Thoughts at the end of the world – Antoine St Expury

I read Antoine St Expury’s Écrits de guerre (1982) (Wartime Writings 1939-1944) sometime ago, which was a treasure. Here are some bits I picked up:

I have just been on guard duty for two days. I slept at the airfield among the telephones and the coded messages, woke up in a whitewashed cell and dined in a freezing mess hall, like a child in a dining hall. There I found an inexpressible joy in the noises of the building, in the routine, and in the comings and goings of the personnel. I would like to be plunged into it, right to the marrow of my bones. I feel of no significance. In this little bourgeois existence, with the dreadful Lafeyette, with these circlings of the airfield, these perambulations backward and forward in front of the hangars, I am worth nothing. I would like to be incorporated into a tree. Then I could feel all the birds I was protecting.

And once again I think of the incomprehensible contradiction. At times the body is oneself- the body that loves, that enjoys the peaceful evening by the fireside, that curls up under the blanket in order to sleep, that knows how to smile. And at other times the body separates itself from one and is reduced to an instrument made to work like a bullock in the field, whose ears may be shattered, whose skin may be grilled- just like some of my fellow flyers the day before yesterday. There are two feelings this evening, the sadness in the face of possible death and the melancholy dream of all the gardens that will then be closed. One thunderbolt from a Messerschmitt will be enough to set you on fire like a tree. It strikes out of a clear sky- then the silent, vertical dive.


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