Georgette Ryner, “The Combat of Love and Death” (1925)

The Combat of Love and Death


“So here you are, gone, Alain, my beloved, gone forever, gone in death, you who had thought to conquer death!… And lost with you, your hope of taking up once again the little ones, born from the fusion of our loves and our joys!”

In the depths of a dark vault, a young woman thus speaks to her beloved, when suddenly, to her surpise, a glimmer floats in the atmosphere, without any clear indication of its source. Aurose feels herself surrounded by fragrances that appear, quivering and growing, bathing the entire space…

What does it matter to her what surrounds her, whether shadow or light. Hasn’t she fled from the outside world? Isn’t she blind to the outside and doesn’t her whole rhythm of life now tilt toward the darkness of death, withdrawing into the darkness of her heart?

“Where are you, my Alain? Where is our Liliane with the brown curls, the eyes of aquamarine? Our Domnin, haloed in gold, which made the dark velvet of his eyes appear darker? Ah! Our Liliane with your slightly mocking lip, your sparkling teeth, your broad forehead filled with thoughts! And Domnin’s eyes and his entire face lit up, you said, with my then cheerful smile. Oh, my Alain, for me love is therefore finished, the love that had made us gods, creators of beauty, creators of life, of love which, united to your genius, was perhaps going to resuscitate life and beauty!”

But Aurose is worried, and gazes at that surprising light. Her senses, refined by pain, now believe they perceive a movement in the startled gleams. A bitter smile twists her lips; her weakness, evidently, disturbs the play of her organs. Extraordinary sounds rustle in her ears: a vague prelude, or rather the thin hope and floating promise of some symphony that, perhaps, will soon be sung.

More and more, Aurose is impressed by a strange, incomprehensible feeling: does not every particle of the air contain some strange secret? Will the stones of the wall not cry out words that they know, words of which Aurose does not yet know the power? Transported, she feels transported for what rare initiation? — the sudden furtive shifting of dark and generous temples; the silence of the tomb is populated with rumors that vanish as soon as they are born, with fleeting and perhaps magical words, with incantations, which move and then are silent. A revelation?… Can her trembling await a revelation?

In the night in which she took refuge, the incomprehensible, incredible light continues to grow. In spite of the sadness that overwhelms her, an inexplicable joy rises in her heart. In the kingdom of the mortal she experiences, more and more intensely, a bizarre impression of life. Could this be the Day of Final Judgment and will the trumpets sound the eternal awakening and the victory of life?

Aurose’s frame, still slender yesterday, is bent under a burden of despair and mystery. On her face, with its features drawn by sadness, however, a strange and magnificent reflection plays, which, perhaps, will grow and fill the vault. Her beauty seems destroyed, but of what she was something remains: Love. “Love stronger than death.” She thinks of these old words, gives them new meanings, dazzling like lightning and as fleeting as well.

Then she approaches the edge of the wall on which is a complete experimental apparatus. It is near to the beloved that she wants to continue the search for the beloved; where death reigns, she wants to try to conquer death.

Ah! Will she not avenge him, her Alain, will she not win him back from the perfidious one who, to prevent him from revealing her secret, has stiffened his limbs, stopped the beating of his heart?

“Liliane, Domnin, my little ones, for the first time already come from me, will I be able to get you up alive? And you, my Alain, will I return you to love, to my love?” Her heart and mind sometimes vaporize in the infinity of desires, then tighten like hands to try to seize, in their flight, the effective means.

Here she is clearing the opening of the tomb; she places an immense prism in the path of the solar rays that now penetrate there. The light, born of the prodigy, and perhaps the creator of a prodigy, mingles with the ultra-violet rays that Aurose directs towards a device similar, at least in appearance, to a vast Crooks tube. It communicates with a machine that, while more powerful, more mysterious, nevertheless recalls our Rumkhorff coils. The young woman operates the machine; immediately, the light walls are irradiated; the atmosphere sparkles with multicolored dots. Now the beam falls on dead animals. And behold: a frog’s paws move, a mouse’s pupil dilates, a cat’s hair stands on end.

“Simple reflexes always,” the young woman whispers. “But when will we be able to make life spring from the sun, the father of all energy? Every day, on the earth buried in shadow and sleep, it brings back movement, joy and thought. It illuminates the plains, spreads beauty on the objects that its gaze caresses. When spring comes, it awakens the grain of wheat from its winter lethargy. It can do more. Consider the grains, found after 6,000 years in the tomb of an Egyptian mummy: ‘All believed them to have become sterile like death itself, of which they were the companions. And yet, when the warmth of the sun mingled with the caress of the air and the earth, they opened up to eternal germination; and, behold, the green stems, young as life, swayed in the wind of the Nile.'”

“As beneath the bark of the wheat the germ quivers,” Aurose continued, “human thought is agitated within us. Love seems to fall asleep under the stone of the tomb, but I resolutely hope for awakening and blossoming in some unexpected springtime when eternity, which seems closed, will open and light up.” Then the young woman’s thoughts returned to her own: “Alain, my beloved, Liliane, Domnin, my pretty treasures, will the heat of the sun one day be able to revive your frozen bodies, restore shape and beauty to your undone faces, awaken your thoughts and your love?”

Suddenly the machine hums, louder, the ether crackles and the vault seems a blazing inferno. No human eye has ever perceived them the colorations with which it blazes. A dry, cracking sound is heard and the glass shatters. Ah! the frog… yes, it jumps; and the mouse, it runs and the cat stretches and yawns for a long time. But, oh, the contradictions of forces devoid of intelligence and sensitivity! One comes, oh wonder, to recreate life. With the same blind breath, alas! she sowed death.

Oh life, will we ever know what ties unite you with death, how death comes out of life, how life comes out of death and what sacred rhythm mingles you in a dance of multitudes, as alternate the days, fathers of nights, with the nights, mothers of days? As in their quadruple round appear, whirl and disappear, to reappear again, green spring, summer with blond braids, autumn crowned with vines, and winter with gaunt arms!

The woman who gives birth, when the doors of life open before the new being, sometimes sees these doors close on her; while the unknown emerging from the mystery embraces the luminous torch, the generous flame that it transmitted suddenly escapes her…

Too fast, no doubt, the blood ran through Aurose’s veins, her heartbeat was too rushed, her breathing too intense; the frail envelope of her body could not support the superabundance stored in the tubes, the superabundance of life suddenly poured out in the tomb. In the land of Beyond, Aurose has joined the beloved!


How much time has passed? Weeks or months? In the tight suffocation, suddenly, as from a painful nightmare, Aurose’s soul awakens. The too abundant force which broke her body has worn out in the cold of the grave: diminished and slowed in its rhythm, it becomes again a force of life and raises the being it overwhelmed. But what a thrill of horror fills the young woman! A terrible awakening, which makes you regret the sleep just passed and makes you desire a final sleep. Hadn’t all dreams come to an end, with all suffering and all possibility of suffering? It seems to her that she is emerging from an absolute calm into which she would like to plunge again.

Darkness envelops her. Cold as ice. The deep silence frightens her. And that foul smell that surrounds her! The weight of the earth oppresses her; the coffin, jealous lover, encloses her. If her body, after her soul, awakens, will her limbs be condemned to perpetual immobility, her eyes doomed to the darkest obscurity?

Her body!… Is it the one, model of beauty, that all admired, that all envied? Patient tendrils, worms penetrate its limbs; they run over her delicate hands, they kiss her discolored lips and hollow out the sockets of her eyes.

No, no, it is not in death that she wants to flee. She revolts both against current horrors and against annihilation; she wants to fight, to fight against he immobility, to push back the cold; she wants to enjoy the joy of seeing, the joy of hearing, the joy of walking, of breathing; she wants to admire the splendours of nature; she wants, oh! above all, she wants to love!…

Where are all those she loved, who surrounded her with their joyful love? What are they doing, mother, sister, friends, those who mourned her death, who proclaimed their eternal pain, their shattered existence, her lasting memory? More horrible than that of the destruction of her body is the vision of the deep oblivion that envelops her, buries her soul in dark, unexplored regions.

Her mother is there, near her, similar to her (all look alike in this monotonous horror.) But in front of an expensive mirror, one of her sisters admires the shimmering brilliance of the pearls that adorn her dress, and, reflecting in it, brighten the shine of her eyes. Her older sister, lost in a soft chaair, builds dreams on more and more ambitious floors: step by step, she wants to climb up to great Fortune

The race for pleasures, vanity, ambition, when it is not stupid jealousy or violent hatred, fill the hearts of humans. Rare is the soul that gazes towards those who populated its days, towards those who now are no longer…

They turn, they whirl, these atoms of humanity, without knowing what being is, indifferent, most of them, to the mysteries. But what can even those who try to penetrate them understand about the world, about souls, about life, locked as they are in the darkness of selfishness?

She, Aurose, she seemed to have understood man’s true goal and, far from vanities, from ambition, far from arguments over empty words, she gave herself to the certainty of loving.

Love! Ah! just uttering this word, the darkness is less thick for her, the earth less heavy; as a generous wine warms the blood with which it mingles, the mere thought of love restores the vigor, the courage, the vigor of the old days to Aurose’s soul.

Love! had it not, in her youth, infused in her like new life, made up of mysterious powers? With Alain, everything became joyful; all effort, all work was easy for Alain, when this effort, this work was accomplished for the beloved, near the beloved. They had drunk the magic potion that, uniting them for time and for eternity, brightened their glances, made their hearts ardent and, hand in hand, they walked, like young gods. Weren’t they really gods, since the flame that sprang up between them revealed itself to be creative? It is love that formed in Aurose the body of her Liliane, of her Domnin. Is it he, she does not know, who created the souls of children, so resembling theirs, or, in the bodies in formation, did the gesture of love attract them?…

Even more, of God through love they believed they had eternity: love, – everything sang about it in them and in Liliane’s eyes and in Domnin’s laughter, – it is the negation of death, it is the life. The words that, so often, the beloved repeated to her, that trusting she repeated after the beloved, in Aurosa are reborn and continued:

“He who has loved does not die entirely, is not buried in eternal nothingness: above the dark tomb he leaves, coming out of him, like a radiance! “

This memory heightens the suffering of Aurose and of her this work was done for the beloved, near the beloved. They had drunk the magic potion which, uniting them for time and for eternity, brightened their glances, made their hearts ardent and, hand in hand, they walked, like young gods. Weren’t they really gods, since the flame that sprang up between them revealed itself to be creative? It is love which formed in Aurose the body of his Liliane, of his Domnin. Will love, she wonders, which created the souls of children, so resembling theirs, or, in the bodies in formation, will the gesture of love attract them?…

Moreover, from God through love they believed they had eternity: love, — everything in them sang of it, in Liliane’s eyes and in Domnin’s laughter, — it is the negation of death, it is life. The words that, so often, the beloved repeated to her, that, trusting, she would repeat after the beloved, are reborn and continued in Aurose:

“He who has loved does not die entirely, is not buried in eternal nothingness: above the dark tomb he leaves, coming out of him, a sort of radiance!”

This memory enlivens Aurose’s suffering and from her heart springs a trembling appeal to the adored one, while from her there seems to emanate a phosphorescence and while around the coffins float, as before her death, strange lights. You might say that these rays are crawling towards each other and trying to come together, to unite in a kiss.

“Alain, my Alain, why did the children who came from our love precede us in death? We are buried in the darkness of the grave; we are buried in the darkness of oblivion. I would be less afraid, I would be less cold if I could live, if I felt you live in my Liliane, in my Domnin. Their minds would dream my dreams, our projects would be their projects; our souls, which have passed into their souls, would be transmitted to the souls of their children. Alas! The ring is broken which, through them, united the past to the future, and we are dead forever!”

In a joyful boldness, a doubt seizes the mind of Aurose. Like the victorious besieger, who entering the city through a breach, seizes all the avenues and, street by street, house by house, makes his conquest real, just so proceeds this doubt in Aurosa: all her thoughts, all her desires are under the dominion of the victor. It is a happy domination that fills the young woman with the most daring thoughts, the most chimerical dreams. These thoughts, these dreams that she has carried within her for a long time, that she did not dare to formulate, terrified by their boldness, by their impossibility, now, armored for victory, irresistible, they have conquered her entirely.

“This love so powerful, capable of transforming hearts, of illuminating faces with ideal beauty, of creating new beings and of perpetuating life, this love so powerful, could it not resuscitate souls and bodies? Glorious, the flames increase, always increase; they run towards each other as if to embrace each other in the beauty of a fire. But in Aurose’s heart rises a much more beautiful clarity: she feels it growing in her, Love. It carries her over peaks hitherto inaccessible, as emotions once made her heart beat violently and swept, in a mad dash, all the blood in her whole being; her soul vibrates, sings, lives with a wild force. It seems to her that a power emanates from her, spreads into space and that a new childbirth in her will take place.

Now, as she evokes Alain and is intoxicated by the cup where, strangely, immense joy and unknown pain mingle, she feels the thrill of the beings in the tomb, — with a leap, the flames meet, triumphantly, and set ablaze the entire cellar; an admirable symphony bursts forth, a scent of blossoming roses spreads. Oh, inconceivable happiness! Apotheosis of love, awakened by love! Mysterious scents penetrate her, scents of light, heat, love, life, from the souls of Alain, Liliane and Domnin, who rise up, alive, near the soul of Aurose.

In ecstatic silence, Alain and Aurose, for a long time, contemplate their souls. Will they be able to savor enough the happiness of living together once again, the overwhelming joy of seeing the projects that have long occupied their days completed?…

Liliane and Domnin, in their renewed exuberance, never tire of exchanging their thoughts. It is as if from their souls emerge luminous antennae, which approach, meet, move away and draw closer again, aiding or symbolizing the communion of their minds and hearts.

“I was asleep,” said Domnin in his wordless language, in his language of light; and this luminous quivering remains somehow childish, as if stammering: “Far from Papa, far from Mama, far from you above all, Liliane, I was bored; I called out, so you would come to me.” — “I heard you, little brother, and, as always, I ran to your call; I thought I saw you and had fun with you; but all that I have seen: the beautiful Child Jesus who dressed us in white and gave us wings so thin, so thin, the trips I made to Mum and Dad to console them for our departure, to tell them that we would see them again, all that, it now seems to me that it was only a dream…”

In a lively light, rays emanating from Alain penetrate the hearts of the children: “Yes, my darlings, your sleeping souls have dreamed”. Now the antennae seem to be the flames coming from Moses’ brow to lead the people to the Land of the Elect. “Do you know, my Aurose, what sweet dreams I dreamed? Always, close to you, darling, always with Liliane and Domnin, we were starting the existence of love again; suddenly, death came to destroy the happy bonds that united us; but soon, in another place, together, better, each time closer to the complete beatitude we lived again and, always, we studied that distressing, that problem bound up with our hopes: how not to be separated any more, how to conquer death.” — “Alain, my beloved, shall I dare to tell you things that my soul is afraid of having dreamed? Yes, to me, to myself who has been their witness and perhaps their author, these wonders still seem impossible.”

Aurose tells of the mystery which, little by little, during her experiments, filled the tomb, the miracles of light rising in the darkness, the delicious music, the subtle perfumes; then she tries to tell of her ascension in love and the mysterious conception which, in her, has just been accomplished. Alas! what language would not stammer before the unfathomable mystery of the resurrection, as before the mystery — (but would it not be the same mystery?) — of creation?

Despite the confusion of the words of the beloved, Alain recognized the still young god, eager to spread life and joy. Faced with the principle of hatred, creator of darkness, creator of death, which dispels forms, disperses the elements, he sees Love rise up, the principle of union: Love the elements closer to Itself. It engenders the forms.

A kind of glory surrounds the soul of Alain: from an initially silvery light it becomes, with the fluctuation of his ideas, shimmering and variegated; when the precision of his thought can take on a concrete form, the halo, finally radiant, merges with the rays that issued from Aurose; without the help of our poor words, their souls laid bare, in an intense clarity, mutually, completely penetrate each other. “Through the Unity that Love creates,” says Alain’s thought to the thought of Aurose, “it radiates life, it produces light. Was it not Love, oh my adored one, who, from my first glance, made me understand your heart, which, at our first meeting, made an open book of my heart for you; is it not Love who, at this moment, unites our two souls in a single focus of intelligence as it has bound together, towards a single goal, the arc of our wills?

“Through this victorious Unity in us, perhaps, my beloved, (and this hope makes all the powers of my being quiver), perhaps we will be given the opportunity to grasp the frightening mysteries.” — “And who knows if, one day,” Aurose murmurs as if in an almost impossible wish, “all men fighting for the principle of life, all will overcome dark death?…”

She tries to persuade Alain, she tries to persuade herself: “Death, according to biblical tradition, entered the world with the first act of hatred; the terrifying shadow that, from birth, surrounds man, ceaselessly threatens to envelop him and, victorious, to carry him away from the sun, from life, from love, comes from the heart of Cain; its power is made up of the sister-darkness that fills too many hearts.

“To make each soul a center of light, of goodness, of joy, of love, wouldn’t that, my Alain, be the only way to conquer death, daughter of hatred?

“Love, this divine fire that creates life, which could resuscitate you, O my dearly loved ones! — If it becomes vast, immortal, this fire, if it sets the entire planet ablaze, Love will destroy the fatal shadow, will make Eternal Life reign! “

Suddenly, Liliane asks: “Little mother who used to be so pretty, where are your eyes, into the depths of which I loved to plunge mine? Where is Domnin’s golden hair? Where Papa’s arms, in which I would like to be held? How will I kiss you, Mama dear? Oh! say, can’t you take us on your knees and spoil us like before?”

Alain’s happiness is also darkened: what he loved in Aurose, of course, was her soul, radiant with ardent thoughts and great feelings; but he also loved the caress of her arms, her lips, her eyes, her whole body.

Aurose has seen the thoughts of her husband and the halo gradually darkens. “What you desire, friend, I believe it is achievable: it is love, we think, that resuscitated our souls and in the tomb, with us, are the devices that could give life back to our bodies. If you want, I will activate the machine, I will remove the impermeable substance covering the tubes. Then without doubt the solar rays that are stored there will revive our organs. Yet I am afraid of being wrong in giving in to your desires, to the desires of the children: while our souls, a work of love, will be eternal like our love itself, will not our bodies always be subject to corruption, disease, death? Do we know what mysterious links intimately unite our immortal souls to our bodies of perishable mud, so that each suffering, every wound to the instrument affects and threatens the divine harmony?”

— “What does it matter, my Aurose, whom I adore, since our devices will be near us, allowing us to bring back to life our numb limbs, to make younger blood flow in our veins, to rekindle the flame of our eyes!”

Alain and Aurose did not want to be resuscitated alone; their ardent and vast love breathed life into souls as science reformed, rejuvenated ruined bodies! What a strange sight in the usually silent cemetery! In front of an open grave, the living having retained in their eyes the thrill of death, lethargic dreams or sudden awakening. “Come with us,” said Aurose, “in the solitude of love; there will be no more hatred, no more principle of division, no more death; the ever-expanding love between us will broaden our life, make it more intense, deeper, truer.”

— In solitude, begins the mother — ah! certainly not. I want gold and riches to dazzle the whole country; I want the joy of seeing my daughters triumphant in their fortune and their beauty; no, my children, love is not enough for my life.

— I am not demanding; but I need the morning and evening papers, interrupts an uncle, my sister Nanon and her friend Babet who, every day, tell me the stories of the city, and my wheelchair and my small dishes so well cooked, my afternoon card game, my boules match before dinner. I need… Well, it takes a lot to fill the length of a day.

— Do you lose interest then, said another, in the fate of nations and in the political and religious problems that fascinate the world and in the discoveries of science that, every day, enlarge the domain of man?

— For me, said a beautiful young girl, the pleasure of dancing and the pleasure of flirting, the pleasure of being beautiful, the pleasure of shining, the pleasure that luxury gives… For me, all the pleasures, without forgetting the pleasure of love.

Her eyes have met those of a young man and, arm in arm they go, those who take for love the pleasures that accompany it for a moment.

Aurose and Alain watch the parents, the friends who surrounded them earlier, climb towards what these poor spirits call life. How fragile they appear to them, these innumerable human ants in which everything will mingle! In the torrent that carries them away, above the precipice that threatens to engulf them every minute, these mortals do not think, do not want to think of death. These, living for the day, do not think of life either: over miserable political questions, for insoluble religious questions, they quarrel, making the dangerous crossing more terrible. Happy if they do not cast one other into the abyss, which, one after the other, must absorb them all…

Alain turns to his wife: “My darling,” he says, “only love is real. The rest, vapor and uncertainties. But how few really love! Like beasts, they rush to coarse pleasure, those whose lips say love, but whose hearts remain silent. How few, as we have seen, understand that love is the whole of life. How few know how to overcome death!…

— Let’s go together, my Alain, far from men, their weaknesses and their wickedness, towards the solitude where we can love without fear of jealousies and neighboring hatreds, where we can think, work without having to fight against the noise that the others call thought, against the movement which they call work.

— Let us go to the love which created us, which allowed us to realize ourselves, which resuscitated us; let’s go to immortal love! “


Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur

[Parallel French/English texts on second page]

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