Book//mark – Hell | Henri Barbusse, 1908

Henri Barbusse, L’enfer, 1908                                       Henri Barbusse, 1935

“I believe that around us there is only one word on all sides, one immense word which reveals
our solitude and extinguishes our radiance: Nothing! I believe that that word does not point
to our insignificance or our unhappiness, but on the contrary to our fulfillment and our divinity,
since everything is in ourselves.”

“At the touch of mankind, things wear away with heartbreaking slowness.”

“Suffering–important word! It leads us to the heart of reality. Human suffering is a positive thing, which requires a positive answer, and sad as it is, the word is beautiful, because of the absolute truth it contains. ‘I, with all my suffering!’ It is an error to believe that we can be happy in perfect calm and clearness, as abstract as a formula. We are made too much out of shadow and some form of suffering. If everything that hurts us were to be removed, what would remain?”

“It is not by sin that we attain happiness, nor is it by virtue, nor is it by that kind of divine fire by which one makes great instinctive decisions and which is neither good not evil. It is by none of these things that one reaches happiness. One never reaches happiness.”

“All lovers in the world are alike: they fall in love by chance; they see each other, and are attached to each other by the features of their faces; they illuminate each other by the fierce preference which is akin to madness; they assert the reality of illusions; and for a moment they change falsehood into truth.”

“You will tell me the quiet story of your day’s work, without any object except to give me your
thoughts and your life. You will speak of your childhood memories. I shall not understand them
very well because You will be able to give me, perforce, only insufficient details, but I shall
love your sweet strange language.”

“I love you, but I love the past even more. I long for it, I long for it, I am consumed with
longing for it. The past! I shall cry, I shall suffer because the past will never come back again.”

“…love is only a kind of festival of solitude”

“Out there, among the countless gardens by the sea, I wanted to dig my fingers into the dark earth. As I roamed about, I tried to imagine your body, and I sought for the perfume of your flesh. And I stretched my arms upwards to the sky, to come as close as possible to your sun.”

“How I waited for you! How I longed for you! he stammered. “I thought of you all the time.
I saw you all the time. Your smile was everywhere.” He lowered his voice and added,
“Sometimes when people were talking commonplaces and your name happened to
be mentioned, It would go through my heart like an electric current.”

“There is an attraction for you which does not exist for me, since I do not feel any pleasure.
You see, we are making a bargain. You give me a dream, I give you joy. But all this is not love.”

“I am more sensitive than other people. Things that other people would not notice awaken
a distinct echo in me, and in such moments of lucidity, when I look at myself, I see that
I am alone, all alone, all alone.”

“The woman from the depths of her rags, a waif, a martyr — smiled.
She must have a divine heart to be so tired and yet smile.”

“The memory of you saddened my joys, but consoled my sorrows.”

“I saw that they wanted to kill the past. When we are old, we let it die;
when we are young and strong, we kill it.”

“We have the divinity of our great misery. And our solitude, with its toilsome
ideas, tears and laughter, is fatally divine.”

“It was suicide. Others killed themselves with poison or with a revolver.
I killed myself with minutes and hours.”

“But my whole body is one pain. I cannot stand on my legs anymore. I stagger. I fall back
on my bed. My eyes close and fill with smarting tears. I want to be crucified on the wall,
but I cannot. My body becomes heavier and heavier and filled with sharper pain.
My flesh is enraged against me.

I hear voices through the wall. The next room vibrates with a distant sound,
a mist of sound which scarcely comes through the wall.

I shall not be able to listen anymore, or look into the room, or hear anything distinctly.
And I, who have not cried since my childhood, I cry now like a child because of all that
I shall never have. I cry over lost beauty and grandeur. I love everything that I should
have embraced.”

“Happiness needs unhappiness. Joy goes hand in hand with sorrow. It is thanks to the shadow
that we exist. We must not dream of an absurd abstraction. We must guard the bond that links
us to blood and earth.”

“I had hopes, I had hopes.”
“Hopes? Hopes of what?”

“I do not know. The things we hope for are always the things we do not know.”

“I dreamed of myself, who could neither know myself well nor rid me of
myself—myself who was like a deep shadow between my heart and the sun.”

“I keep remembering — I keep remembering. My heart has no pity on me.”

“Was I happy ? Yes, I had nothing to mourn or regret, I had no complicated desires.
Therefore, I was happy.”

 Henri Barbusse, Hell, 1908

First unabridged English edition.

Henri Barbusse (1873 – 1935) was a French novelist and a member of the
French Communist Party. He was a lifelong friend of Albert Einstein.

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