Julien Gracq

Translated by Alice Yang

In those days—the longest of the year—across the thickets of the Forest of Cinglais, great tanks kept a lookout at the bends in the dirt paths, their projectiles leaving charcoal trails against the setting sun of Louis XIII châteaux. The light was running late—the bushes’ shade on the road more delectable than fresh water, owing to those shining iron flies and the commotion of a vicious swarm in the sky. It was pleasing to saunter out into the open air: the expanse of roads, the swinging doors—the camp-volant under the plane trees, on the lawn of withered grass in the evacuated manor, distant from the stifling town. Large storm drops fell into dishes; through the open double windows, one could see children’s cots under family portraits, in a room better arranged than a cavalry charge. The Orne flowed ahead—very slowly—among the privets and meadows full of flowers and bulrushes. I liked that life was loose in its way, and that nights were spent in remote houses as though deep in a black wood.

When I arrived at the hill in May-sur-Orne, the slope was half in shade and half in sun; the birds were singing more softly; a young girl I knew was walking ahead of me onto the white road: I joined her. I understood that she was also stopping off at Jaur and that, as guests, we’d be passing the night in the same house. We made our way along. It was a charming region: those hills that rose between forests, the fresh leaves and the humid clay roadsides that retained their puddles until the height of summer. At times we talked, at times we fell silent. There were clusters of black firs planted at the junctions, or now and then a roadside cross—but loveliest of all was that summer evening which kept the fields awake so late, supernaturally so as on harvest days, because of the German hour. At Thury, I stopped at an inn for dinner: the low sun was still gleaming on the windowpanes and the cabinets’ copper hinges—I looked up between courses at the empty road, which flowed limpid and pure before the open door, like a river one lets pass through the garden. I left, glowing from the song of a bottle of wine, like a lantern lit by a candle. Behind me, sirens one after another began their descent into the town bound for fire. There’d be nothing to worry about ever again. The road ahead was white with moonlight, so delicately lit that one could make out, on the roadsides, new blades of grass between the fine gravel. The bell tower of Jaur adjoined the path a few stone’s throws away, in the night marked by a tender sign, like a white dress in a garden’s shadow—the road went toward the South, covered with sand among the tents of round apple trees in the open night, and I sang because someone was expecting me.

Julien Gracq (1910–2007) was a French writer best known for his novels. In 1951, he won the Prix Goncourt for The Opposing Shore but refused the award out of disdain for the literary establishment.
Originally published:
September 1, 2022


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