The Marmot with the Collar
Diary of a Philosopher

Part I - Unhappy Moon
First Summer

M. / M.036 - M. / M.057



New Moon


First Day

M. / M.036

If it please the Gods, this Unhappy Moon will prove the happiest of my life.


So, I was free, but I still had no idea where I was, because, in my headlong flight, I had looked only straight in front of me. Great was my joy in finding myself in a country that I knew. I had fallen into a hollow, between two tufts of grass, a few pawsteps from some great cliffs. Before my paws opened a deep valley, and opposite me, on the other side, arose snowy peaks. At first sight I recognised my fatherland and I shed abundant tears.


I shed them still just in thinking about it.

Second Day

M. / M.037

It seems that I detect already the approach of the Long Night. This scratching is almost a job.


The happiness that I experienced in recognising the mountains that had sheltered my childhood was soon disturbed. As soon as I was sufficiently master of myself to inspect objects in detail, I looked for my Burrow and I discovered only a ruin. I had thought much of my wife and my children, without being able to cast any light on the question as to whether they had shared my fate. On seeing my exposed Burrow, I realised the terrible truth. So long as I thought they had been able to escape, they must not be very far. No doubt but that they had sought asylum and protection from a family of our friends or from a populous enough tribe, settled higher up, whose chief was the first-born of my twenty-three children. I awaited the close of day to make a reconnaissance. Night had set in when I arrived at the door of my son’s Burrow. I called him by name, and in my impatience to press him to my heart, I hastened into the gallery. No one recognised the father’s voice. The whole tribe threw itself upon me as if I were a thief who comes by night, and for sure I would have perished under their blows if I had not taken flight, after having vainly tried to make myself known. They would have run me down; but I was leaner than them all, having yet to taste the Mountain Clover, and I surpassed them in speed.


I reached then the Burrow of our friends, our true friends, – at least I thought so, – our neighbours for a long time. This time I employed prudence. Having arrived at the entrance of the Burrow, I introduced myself and I called the master of the dwelling softly by name. He came out, looked at me askance, appeared to inspect my collar, which shone in the Moonlight; then he let out a sharp whistle. At the same instant wife and children ran up, and the whole family threw itself upon me with fury greater even than my son’s tribe. I had all the trouble in the world to extricate myself from their paws.


After these two misadventures, I took refuge in some hole, resolved to await the dawn. This night seemed longer than all those of my captivity. At the first glimmering of dawn, I saw the inhabitants of the neighbouring Burrows come out. They had a restless air. They took no time for breakfast; they came and went, in an extraordinary state of unease, gesturing and exchanging the news of the night. Soon, on every mountain flank shrilled the whistle of alarm. I understood that it was meant for me and that they were organising a general battue to purge the country of the prowler who had disturbed the repose of two Burrows. I was lost if they found me. Accordingly, I took flight in all haste, and I did not stop until I arrived at this high terrace, where there has never been a Burrow and where it was little likely that they would come looking for me. I spent two days here in the agony of my spirit, without taking food, without making for myself a shelter. I could almost have regretted my prison down below and the Man of the false blue eyes. At last, making a violent effort to overcome myself, I undertook the resolution to live alone and to devote myself to Wisdom.


O Marmots, Marmots, it is to you and not to Men that I owe the darkest hours of my life! Even so, it is for you that I labour. When I have pierced the mystery of the Long Night, I will brave anew your Burrows and I will teach you despite yourselves. I wish to reward you with good for the evil that you have forced me to suffer.

Third Day

M. / M.038

Summer has returned. A dense mist hides the deep valleys, but it is very fine on the mountain.


I have passed today some delicious moments. – I had stretched out on a white stone, just outside my Burrow, and I was beginning to grow sleepy. I dreamed that I had finally discovered the solution to the great problem. I recall it no longer. My ideas began to float without certainty. I know only that I was holding it in my paws, that I was clutching it with all my strength and that there escaped from it a virtue, because I began to feel in all my limbs a new sense of well-being, as if a divine power were in-Burrowing into my blood. When I opened my eyes, I saw the Sun. It was only the Sun. But, a curious thing, I felt absolutely no disappointment. I remained on my stone, half asleep, half awake, rejoicing in a perfect pleasure, and murmelling as I had never murmelledmore since the vigil of my captivity.

Fourth Day

M. / M.039

I sleep a lot these days, not for rest, but out of precaution. I am making preparation for the vigil of the Long Night.

Fifth Day

M. / M.040

How I pity you, common Marmots, you for whom nothing relieves either your pleasures or your cares! You eat to live and you live to eat. You work to have shelter, and you rest only to resume work. Your life turns on an eternal wheel. As for me, I have a goal. A higher thought ennobles all my thoughts, all my actions and even my sleep. I rest to renew my strength; I renew my strength for the study of Wisdom.


Sacred and glorious study! Can one still be alive if one does not live for study?

Sixth Day

M. / M.041

I thank the Gods for all the new pleasures whose delights I am savouring today. Happy misfortune! Without you, I would be where my brothers and sisters are. Without you, I would not know the delights that Wisdom reserves for those who love her. Blessed be my ungrateful children! Blessed my captivity! Blessed the hands of Men who violated the sanctuary of my Burrow!


If only my wife were alive! How happy she would be to keep with me the vigil of the Long Night!

Seventh Day

M. / M.042

The Sun is dull, the north wind biting. Let us make ready.

First Quarter


First Day

M. / M.043

Several Marmots put out their noses as far as the entrance of their Burrows. They found the air too cold and returned almost as soon. Only one Marmot pretended to browse.

Second Day

M. / M.044

The valley is from day to day more peaceful. The hours of silence would be propitious for great meditations, if I did not sense, myself also, the symptoms that are harbingers of torpor. More than once I have been indignant against Nature. She should at least respect philosophers, rather than treating them like the common herd, and worse, if possible. Even so, on reflection, I have discovered here an advantage. It is nothing to observe sleep in others; one must observe it in oneself, triumphing over it.

Third Day

M. / M.045

I have eaten only a little these last few days. I wish to prove wrong the mockers and the calumniators. I wish them not to be able to accuse me of sleeping from fat.


Moreover I have little taste for good living. One beautiful clump of autumnal Saxifrage failed to tempt me at all. I passed by with indifference white Bogstars, on the bank of the stream. The perfume of a little late-flowering plant, a Saw-wort, I think, made me nauseous.


I wish that the vigil of the Long Night could be kept without eating. The idea of living from dried grass is difficult to endure.

Fourth Day

M. / M.046

I will keep, during the whole time of the Long Night, an exact account of the heavens and the earth.


I will begin today.


The Sun passes behind the mountains which form our rampart at noon. If it appears, it will be only for an instant, in the great breach in the cliff wall. Even yesterday, from the entrance of my Burrow, I no longer saw anything but its rim.


The sky is clear, except for some white clouds, hanging on the summits. A north wind is blowing, cold and quick. Perhaps it will freeze tonight?


The grass is dry and yellow, but not flattened. All the stalks of the grasses, all the stems of the Gentians, still stand up proudly.


The first Snow of Autumn has disappeared on the side of the valley that the Sun reaches. On the other, it still whitens the gorges above my Burrow.


Most of the streams have ceased to flow; the waterfalls rush no more over the ledges. A feeble murmur rises up from the torrent in the valley.


A single spring continues to flow in the neighbourhood of my Burrow, the spring called ‘Black Mosses’.


I have seen few animals these last days. An Eagle yesterday, a White Hare some days ago, – he did not yet have grey fur, – and this morning two Mountain Goats, one of whom, the he-goat, has a broken horn. Flights of Choughs sweep around the high crags, crying hunger. Without them the mountain echoes would be idle for whole days.

On the Same Day

M. / M.047

The Sun has just passed behind the breach in the cliff wall. I was at the entrance of my Burrow, I was watching for it. It was barely able to send me one ray, the last before the vigil of the Long Night… By the time it re-appears above the horizon, one Marmot will have penetrated the great mystery.

Fifth Day

M. / M.048

This morning, the ground was covered with white frost. The north wind remains cold.


I am experiencing a peculiar weariness. There passes an appreciable time between the moment when I wish to stir a limb and the moment when I actually stir it. The delay is in my joints. It seems they no longer join. It is only by access of the will that I can take these notes. Sometimes, thought stops, and the claw runs on automatically. I am sorry for those who will read this…

Sixth Day

M. / M.049

Same weather as yesterday, same weaknesses… My intellectual processes are fine, but with intermissions. I am following a line of reasoning and then it stops all of a sudden. It is very difficult to describe. I am thinking and I am no longer thinking. I grasp my idea and it vanishes. I find it again an instant afterward. It seems to me sometimes that my brain is turning into water. I feel it swimming. I have shivers of a strange type, all along my spinal cord. There are moments when the mountain dances around me.

Seventh Day

M. / M.050

Still no appetite. Otherwise I am better, a lot more awake, even though it is colder than the last few days. Perhaps the onset is the most difficult to get past.


Fine weather.

Full Moon


First Day

M. / M.051

Fine weather, very fine weather, not a cloud in the sky! North wind.


I still feel properly awake; but my breathing is slow, also the beating of my heart. I suspect that the slowness of the circulation of the blood is the real cause of the torpor from which I am suffering. But what is the cause of this indolence of the blood?

Second Day

M. / M.052

My heart is beating ever more slowly.


I wished to fight back and to stir up the blood. I rubbed my spine in the places where the gallery is narrow. It did no good.

Third Day

M. / M.053

The sleep of ordinary nights makes itself felt first of all in the head. Our limbs cease to function because our thought ceases to command them.


The sleep of the Long Night announces itself differently. It starts with a torpor in the limbs that are furthest from the brain. Despite the intermissions from which I have suffered, the spirit is cheerful. I can think, I have will. But my rear paws refuse nearly all service.


I am suffering from a peculiar sense of cold. I am cold under the skin; I am cold in my blood.


Despite the fine weather, only a single Marmot has made pretence of venturing abroad.

Fourth Day

M. / M.054

The moment has come. It is noon and there is no other Marmot in sight. The Burrows are walled up or will be soon. This evening, by the light of the Moon, I will make my first reconnaissance.


White frost, north wind, clear sky.

On the Same Day

M. / M.055

From time to time something like a cloud passes before my eyes. I have also a buzzing in my ears. Otherwise I see and hear well.


The rear quarters continue to refuse service. They will be forced to work.

On the Same Day

M. / M.056

The shadows are lengthening. O Gods, come to my aid. No more does this blood of mine wish to circulate. I did not think that it would cost so much to be a Philosopher… But I shall not yield… no, I will not yield.

On the Same Day

M. / M.057

The torpor is beginning to overcome my front paws… I can barely scratch this out… The night is here… Yet one moment… I must hold myself together with great ideas… O Marmots…

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 01.04 (English)

Richard L. Hewitt
Kamuzu Academy, Malawi

2020 - 2022