The Marmot with the Collar
Diary of a Philosopher

Part I - Dry Moon
First Summer

M. / M.004 - M. / M.020



New Moon


First Day

M. / M.004

I have been busy for several days settling in; the task is rather long.


I have chosen for my exclusive residence this terrace, situated between two cliff walls, of which I command the one and the other commands me. It is on the shady side of the slope; but it compensates for this inconvenience with certain advantages that decided me. First, I have never seen climb up here Man or Dog, and up to the present never has a Marmot dwelt here. I will find peace nowhere if I do not find it here. Then, the slope, at the foot of the cliff, is comprised in large part of leaves of slate, of a crystalline grain, which seem formed expressly to serve me as writing tablets. They are almost as thin as Gentian leaves, yet hard, and the claw can scratch it without too much trouble.


It is too high for trees here, or shrubs; but flowers are abundant, especially in a little valley where runs a stream that falls from the rocks. Some great boulders, heaped up on the edge of the precipice, leave between them crevices that are always cool. It is there that is my Burrow. I have only to leave the hollow at whose bottom I have hidden the entrance to command the whole valley. Not a Marmot, not a Mouse can show its nose without my seeing it.


I have constructed for myself a great Burrow, in order to pass the Long Night. Fairly close to the entrance, at two Marmot lengths, the gallery divides into two. One very short branch, continuing in a straight line, ends in a spacious chamber, where the light penetrates. Here I will store my Tablets. The leaves of slate are beginning already to accumulate, one behind the other. The great gallery advances further into the mountain. It measures at least ten Marmot lengths and leads to a little chamber, intended for one Marmot alone. This is my bedroom.

Third Day

M. / M.005

Now I am completely settled in. I have laid in provision of slates, and a fine bed of dried grass carpets the bedroom. From today, I am able to deliver myself without reserve to the discovery of Wisdom. In dreaming of this, my heart bounds for joy.

Fourth Day

M. / M.006

It is necessary, in noting my reflections of each day, to commit here everything I recall of the circumstance of my captivity. This is by no means a small matter, and it will take more than a day to work with the claw; but, with the help of the Gods, I will succeed in it.


I recall very distinctly, and it is my last memory before the catastrophe, that we were snuggled up in the hay, as is our custom on the vigil of the Long Night. Some neighbours had come to invite us to spend it with them, but we had declined. My wife was not fond of these gatherings by tribe. So, we went to sleep as a family, curled up carefully, head in chest and rear paws to ears. My wife was on one side, myself on the other; between us, our four children, that year’s family.


How long did we sleep? I know nothing of it and I will probably never know. One thing alone is certain, the knowledge that after having fallen asleep in my Burrow, with all my dear ones, I awoke alone, in a place far removed, surrounded by hideous Men.

Fifth Day

M. / M.007

The mystery of this adventure is terrifying. It can happen that each one of us might fall into the hands of his enemies and undergo cruel treatment. The history of Marmots offers examples enough. But to fall asleep in one’s own Burrow and to wake up in another country, among Men, and not to know how one made the journey: this is what confounds all imagination.

Seventh Day

M. / M.008

We experience a slow awakening after the Long Night. It is by degrees that we open our eyes, that we prick our ears and that we recognise objects. These first glimmers are delicious for one who is surrounded by his wife and his children. But no one can have any idea what this awakening is like, when, at each new increase in consciousness one catches a glimpse of unknown objects, one discerns malevolent beings. In that case it is the cruellest of tortures not to be able to wake up all at once. The enormity of it is this, one wishes to flee and one cannot.

First Quarter


Second Day

M. / M.009

I am determined to undertake a minute study of the remains of our former Burrow. I wished to climb down there yesterday; but the rain forced me to turn back. The weather is more and more overcast. Let us scratch.


I cannot describe in detail what I saw when I was completely awake. I saw nothing except in outline. The place where I found myself had to be the interior of a cabin similar to those which one sees from here, but larger. I lay there, stretched out to my whole length, on a flat stone, at the foot of the high wall. Next to me burned dried fir branches, still bearing their needles, which crackled. It was just as when the lightning sets them ablaze in the forest. Men have sometimes been observed making similar fire on the mountain. It is a secret that they possess. This fire cast a living light and an extraordinary heat. The smoke escaped by a sort of great pipe, completely black. Around the stone were arranged a certain number of Men. They were of two types, those which keep their two legs hidden under a great floating skin, and those which keep them covered separately in narrow sheaths. I caught a glimpse behind them, on the ground and against the walls, of objects of which we have no idea, but I was able only to glimpse them because my whole attention was absorbed by these barbarous Men. They looked at me and grew noisily agitated, especially the little ones. Oh! the eyes of Men! Happy are those who have seen them only from afar!


My first movement was to make my escape by climbing through the smoke pipe. I had seen blue sky. Then I discovered that I was held by the neck. I had this collar, and they had attached to it a thick thread, a coarse spider’s thread, which a Man held at the other end. The Man allowed me to climb the whole length of the thread, after which it pulled me down with a sharp tug. The idea occurred to me to bite through the thread and to sever it. But each time I turned my head to reach it, the Man would lift me up. Tired of struggling I pressed myself into a corner and played dead. Then one of my hangmen tried to take me by the neck. At one leap I seized its finger and bit it with so much fury that I hung there an instant off the ground. It let out a terrible cry, and the blood spurted in abundance. I expected crueller punishments and I was resigned to everything. I desired death. In fact, a child threatened me and struck me with a branch in the face. It did me little harm. Afterwards they brought out a sort of wooden house, which seemed to have been manufactured for me. They opened it from above and forced me to enter, lifting me into the air. I was scarcely inside when they closed it, and I found myself in a deep darkness. Such was the beginning of my captivity.

Third Day

M. / M.010

This Moon does not deserve its name. It continues to rain and I continue to scratch.


When they had put me in this house, they lifted it from the ground, and they carried it to another place, where I felt them set it down. A hand lifted the roof and threw me some grass, then the roof fell back, and I heard no longer any type of noise. I remained some time with ears stretched. Silence continued to reign, I hurled myself on the thread of my collar, and severed it with a bite of my teeth. It had a bad taste of filaments of dried grass, twisted and tough. Free in this respect I set myself to trying the walls of my prison. They were formed entirely of wood. These Men have a manner of cutting up trees: they turn the trunk into slender leaves, which they then arrange as they wish. When I thought I had found the most tender spot, I began to scratch and to bite as best I could. The wood was hard, but Marmots have good teeth. I did not wait until the hole was my size; I passed through, I don’t know how, and found myself in a place enclosed by four walls, where there was hay piled up in abundance. Cows could be heard from the other side of the wall. Without losing time in thinking what to do I propelled myself toward a high opening, by which light penetrated. I don’t know exactly what happened next. I think that I struck against an invisible obstacle, which broke with a loud crash, while I fell back whence I had sprung. I have only a vague memory of this fall. I was for a moment giddy from the blow. When I came around, I was in another prison, much larger than the first and well enough lit, in the company of three Cows, two Goats and a Sheep. I had a bloody nose, but I did not think of it. I thought only to sever a new thread, fixed by one end to my collar, like the earlier one, and by the other to a ring, on the wall. My effort was in vain. This thread was cold and hard, and twisted into a great number of little curls, held one inside the other. The Cows were attached in the same manner, with a coarser thread. I do not know how Man finds this thread. There exists nothing similar in Marmot country.

Fifth Day

M. / M.011

I rose yesterday before dawn. Seeing that the sky was lightening in the west, I set out for our former Burrow. This journey caused me some disquiet; Men are close by, on the higher pastures. All turned out well. I was able to conceal my movement in the shade and I did not make any bad encounter. I heard a Fox bark, but far away.


Our former Burrow was situated lower than the others. Thus had my wife wished it. She had become sensitive to the cold with age. It opened at the top of a ravine, and measured about six Marmot lengths up to the chamber which served us as our bedroom. An escape gallery, emerging under a thicket of Alders, has remained intact. The other is open to the sky, like the bed of a stream. The earth has been cut and hacked up, with very strong instruments, whose marks are still visible; they have been tossed into the ravine, just like two large stones, which used to close the main gallery, at the entrance to the bedroom. All the hay in which we curled up is still there. It has taken on rain and has rotted; but I recognised it well: it was the hay of choice, my wife loved it soft.


My heart bled to contemplate this ruin.

Sixth Day

M. / M.012

So, it is indeed Man that is the guilty party. We did not fall by chance into Man’s hands. He came to capture us and he exposed our Burrow. He alone has the instruments whose marks I saw and confirmed. Man has instruments for everything. Some think that the Gods give these to him. Others that he fashions them himself. I think that Man fashions them, but that he has this knowledge from the Gods.


This work required time and could not have been done without noise. Man always works noisily. He doesn’t know how to excavate in secret, like us. And then, Man loves to hear himself. He cannot shout loudly enough when he walks in the mountains. But what does it mean that we should not have suspected anything? I have good ears. And my wife? She used to hear ants scurrying on the ground, above our chambers. How did they capture us, how did they carry us away without our realising it? There is the mystery. However deep our sleep of the Long Night may be, even so, it is not the sleep of stones. Can there be a sleep that resists the touch of the hand of Man?

Seventh Day

M. / M.013

There are moments when I touch my whole body just to know I am really myself, if it is really I who went to sleep in my Burrow, I who awoke down below, I who live without a family, in this solitary hole, with a collar on my neck… I am seized by strange doubts… Yes, it is really myself; I touch myself and find only myself. Here are the long whiskers of my moustache; there are not two Marmots who wear them curled in this way. Here is my wounded left ear. Marmots have never had them too long – ears, that is. I am told that it is my mother who bit it off while dragging me along to hurry on our flight, in face of great danger. Here are the paws which dug our handsome Burrow – now destroyed; here is the spine which I grated by force of passing under the rocks that closed off our gallery…. Here I really am, there is no doubt… This is precisely what I don’t understand.

Full Moon


First Day

M. / M.014

There is something strange and extraordinary in this sleep of the Long Night.


First of all, it is a sleep of a particular type, a benumbing, a torpor. It announces itself several days in advance; it comes over us despite ourselves, and we have trouble, on awakening, to shake it off.


In the second place, it is of a length that is difficult to determine. Some think that the Long Night is as long as a half-Moon, or indeed, as a whole Moon. Certain animals, who claim that they do not sleep during this time, say that it is still longer. But they do this out of idle chatter and to make fun of us.


In the third place, there pass during the Long Night things which do not happen at any other moment of the year and of which we can judge only very imperfectly, for want of seeing them. The idea generally admitted among us is that the Long Night is only one night. But the animals who make fun of our sleep, allege that, during this supposed night, the Sun rises and sets just as it ordinarily does. Our sages have for a long time disproved this reckless opinion. The Long Night is the long night, that is clear. It is equally without doubt that it is a night that is very cold and during which there falls much Snow. It is why, when we feel it coming, we close all the entrances to our Burrows punctually. It is the badly inclined species, to whom the Gods have denied this instinct, who mock us.


All the same, I would like very much just once to count the hours of the Long Night.

Second Day

M. / M.015

Now are days that are truly beautiful, days that are worthy of the Dry Moon and such as Marmots love.


The whole population of the valley is abroad.


A populous tribe has gathered at this moment on a dry knoll, strewn with flat stones and tufts of grass. The adults – I count a dozen – are sitting in a circle, occupied in judging the contests of the youth. Great is the excitement. Some groom each other’s fur, others fight. On occasion the fights are organised, between pairs of champions; at other times the fray is general. Opponents evade and join with each other by turn. Just now they were running all in a circle, as fast as they could, one behind the other. Meanwhile the elders, serious onlookers of these joyful follies, shake their tails with pleasure. They return to life amidst this youthfulness, they recall the exploits of their flowering years, and I seem, even from here, to hear them murmelling, in token of perfect contentment.


They know not that our life contains a mystery, and they play. I, who know the mystery, play no longer.

Third Day

M. / M.016

An idea has come to me. Perhaps my wife and children are still alive?


To have awoken down below, among Men, after having gone to sleep with my family, they must by all necessity have carried me. To have been able to carry me without my realising anything, I must have been in an extraordinarily ill state – have received a blow to the head, for example, just as I did in the Prison of the Hay, when I struck against the invisible obstacle. I have no memory of it; nevertheless, the thing is not absolutely impossible. It is perhaps the least unlikely explanation of so mysterious an incident. In reasoning from this supposition, I tell myself that it is hardly likely that my wife and my four children were overtaken by the same illness or struck in the same manner. To be sure, they would have heard the kidnappers, and they would have been able to make their escape, so long as the entrance to the escape gallery was not shut off, which cannot have happened, because it is intact, and I could not see on that side any trace of footsteps.


If my wife and my children are alive, they are not far away. I must make sure of this. Tomorrow I will begin expeditions of reconnaissance.

Last Quarter


Fourth Day

M. / M.017

The fairest weather in the world has favoured my researches. For eight days I have traversed the mountain. I approached nearly all the families to make a close reconnaissance – with my own eyes, the eyes of a father and a spouse – for those I was seeking. I found nothing.


I had allowed myself to recover hope. The disappointment is great; it is as if I had lost them twice over.


I continue to sow terror on my passage. Lone Marmots flee when they see me; they will give warning to their friends and parents; soon the whole tribe stirs and gives chase.

Fifth Day

M. / M.018

The weather is breaking up. Let us resume the thread of our story.


The first days that I passed in the Prison of the Cows were terrible. They brought me food, but I would not touch it. When a Man entered, I would press myself against the wall and would not take my eyes from it. When I was alone with the three Cows, the two Goats and the Sheep, I would gnaw and bite the leash. I did nothing else for several days, and I broke all my teeth. Marmot teeth grow back – happily. Those who mock us cannot say as much.


One morning I ate; the hunger was very strong.


A certain Man would enter our prison twice a day, at dawn and in the evening. It would give us grass and hay; it would remove the dung, would scatter fresh straw under the feet of the Cows, would clean them and would empty their udders into great vessels of wood. It would lead the whole troupe outside to drink. It wished to take me there too; but I would fasten myself to the ground, and it had to pull me with all its might to compel me to advance a pawstep. It was the same Man that I had bitten. It had for a long time a poorly hand.


This Man appeared to love its Cows. It would care for them, but it would treat them as a master, like its property. They would not try to resist. They would obey. On the part of Goats and Sheep this weakness is understandable. As for Cows, I never forgave it. A Cow is a heavy and flabby beast, happy to ruminate, happy to sleep on the straw, unworthy of freedom.


How easy it would have been for them to escape when they left to go to drink. But the air of the fields and the mountains never seemed to tempt them. When they had drunk, they would gaze in front of them and would return to servitude, nodding their heads and slobbering the whole length of the path. They would go straight to their place. The Man would pass the great thread around their necks, and everything was done.


To have seen Cows on the mountain, from afar, I thought them the friends of Man, and I was astonished at their taste. Now that I have seen them close up, I know they are Man’s slaves and I despise them.


I am only a weak Marmot; but there isn’t a Man who could boast that it has compelled me to take a pawstep voluntarily.

Sixth Day

M. / M.019

One is not ill without knowing it; one does not receive a violent blow without some trace remaining. But I feel myself over in vain, I don’t find any scar. I dig through my memory in vain; I don’t recall any indisposition. I must look for another cause for this absolute lack of consciousness. It is inconceivable without an absolute sleep, and absolute sleep is death, from which one does not return.

Seventh Day

M. / M.020

The more I reflect, the more I discover strange details in the sleep of the Long Night.


We count three Moons in the season of increasing days: the Moon of Avalanches, during which we wake up; the Moon of Love and the Withered Moon, this last so called because it begins at the moment of our most extreme leanness.


On the other hand, the Moons of decreasing days are four in number: the Clover Moon, which is the one when flowers the Golden Clover; the Dry Moon, which is the one when falls ordinarily the least rain, the one also when the grass begins to grow yellow on the flank of the mountains; the Moon of Fatness, which is the opposite of the Withered Moon, and finally the Unhappy Moon, which is cold and in which we begin to grow sleepy, so that we fall fast asleep soon after.


The Long Night occurs between the Unhappy Moon and the Moon of Avalanches.


What does the Sun do in this interval? Why, on the first morning of the Moon of Avalanches, does it not rise at the exact point where it set on the last evening of the Unhappy Moon?


Why is there not parity between the number of increasing days and that of decreasing days?


I discover no answer to these two questions, and I do not know that ever Marmot has resolved them in a satisfactory manner.


Here is one that is harder. I have preserved in my memory an exact register of the days of my captivity. They were to the number of one hundred and eighty, let us say six Moons. But, when I was restored to freedom, we were still not at the end of the Clover Moon. In consequence the days must have increased during five Moons. There is often some irregularity at the beginning and end of the Long Night, a half-Moon more or less; but a deviation of two Moons is without parallel.


Could the Long Night be simply an illusion of our sleep?

E. Rambert: La marmotte au collier (1889)

trans. R. L. Hewitt: The Marmot with the Collar (2020)

The Marmot with the Collar
A Trilingual Edition

Part 01.02 (English)

Richard L. Hewitt
Kamuzu Academy, Malawi

2020 - 2022