisian schoolboy, capable of much for a good dinner.

Such denials are tantamount to positive certainties.

1910 (1912?), 1927

Featured: “François Villon,” woodcut from Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon, 1489.

Is Islam Our Future? A Conversation With Jean-Louis Harouel

This conversation with the eminent French historian Jean-Louis Harouel examines the long-term consequences of multiculturalism, especially the settlement of large numbers of Muslims in the West. He is Professor Emeritus at Paris 2 University and the author of about twenty very important books, such as Les droits de l’homme contre le peuple (2016), which was translated into Italian and Hungarian. His most recent book is L’islam est-il notre avenir? (Paris, La Nouvelle Librairie, 2021), which forms the basis of this interview which is made possible through the courtesy of Breizh-Info.

Breizh-info (B-I): Yet another book on Islam, I am tempted to say. What did you want to bring to the debate on the Islamization of Europe?

Jean-Louis Harouel (J-L H): I wanted to say that it is totally unrealistic to let millions of Muslims reside on our territory who keep the ways of thinking and the morals of a Muslim country, and at the same time hope to continue to live in France and in Europe as we used to live there, while practicing a freedom of thought and expression proscribed by Islam. In many parts of its territory, France, which is the European nation with the largest number of Muslims on its soil, has today become a country other than France: a Muslim country. This is what Éric Zemmour recently felt when he returned to the northern suburbs where he had spent his childhood and concluded that we had changed countries: “We are no longer in the same country.”

I wanted to show that Islamist killings are a danger inherent in a massive Muslim presence. In a large Muslim population, there will inevitably be a percentage of people who will take Sharia law to the letter and want to kill infidels and blasphemers, as prescribed by certain passages of the Koran, or as the Prophet repeatedly urged his followers to do. The possibility of assassination as a punishment for freedom of thought, or other forms of impiety, is an inherent risk of Islam. The multiplication of this violence in France is the result of the fact that it has been allowed to become, in large parts of the land, a Muslim country. But, in a Muslim country, there is an obligation to show respect for Islam and offenders are severely punished.

Jean-Louis Harouel.

The beheading of Samuel Paty and the death threats against any teacher considered to be offensive to Islam are only the logical consequence of the insane situation in which political leaders have progressively trapped France over the last fifty years: welcoming millions of Muslims while scrupulously respecting their beliefs, and at the same time expecting them to adhere to a freedom of thought that Muslim law considers a crime and punishes with sentences that can go as far as death.

To try to keep our freedom of expression, and even more fundamentally the future of our existence as a people, there is only one way: to make sure that this Muslim country which was constituted on French soil is reintegrated into France, that it becomes French again. If we fail to do so, our very existence as a people will be compromised, because we will have allowed another civilization to snatch away our right to “historical continuity,” according to the beautiful formula of Bérénice Levet. We have known this since Valéry: our civilization can die because civilizations are mortal and history is their tomb. It is up to the peoples of Europe to decide whether they want to die or continue to live, and whether they are ready to do what it takes to do so.

B-I: Doesn’t the demographic question settle today, and in the medium term, the fate of Europe and Europeans in the face of an increasingly numerous Ummah?

J-L H: Indeed, it is demography that will be the key to our future and that will indicate to the Ummah whether or not France and other Western European countries have become fruit to be picked; whether they are ripe to fall almost of their own accord into the hands of Islam. It is well known that there has been a millenary Muslim will to conquer Europe. And it is by pushing back the conquering enterprises of Islam, or by freeing itself from the occupations that it had established (Spain and southern France, Sicily, Hungary, Balkans) that Europe succeeded in remaining Europe. Otherwise, it would have become in the field of civilization what it is geographically, i.e., a small corner of Asia.

Now, because of the extent of the Muslim presence on our soil, at a time when our capacity to resist is diminished by the submission of Western societies to the religion of human rights, there is no doubt that Western Europe has become once again what it was in the Middle Ages; that is to say, a land to be taken, a prey for Islam. This has been said in no uncertain terms by senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood; but it is not only the Islamists who are to blame. Many Muslims who are considered moderate are also in this logic of patient, hushed, unspoken conquest. They know that demographics play in favor of Islam, thanks to the number of children born to Muslim women and the constant arrival of new Muslim immigrants. They know that sooner or later, the situation of Islam will be strong enough for it to somehow take over France and perhaps other European countries as well. If nothing is done in the meantime to reverse this process, the tipping of France and other Western European countries into the orbit of the Muslim world seems inevitable within a few decades.

B-I: Your book evokes the impossibility for the Muslim world to get rid of religion, which is intrinsically linked to it. In what way would what has been possible for other religions not be possible for Islam?

J-L H: In fact, the only religion that has fully experienced this phenomenon is Christianity, of which Marcel Gauchet wrote that it had historically been “the religion of the exit from religion.” Under the effect of the logic inherent in Christianity, and without this having prevented the maintenance of “a religious life at the scale of individuals,” European societies have progressively left “the religious structuring of societies.” This does not mean that the Church did not oppose this abandonment of “religion as structure” as much as it could. But, since Christianity is a religion exclusively turned towards spiritual ends, the Church has never directly punished irreligion with earthly sanctions. She has let the State do it for her. Only when the State freed itself from the Church and secularized itself, did it stop punishing the impious and the blasphemous. And since the Church could only inflict spiritual punishments on them, they ceased to be punished concretely.

In contrast to this process, Islam did not need the state to enact laws to punish the ungodly, since the Muslim holy texts contain a whole code of law that fulminates terrible punishments against bad Muslims. Thanks to the weapon of the allegedly divine penal law which it carries, Islam has from the outset protected itself against any challenge by threatening death to those who would challenge its dogmas and its hold on society.

B-L: You explain that it is fear that has allowed Islamic regimes to maintain themselves for centuries and centuries in the Muslim world. On the other hand, there are also examples of countries that have taken Islamists out of history, notably in the Arab world, again through fear and violence. Explain this to us.

J-L H: There are two very different things. On the one hand, some Arab rulers have indeed, without in the least questioning the prestige of Islam and its domination over society, used violence and fear against the Islamists, such as Nasser and then Sadat in Egypt, who was finally assassinated by them. And then, on the other hand, there is the repressive mechanism of the terrorist nature inherent to Islam, which protects it against the freedom of the spirit. And this concerns Islam considered as normal, as moderate compared to Islamism.

When, in 1981, in Sadat’s Egypt, one of his ministers of state calmly explained to the foreign press that the assassination of a Muslim who converted to another religion “does not go against the freedom of religion,” this statesman was not speaking as an extremist or an Islamist. He was simply giving the point of view of a good Muslim who knew his holy texts well. Islam locks human thought into a bigoted conformity to all the prescriptions and prohibitions laid down in the texts that Muslims claim to be divine law. From a Muslim point of view, there are many things one is not allowed to say or do. Breaking these rules is done at the risk of one’s life, as Muslim criminal law has prescribed penalties for these crimes that can go as far as death. As a result, with rare exceptions, intellectuals of Muslim origin have not dared to stand up openly against Islam, and Muslim societies have not experienced the great revolt against the domination of religion that characterized Christian societies in Europe from the 18th century onwards. Islam has been and remains preserved from all contestation by fear.

B-L: Is Europe, in all this, not finally a victim of the religion of human rights, which finally condemns a civilization to suicide, if nothing changes?

J-L.H: The tragedy of France and more generally of Western Europe comes from their adherence to a new utopia which is supposed to establish the reign of good on earth: the secular religion of human rights. This new avatar of the religion of humanity has taken over from the communist one, with the difference that the class struggle has been replaced by the fight against discrimination, but in the service of the same objective, which is the emancipation of humanity through the establishment of equality.

The religion of human rights is the basis of a fiercely anti-national ideology that has radically changed the content of democracy, which is now identified with the cult of the universal, with the obsession with openness to the other. As a fundamental principle of democracy, the sovereignty of the people has taken a back seat and has been replaced by the reign of the dogmas of the religion of human rights, with judges as their priests. In Western democracies, perverted by the religion of human rights, as in the former so-called democracy of the Soviet world, citizens are crushed by ideological taboos whose transgression is severely punished by criminal law: human rights totalitarianism has taken over from communist totalitarianism in the desire to prevent the Western individual from thinking and acting freely. Violating the founding disjunction of the West between politics and religion, this secular state religion deprives the French and more generally the Europeans of their liberties and forbids them to protect themselves against the invading presence of other peoples, other civilizations.

B-I: What optimism, what prospects do you offer to readers for our near future?

J-L H: The truth is, not much. We are in such a deadlock that it is not clear how we will get out of it. And this is because of the West’s submission to the dogmas of the official religion of human rights. Exerting a profoundly dissolving effect on European societies in the name of the hunt for discrimination, presenting cosmopolitanism as the absolute good, forbidding the European peoples to value and love each other, digging the demographic void of Europe by a strong incitement to abortion and filling this void by the arrival of populations mainly of African origin and of Muslim civilization, the religion of human rights is leading the Europeans to their own annihilation. And it is very difficult to reverse this suicidal mechanism, as long as this objectively disastrous state of affairs for the European peoples is perceived as just and good by government officials and by the globalized business community; as long as it is in conformity with the virtuously self-destructive morality that underlies the ideology promoted by the religion of human rights. Like the communist religion, it has taken over from, this secular religion forbids seeing reality and forces people to live in an imaginary world. As a result, good and evil are no longer defined by an understanding of reality, but by the ideals of this dream world. So that what was good has become evil, and vice versa. The measures in favor of immigration and the complacency for the Islamization of Europe being considered as good by the elites who govern us, one should obviously not count on them to fight them.

The only small note of hope that it is possible to introduce, in spite of everything concerning France, is the totally atypical way in which the pre-campaign for the presidential election is currently taking place there, due to the shock wave provoked by the probable candidate Éric Zemmour, with his unprecedented way of refusing all wooden language and calling things as they really are. He thus forced the candidates claiming to be from the governmental right to renounce their usual conformist preaching, in order to take a clear stand on the issues of immigration, Islamization, and the paralysis of political power by the priest-judges of the cult of human rights, both national and supranational.

Even, in this context of liberation of speech and thought, the president and future candidate Macron felt compelled to give to the Algerian leaders a speech of reality at the antipodes of the genuflections and repentant prostrations to which he had given himself up until now. In short, Zemmour has succeeded in a few weeks in doing what the National Rally to achieve despite all its efforts—forcing the political class to leave the imaginary world of human rights and return to the real world. This is crucial, because the process of the conquest of Europe by Islam can only be countered to the extent that it is recognized for what it is, and not perceived as a normal or even desirable phenomenon. This recent—but fragile—return to the world of reality is a welcome ray of light in the night that is falling on France.

And then, more fundamentally, a touch of optimism for Europe can be added to this gloomy picture, thanks to the realistic policies courageously pursued by several countries of the former communist bloc, foremost among them Hungary and Poland. Having suffered for half a century under the boot of communist totalitarianism, these peoples and their leaders are more capable than we are of perceiving the totalitarian and suicidal character of the religion of human rights that has taken over from it, so much so that they refuse the immigrationist ideology that it claims to impose on Europeans and that they are the basis of a resistance to the Islamization of Europe.

Featured image: “Héroïque fermeté de saint Louis à Damiette, mai 1250” (Heroic Resolve of Saint Louis at Damiette, May 1250), by Guillaume Guillon Lethière, painted in 1827.

How The Rich Defend Themselves: 1975 and 2022

The expression “Third World” appeared in 1952, from the pen of the French demographer Alfred Sauvy, (“Trois mondes, une planète,” L’Observateur, 14 August 1952): “We readily speak of the two worlds that exist, of their possible clash, of their coexistence, etc. forgetting too often that there is a third, the most important one. Because finally this ignored, exploited, despised third world, like the Third Estate, also wants to be something.”

And it did not only want to be, it also wanted to “have” a share in the development, and therefore in the new wealth generated.

The term “third world” has had a turbulent history, which recounted in Wikipedia, without genius, but in a very convenient, didactic way. The categories have changed: today we prefer to talk about developing countries (LDCs).

The terms change, poverty remains. The rich never like it when their privileges are infringed upon, no matter how small. The remark is by Georges Corm, in his excellent book, Le Proche-Orient éclaté, republished in 1991. Georges Corm is Lebanese, he knows his stuff. He highlights the well-known but little commented-upon fact that in the palaver of interminable international conferences, Western countries excel much more than those of the Third World: splitting up debates, creating commissions and sub-commissions, referring to specialized bodies, lame compromises opening the door to new controversies. Everything is in the works.

The sphere of discourse is never more than an enormous machine intended to cover up reality, in order to impose, with the help of media propaganda, another reality. The phenomenon was described by Hannah Arendt in a different context. It is revealed in today’s health context with a new amplitude.

In 1975, in Paris, France a conference on international cooperation was held. It managed to pull off the first major diversionary tactic. Of course, much better tactics have been done since then, but our French politicians are to be credited with having inaugurated the art of smoke-and-mirrors in which the UN has since become a master. France, or rather its representatives, imposed a distribution of the invited guests into groups of countries, thus creating elements of discord within these countries. The invitees were put into three categories: the industrialized countries, the oil exporting third world countries, the oil importing third world countries. Note that the industrialized countries, importers of oil however, were not designated as such.

The problem of underdevelopment that Algeria, in the person of Boumediene, wanted to pose was avoided by splitting the work of the Conference into five specialized commissions. The North-South dialogue (absurd distribution) held meetings for two years, without achieving any concrete result.

For other reasons, the successive conferences have so far not produced any convincing results. Ecology and poverty cannot be solved at the global level. To be convinced of this, we need only reflect on what constitutes the framework of rationality, the principle of causality. The causes of poverty vary from country to country, according to their resources, their climate, the nature of their government, their degree of technical development, the moral and spiritual level of the populations and, above all, the moral and spiritual level of the rulers. It is enough to remember that the Lebanese political class was the most decadent in the entire Arab world to no longer be surprised by the current ruin of this unfortunate country.
The first cause of poverty is not in the economic structures: it is in the corruption of the rulers and of those who are the richest. These rich people do not like to be touched.

Let’s consider the European assizes about Covid 19. How to come up with the working groups? Simple. First, there are the countries where sanitary fascism has imposed itself: France, Italy and Germany. With the rich level of rhetoric that we all now know and the elegance with which he has convinced us during his five-year term, Emmanuel Macron chaired the group of these countries that have shone by their stupidity and by the immeasurable level of lies about the health policies carried out. Then there is the group of countries that are in the process of liberation, such as Spain, England and Denmark. And finally, the group of countries that have pursued a reasonable policy, and have eradicated the pandemic with inexpensive drugs, like India. But India is in Asia…

One would be right to doubt that France would ever invite Professor Péronne. Instead, we get Olivier Véran, surrounded by his Areopagus of jokers and scribblers from the medical and pharmaceutical world. All masked (which goes without saying)—In both senses of the term.

How did these European countries go about hobbling their populations? They used figures and statistics. The French were fed them almost daily, without any verifiable source except the name of the statistical organizations, as if that name alone was enough to guarantee the result, the reliability and the integrity. The prodigious speed with which all this information was communicated was enough to raise doubts about its veracity. Today, one can still track the virus all over the world by tapping one’s phone. Magic.

It is obvious that all this cost a lot of money: three billion according to the sources of Professor Péronne, officially communicated in Spain where he was recently invited to give a speech on Covid—and which is the most luminous condemnation of our rogue state, to speak like Saint Augustine.

Professor Raoult, for his part, always regularly pulls out his little papers with the figures he has, specifying where he got them from, data clearly circumscribed and interpreted live.

In 1975, the truly rich were already busy defending themselves. They have obviously changed. They are no longer the same. Today, they are immensely rich, and they have grouped together, with one project: the programmed obsolescence of man. Of the free man, that is.

All these disgraces, this cowardice, all this greed have been presented to us as the glorious fruit of a free and reasoned sanitary policy, driven by the concern for “public” health. The press and the official declarations are still full of their justifications, whereas we cannot ignore that at the base of this delirious sanitary policy, there are private interests, and much, much money at stake. All these declarations, this propaganda, these solemn speeches, only show the extent of the fault of those who have shamelessly exploited the anguish of the disease, the concern of the sons for elderly parents, of the mothers for their children, anguish that they have systematically diffused, fed, nourished, as skillful propagandists.

If the health crisis conference were to be held one day, do not doubt it that they will do what they did in 1975: specialized commissions and sub-commissions. And then we will get figures, lots of figures, which say one thing and then its opposite, thus clearing our governments of their responsibility.

Pope Francis notwithstanding, who is also reported to have connections with the entire pharmaceutical industry clique, there will be a Judgment. They will have to give an account. And if it is not before the Tribunal of the men, women and children who are victims of the vaccination, of the partial unemployment, of the loss of their businesses, of their hopes for a better life; if it is not before the Tribunal of all those who have suffered this amputated existence for two long years, of those who have lost a loved one after the vaccination. If it is not before this Tribunal of the victims, then it will be before another Tribunal, infinitely more fearsome.

And there, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And if we have enough mercy not to rejoice, we will have enough sense of justice not to pity them.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.

Featured image: “The Worship of Mammon,” by Evelyn De Morgan, painted ca. 1909.