For forgotten heroes
In the distance could be heard the deep rumble of enemy’s artillery, under a leaden sky.
His platoon had sought refuge in the now abandoned village, and the ruins of once charming houses, out of place in the tortured landscape.
The men were exhausted, ill, their faces grey, their hearts hopeless in bottomless despair.
It was November, 1917, in his mind danced the distant memories of peace.
Your childhood, the poignant poetry of the last decade of the dying 19th century, all the hopes that died in the tranchées, and yet, what was reborn, the talent, the unlimited thirst for renewal, then your courage in the face of evil, your gift of forgiveness, and unredeemed love: there is so much, for us, to learn from your life**, from your work.
You wrote: “Any family, any clan, any school shape those ‘words’, and those familiar phrases, loaded with meaning, which they keep secret for the stranger.”
How well you understood what laid ahead for literature: the tyranny of genres, the dominating influence of corporate interests, the deluded politics, and yet you predicted its survival, its triumph over stupidity.
As you rested, wounded, at the end of WWI, you wrote “Le guerrier appliqué” – which I chose to translate as “The thoughtful warrior”: A friend of yours much later would then describe* you as “L’écrivain appliqué” – the thoughtful writer, and in your charmed writing we find inspiration.
* Maurice Toesca: “Jean Paulhan, l’ écrivain appliqué” (Éditions Variétés, 1948)
** Frédéric Badré: “Paulhan, le juste” (Éditions Grasset, 1996)
The quote is from Jean Paulhan, “Les Fleurs de Tarbes” – “Toute famille, tout clan, toute école forme ces ‘mots’, et ces locutions familières, qu’elle charge d’un sens, secret pour l’étranger.”