This White Peace: Camus’s Notebooks

In his notebook entry for November 11th, 1942 Camus writes:

In the morning everything is covered with hoarfrost; the sky is shining behind the garlands and streamers of an immaculate village fair. At ten o’clock, when the sun begins to warm everything, the whole countryside is filled with the crystalline music of an aerial thaw: little cracklings as if the trees were sighing, fall of the frost on the ground like a sound of white insects dropped on one another, late leaves constantly falling under the weight of the ice and barely bouncing on the ground like weightless bones. All around, the hills and valleys vanish in wisps of smoke. After looking at it for a time, one becomes aware that this landscape, as it loses its colors, had suddenly aged. It is a very ancient landscape returning to us in a single morning through millennia…Thus spur covered with trees and ferns juts out like the prow of a ship into the joining of the two streams. Freed from hoarfrost by the first rays of the sun, it is the only living thing in this landscape white like eternity. In this spot at least the mingled voices of the two rushing streams join together against the endless silence surrounding them. But gradually the song of the waters is itself fused into the landscape. Without diminishing a jot, it nevertheless becomes silence. And from time to time nothing but the flight of three smoke-colored ravens brings signs of life back into the sky.

Seated at the peak of the prow, I follow that motionless navigation in the land of indifference. Nothing less than all nature and this white peace that winter brings to overheated hearts—to calm this heart consumed by a bitter love. I watch as this swelling of light spreads over the sky negating the omens of death. Sign of the future in short, above me to whom everything now speaks of the past. Keep quiet, lung! Fill yourself with this icy, pure air that feeds you. Keep silent. May I cease being forced to listen to your slow rotting away—and may I turn at last toward…

It’s only been in the past five or six years that I’ve become very interested in reading the letters, notebooks and diaries of authors. Camus’s Notebooks, which span the years 1939 to 1950 are extraordinary, as the above passages demonstrates, and have given me such a different view of the man and his writing. I’ve even started rereading The Stranger, a book which I have not looked at since I was a teenager.

I was thinking that a good translation project for me next year would be to translate a series of ancient letters—Horace, Seneca or even Pliny.

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