from Ceux de 14
by Maurice Genevoix
by Brian Pohanka - February 3, 2000
thing I did in a brief spare moment was take a passage
from Maurice Genevoix's memoirs of World War One, Ceux
de 14, which to my knowledge -- though a very well
written and powerful book, reflecting in it his love of
nature as well as his experiences in the horrors of war,
and the bonding with his fellow soldiers -- has never
been translated into English....
[In this passage,] Lieutenant Genevoix is talking with
a fellow officer, Lieutenant Ravaud, as they are briefly
out of the line for a rest, and walking in the dark toward
the forest where their men are encamped. Ravaud is clearly
disturbed and when Genevoix asks him if it is because
they had buried one of their men earlier that day, Ravaud
elaborates in a passage that gives the book its title,
"Ceux de 14" -- "Those of '14" (as in 1914).
Excerpt from Ceux de 14
stopped again, took my arm, and looked me straight in
"Have you never thought about the other dead, those
who we haven't known, the dead of all the other regiments?
Ours, nothing but ours, and they've planted hundreds under
our feet. Wherever we go, the little crosses rise up behind
us, the two sticks with the red kepi hanging on top. We
don't even know ourselves how many we've left: we march
on…. And in the same way the other regiments march, hundreds
of regiments each leaving behind them hundreds and hundreds
of dead. Can you conceive of it? That multitude? One dares
not even imagine it. And there are still all those that
the wagons have jolted along the roads, bleeding on their
litters of straw, those the rail cars with the red crosses
have borne toward all the cities of France, the dead in
the ambulances and the dead in the hospitals. More crosses,
multitudes of crosses, rank on rank, lined up in formation
inside the military cemeteries."
As he spoke the tenor of his voice became stronger and
stronger, then dropped again.
"But I foresee," he said, "a misfortune
even worse than these slaughters…. Perhaps these poor
souls will be very quickly forgotten…. Be quiet, listen:
they will be the dead of the outset, those of '14. And
there are going to be so many others! And on those piles
of corpses one will see only the last to fall, not the
skeletons that are underneath…. Who knows, even? Since
the war has taken hold of the world like a cancer, who
knows if there won't come a time when the world will have
gotten used to living with this disease? Things will take
their course, you understand, the war is there, tolerated,
accepted. And it will be considered a normal part of life,
that these young men must be condemned to death."
He fell silent as we walked into the forest. I could barely
distinguish his silhouette.
"My curse, you see, has been to understand a little
sooner than many others that this war is going to go on
and on…. It's entered me like a shock, so brutal I feel
like I’ve been demolished…. But that will pass. I'll pull