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ROMANCE OF THE RABBIT

By

FRANCIS JAMMES

Authorized Translation from the French by Gladys Edgerton

1920







INTRODUCTION


The simple and bucolic art of Francis Jammes has grown to maturity in
the solitude of the little town of Orthez at the foot of the Pyrenees,
far from the clamor and complexities of literary Paris. In the preface
to an early work of his he has given the key of his artistic faith:
"My God, You have called me among men. Behold I am here. I suffer and
I love. I have spoken with the voice which you have given me. I have
written with the words which You have taught my mother and my father
and which they transmitted to me. I am passing along the road like a
laden ass of which the children make mock and which lowers the head. I
shall go where You wish, when You wish."

And this is the way he has gone without faltering or ever turning
aside to become identified with this school or that. It is this simple
faith which has given to Francis Jammes his distinction and uniqueness
among the poets of contemporary France, and won for him the admiration
of all classes. There is probably no other French poet who can evoke
so perfectly the spirit of the landscape of rural France. He delights
to commune with the wild flowers, the crystal spring, and the friendly
fire. Through his eyes we see the country of the singing harvest where
the poplars sway beside the ditches and the fall of the looms of the
weavers fills the silence. The poet apprehends in things a soul which
others cannot perceive.

His gift of sympathy with the poor and the simple is infinite. He
is full of pity and tenderness and enfolds in his heart and in his
poetry, saint and sinner, man and beast, all that which is animate
and inanimate. He is passionately religious with a profound and humble
faith, but it has nothing in common with the sumptuous and decorative
neo-catholicism of men like Huysmans or Paul Claudel. Rather one must
seek his origins in the child-like faith of Saint Francis of Assisi
and the lyrical metaphysics of Pascal.

Those of a higher sophistication and a greater worldliness may smile
at the artlessness, and, if one will, naivété of a man like Jammes. It
is true that his art is limited, and that if one reads too much at one
time there is a note of monotony and a certain paucity of phrase, but
who is the writer of whom this is not equally true? The quality of
beauty, sincerity, and a large serenity are in his work, and how
grateful are these permanencies amid the shrilling noises of the
countless conflicting creeds and dogmas, and amid the poses and
vanities which so fill the world of contemporary literature and art!

As far as the record goes the outward life of Francis Jammes has been
uneventful. In a remarkable poem, "A Francis Jammes," his friend and
fellow-poet, Charles Guérin, has drawn an unforgetable picture of this
Christian Virgil in his village home. The ivy clings about his house
like a beard, and before it is a shadowy fire, ever young and fresh,
like the poet's heart, in spite of wind and winters and sorrows. The
low walls of the court are gilded with moss. From the window one sees
the cottages and fields, the horizon and the snows.

Jammes was born at Tournay in the department of Hautes Pyrénées on
December 2, 1863, and spent most of his life in this region. He was
educated at Pau and Bordeaux, and later spent a short time in a law
office. Early in the nineties he wrote his first volumes, slender
_plaquettes_ with the brief title "Vers." It is interesting that
one of these was dedicated to that strange English genius, Hubert
Crackanthorpe, the author of "Wreckage" and "Sentimental Studies."
This dedication, and the curious orthography (the book was set up in a
provincial printery) led a reviewer in the _Mercure de France_ into an
amusing error, in that he suggested that the book had been written by
an Englishman whose name, correctly spelled, should perhaps be Francis
James.

Since then his life has been wholly devoted to literature and he has
published a considerable number of volumes of poetry and prose which
by their very titles give a clue to the spirit pervading the author's
work. Among the more important of these are: _De l'Angelus de
l'Aube à l'Angelus du Soir, Le Deuil des Primevères, Pomme d'Anis
ou l'Histoire d'une Jeune Fille Infirme, Clairières dans le Ciel_, a
number of series of _Géorgiques Chrétienne_, etc.

The present volume consists of a translation of _Le Roman du Lièvre_,
one of the most delightful of Francis Jammes' earlier books. In it he
tells of Rabbit's joys and fears, of his life on this earth, of the
pilgrimage to paradise with St. Francis and his animal companions,
and of his death. This book was published in 1903, and has run through
many editions in France. A number of characteristic short tales and
impressions of Jammes' same creative period have been added.

To turn a work so delicate and full of elusiveness as Jammes' from one
language into another is not an easy task, but it has been a labor of
love. The translator hopes that she has accomplished this without too
great a loss to the spirit of the original.

G.E.




ROMANCE OF THE RABBIT




BOOK I


Amid the thyme and dew of Jean de la Fontaine Rabbit heard the hunt
and clambered up the path of soft clay. He was afraid of his shadow,
and the heather fled behind his swift course. Blue steeples rose from
valley to valley as he descended and mounted again. His bounds curved
the grass where hung the drops of dew, and he became brother to
the larks in this swift flight. He flew over the county roads, and
hesitated at a sign-board before he followed the country-road, which
led from the blinding sunlight and the noise of the cross-roads and
then lost itself in the dark, silent moss.

That day he had almost run into the twelfth milestone between Castétis
and Balansun, because his eyes in which fear dwells are set on the
side of his head. Abruptly he stopped. His cleft upper lip trembled
imperceptibly, and disclosed his long incisor teeth. Then his
stubble-colored legs which were his traveling boots with their worn
and broken claws extended. And he bounded over the hedge, rolled up
like a ball, with his ears flat on his back.

And again he climbed uphill for a considerable time, while the dogs,
having lost his scent, were filled with disappointment, and then, he
again ran downhill until he reached the road to Sauvejunte, where he
saw a horse and a covered cart approaching. In the distance, on this
road, there were clouds of dust as in Blue Beard when Sister Anne is
asked: "Sister Anne, Sister Anne, do you see anything coming?" This
pale dryness, how magnificent it was, and how filled it was with the
bitter fragrance of mint! It was not long before the horse stood in
front of Rabbit.

It was a sorry nag and dragged a two wheeled cart and was unable to
move except in a jerky sort of gallop. Every leap made its disjointed
skeleton quiver and jolted its harness and made its earth-colored
mane fly in the air, shiny and greenish, like the beard of an ancient
mariner. Wearily as though they were paving-stones the animal lifted
its hoofs which were swollen like tumors. Rabbit was frightened by
this great animated machine which moved with so loud a noise. He
bounded away and continued his flight over the meadows, with his
nose toward the Pyrenees, his tail toward the lowlands, his right eye
toward the rising sun, his left toward the village of Mesplède.

Finally he crouched down in the stubble, quite near a quail which
was sleeping in the manner of chickens half-buried in the dust, and
overcome by the heat was sweating off its fat through its feathers.

The morning was sparkling in the south. The blue sky grew pale under
the heat, and became pearl-gray. A hawk in seemingly effortless flight
was soaring, and describing larger and larger circles as it rose. At
a distance of several hundred yards lay the peacock-blue, shimmering
surface of a river, and lazily carried onward the mirrored reflection
of the alders; from their viscous leaves exuded a bitter perfume,
and their intense blackness cut sharply the pale luminousness of
the water. Near the dam fish glided past in swarms. An angelus beat
against the torrid whiteness of a church-steeple with its blue wing,
and Rabbit's noonday rest began.

* * * * *

He stayed in this stubble until evening, motionless, only troubled
somewhat by a cloud of mosquitoes quivering like a road in the sun.
Then at dusk he made two bounds forward softly and two more to the
left and to the right.

It was the beginning of the night. He went forward toward the river
where on the spindles of the reeds hung in the moonlight a weave of
silver mists.

Rabbit sat down in the midst of the blossoming grass. He was happy
that at that hour all sounds were harmonious, and that one hardly knew
whether the calls were those of quails or of crystal springs.

Were all human beings dead? There was one watching at some distance;
he was making movements above the water, and noiselessly withdrawing
his dripping and shimmering net. But only the heart of the waters was
troubled, Rabbit's remained calm.

And, lo, between the angelicas something that looked like a ball bit
by bit came into view. It was his best-beloved approaching. Rabbit ran
toward her until they met deep in the blue aftercrop of grass. Their
little noses touched. And for a moment in the midst of the wild
sorrel, they exchanged kisses. They played. Then slowly, side by
side, guided by hunger, they set out for a small farm lying low in the
shadow. In the poor vegetable garden into which they penetrated there
were crisp cabbages and spicy thyme. Nearby the stable was breathing;
the pig protruded its mobile snout, sniffing, under the door of its
sty.

Thus the night passed in eating and amatory sport. Little by little
the darkness stirred beneath the dawn. Shining spots appeared in the
distance. Everything began to quiver. An absurd cock, perched on
the chicken-house, rent the silence. He crowed as if possessed, and
clapped applause for himself with the stumps of his wings.

Rabbit and his wife went their separate ways at the threshold of the
hedge of thorns and roses. Crystal-like, as it were, a village emerged
from the mist, and in a field dogs with their tails as stiff as cables
were busy trying to disentangle the loops so skillfully described by
the charming couple amid the mint and blades of grass.

* * * * *

Rabbit took refuge in a marl-pit over which mulberries arched, and
there he stayed crouching with his eyes wide-open until evening. Here
he sat like a king beneath the ogive of the branches; a shower of rain
had adorned them with pale-blue pearls. There he finally fell asleep.
But his dream was unquiet, not like that which should come from the
calm sleep of the sultry summer's afternoon. His was not the profound
sleep of the lizard which hardly stirs when dreaming the dream of
ancient walls; his was not the comfortable noonday sleep of the badger
who sits in his dark earthen burrow and enjoys the coolness.

The slightest sound spoke to him of danger, the danger that lies
in all things whether they move or fall or strike. A shadow moved
unexpectedly. Was it an enemy approaching? He knew that happiness can
be found in a place of refuge only when everything remains exactly the
same this moment, as it was the moment before. Hence came his love of
order, that is to say his immobility.

Why should a leaf stir on the eglantine in the blue calm of an idle
day? When the shadows of a copse move so slowly, that it seems they
are trying to stop the passage of the hours, why should they suddenly
stir? Why was there this crowd of men who, not far from his retreat,
were gathering the ears of maize in which the sun threaded pale
beads of light? His eyelids had no lashes, and so could not bear
the palpitating and dazzling light of noondays. And this alone was
sufficient reason why he knew that danger lurked if he should approach
those who unblinded could look into the white flames of husbandry.

There was nothing outside to lure him before the time came when he
would go out of his own accord. His wisdom was in harmony with things.
His life was a work of music to him, and each discordant note warned
him to be cautious. He did not confuse the voice of the pack of hounds
with the distant sound of bells, or the gesture of a man with that of
a waving tree, or the detonation of a gun with a clap of thunder, or
the latter with the rumbling of carts, or the cry of the hawk with
the steam-whistle of threshing-machines. Thus there was an entire
language, whose words he knew to be his enemies.

Who can say from what source Rabbit obtained this prudence and this
wisdom? No one can explain these things, or tell whence or how they
have come to him. Their origin is lost in the night of time where
everything is all confused and one.

Did he, perhaps, come out of Noah's ark on Mount Ararat at the time
when the dove, which retains the sound of great waters in its cooing,
brought the olive-branch, the sign that the great wave was subsiding?
Or had he been created, such as he is, with his short tail, his
stubbly hide, his cleft lip, his floppy ear, and his trodden-down
heel? Did God, the Eternal, set him all ready-made beneath the laurels
of Paradise?

Lying crouched beneath a rosebush he had, perhaps, seen Eve, and
watched her when she had wandered amid the irises, displaying the
grace of her brown legs like a prancing young horse, and extending
her golden breasts before the mystic pomegranates. Or was he at first
nothing but an incandescent mist? Had he already lived in the heart
of the porphyries? Had he, incombustible, escaped from their boiling
lava, in order to inhabit each in turn the cell of granite and of
the alga before he dared show his nose to the world? Did he owe his
pitch-black eyes to the molten jet, his fur to the clayey ooze, his
soft ears to the sea-wrack, his ardent blood to the liquid fire?

...His origins mattered little to him at this moment; he was resting
peacefully in his marl-pit. It was in a sultry August toward the end
of a heavy afternoon. The sky was of the deep-blue color of a plum,
puffed out here and there, as if ready to burst upon the plain.

Soon the rain began to patter on the leaves of the brake. Faster and
faster came the drumming of the long rods of rain. But Rabbit was not
afraid, because the rain fell in accordance with a rhythm which was
very familiar to him. And besides the rain did not strike him for it
had not yet been able to pierce the thick vault of green above him. A
single drop only fell to the bottom of the marl-pit, and splashed and
always fell again at the same place.

So there was nothing in this concert to trouble the heart of Rabbit.
He was quite familiar with the song in which the tears of the rain
form the strophes, and he knew that neither dog, nor man, nor fox, nor
hawk had any part in it. The sky was like a harp on which the silver
strings of the streaming rain were strung from above down to the
earth. And down here below every single thing made this harp resound
in its own peculiar fashion, and in turn it again took up its own
melody. Under the green fingers of the leaves the crystal strings
sounded faint and hollow. It was as though it were the voice of the
soul of the mists.

The clay under their touch sobbed like an adolescent girl into whom
the south wind has long blown inquietude. There where the clay was
thirstiest and driest was heard a continual sound as of drinking, the
panting of burning lips which yielded to the fullness of the storm.

The night which followed the storm was serene. The downfall of rain
had almost evaporated. On the green meadow where Rabbit was in the
habit of meeting his beloved, nothing was left of the storm, except
ball-like masses of mist. It looked as though they were paradisiacal
cotton-plants whose downy whiteness was bursting beneath the flood of
moonlight. Along the steep banks of the river the thickets, heavy with
rain, stood in rows like pilgrims bowed down under the weight of their
wallets and leather-bottles. Peace reigned. It was as though an
angel had rested his forehead in a hand. Dawn shivering with cold was
awaiting her sister the day, and the bowed-down leaves of grass prayed
to the dawn.

And suddenly Rabbit crouching in the midst of his meadow saw a man
approaching, and he wasn't in the least afraid of him. For the first
time since the beginning of things, since man had set traps and
snares the instinct of flight became extinguished in the timid soul of
Rabbit.

The man, who approached, was dressed like the trunk of a tree in
winter when it is clothed in the rough fustian of moss. He wore a cowl
on his head and sandals on his feet. He carried no stick. His hands
were clasped inside the sleeves of his robe, and a cord served as
girdle. He kept his bony face turned toward the moon, and the moon was
less pale than it. One could clearly distinguish his eagle's nose and
his deep eyes, which were like those of asses, and his black beard on
which tufts of lamb's wool had been left by the thickets.

Two doves accompanied him. They flitted from branch to branch in the
sweetness of the night. The tender beat of their wings was like the
fallen petals of a flower, and as if these were striving to re-unite
again and expand once more into a blossom.

Three poor dogs that wore spiked collars and wagged their tails
preceded the man, and an ancient wolf was licking the hem of his
garment. A ewe and her lamb, bleating, uncertain, and enraptured,
pressed forward amid the crocuses and trod upon their emerald, while
three hawks began to play with the two doves. A timid night-bird
whistled with joy amid the acorns. Then it spread its wings and
overtook the hawks and the doves, the lamb and the ewe, the dogs, the
wolf, and the man.

And the man approached Rabbit and said to him:

"I am Francis. I love thee and I greet thee, Oh thou, my brother. I
greet thee in the name of the sky which mirrors the waters and the
sparkling stones, in the name of the wild sorrel, the bark of the
trees and the seeds which are thy sustenance. Come with these sinless
ones who accompany me and cling to my foot-steps with the faith of the
ivy which clasps the tree without considering that soon, perhaps, the
woodcutter will come. Oh Rabbit, I bring to thee the Faith which we
share one in another, the Faith which is life itself, all that of
which we are ignorant, but in which we nevertheless believe. Oh dear
and kindly Rabbit, thou gentle wanderer, wilt thou follow our Faith?"

And while Francis was speaking the beasts remained quite silent; they
lay flat on the ground or perched in the twigs, and had complete faith
in these words which they did not understand.

Rabbit alone, his eyes wide-open, now seemed uneasy because of the
sound of this voice. He stood with one ear forward and the other back
as if uncertain whether to take flight or whether to stay.

When Francis saw this he gathered a handful of grass from the meadow,
and held it out to Rabbit, and now he followed him.

* * * * *

From that night they remained together.

No one could harm them, because their Faith protected them. Whenever
Francis and his friends stopped in a village square where people were
dancing to the drone of a bagpipe at the evening hour when the young
elms were softly shading into the night and the girls were gaily
raising their glasses to the evening wind at the dark tables before
the inns, a circle formed about them. And the young men with their
bows or cross-bows never dreamed of killing Rabbit. His tranquil
manner so astounded them, that they would have deemed it a barbarous
deed had they abused the faith of this poor creature, which he so
trustfully placed beneath their very feet. They thought Francis was a
man skilled in the taming of animals, and sometimes they opened their
barns to him for the night, and gave him alms with which he bought
food for his creatures, for each one that which it liked best.

And besides they easily found enough to live on, for the autumn
through which they were wending was generous and the granaries were
bulging. They were allowed to glean in the fields of maize and to have
a share in the vintage and the songs which rose in the setting sun.
Fair-haired girls held the grapes against their luminous breasts.
Their raised elbows gleamed. Above the blue shadows of the chestnut
trees shooting stars glided peacefully. The velvet of the heather was
growing thicker. The sighing of dresses could be heard in the depth of
the avenues.

They saw the sea before them, hung in space, and the sloping sails,
and white sands flecked by the shadows of tamarisks, strawberry-trees,
and pines. They passed through laughing meadows, where the mountain
torrent, born of the pure whiteness of the snows, had become a brook,
but still glistened, filled with memories of the shimmering antimony
and glaciers.

Even when the hunting-horn sounded Rabbit remained quite without fear
among his companions. They watched over him and he watched over them.
One day a pack of hounds drew near to him, but fled again when they
saw the wolf. Another time a cat crept close to the doves, but took
flight before the three dogs with their spiked collars, and a ferret
who lay in wait for the lamb had to seek a hiding-place from the birds
of prey. Rabbit, himself, frightened away the swallows who attacked
the owl.

* * * * *

Rabbit became specially attached to one of the three dogs with spiked
collars. She was a spaniel, of kind disposition, and compact build.
She had a stubby tail, pendant ears, and twisted paws. She was easy to
get on with and polite. She had been born in a pig-pen at a cobbler's
who went hunting on Sundays. When her master died, and no one wanted
to give her shelter, she ran about in the fields where she met
Francis.

Rabbit always walked by her side, and when she slept her muzzle lay
upon him and he too fell asleep. All of them always had their noonday
sleep, and under the dull fire of the sun it was filled with dreams.

Then Francis saw again the Paradise from which he had come. It seemed
to him as if he were passing through the great open gate into the
wonderful street on which stood the houses of the Elect. They were low
huts, each like the other, in a luminous shadow which caused tears
of joy to rise in the eyes. From the interior of these huts might be
caught the gleam of a carpenter's plane, a hammer, or a file. The work
that is sublime continues here; for, when God asked those who had come
to him what reward they desired for their work on earth, they always
wished to go on with that which had helped them to gain Heaven.
And then suddenly their humble crafts became filled with a sort of
mystery. Artisans appeared at their thresholds where tables were set
for the evening meal. One heard the cheery burble of celestial wells.
And in the open squares angels that had a semblance to fishing-boats,
bowed down in the blessedness of the twilight.

But the animals in their dreams saw neither the earth nor Paradise as
we know them and see them. They dreamed of endless plains where their
senses became confused. It was like a dense fog in them. To Rabbit the
baying of the hounds became all blended into one thing with the heat
of the sun, sharp detonations, the feeling of wet paws, the vertigo
of flight, with fright, with the smell of the clay, and the sparkle
of the brook, with the waving to and fro of wild carrots and the
crackling of maize, with the moonshine and the joyous emotion of
seeing his mate appearing amid the fragrant meadow-sweet.

Behind their closed eyelids they all saw moving like mirrored
reflections the courses of their lives. The doves, however, protected
their nimble and restless, little heads from the sun; they sought for
their Paradise beneath the shadow of their wings.




BOOK II


When winter came Francis said to his friends:

"Blessings upon you for you are of God. But in my heart I am uneasy
for the cry of the geese that are flying southward tells that a famine
is near at hand, and that it is not in the purposes of Heaven to make
the earth kind for you. Praised be the hidden designs of the Lord!"

The country around them, in fact, became a barren waste. The sky let


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