The Marmot with the Collar
Diary of a Philosopher

Part II - Clover Moon
Second Summer

M.02.04.01.02 / M.102 - M.02.04.04.07 / M.119

LANGUAGE

English

New Moon

new_moon

Second Day

M.02.04.01.02 / M.102

It rained today; the Dogs have not given voice. Perhaps they are tired; that is something.

 

I took advantage of a moment of clear weather to take a walk to the Hare’s form. He fled at my approach, not so quickly, however, that I could not greet him graciously from afar. I will return tomorrow.

Third Day

M.02.04.01.03 / M.103

A new visit to the White Hare. I had a great fright on my return. The Dogs were on campaign, and I thought they had occupied this side of the water. This is what one has to live with!

Fourth Day

M.02.04.01.04 / M.104

My neighbours are now a family. Six little ones – no less! – have ventured out with them. The parents are delighted.

Fifth Day

M.02.04.01.05 / M.105

Three hundred Marmots, perhaps more, have elected to dwell in this high valley, and it takes only two Dogs to set them all atremble… Marmots, you are no more than a crowd. When will you be a people?

First Quarter

first_quarter

Third Day

M.02.04.02.03 / M.106

The White Hare, who is russet for the moment, is beginning to display visible signs of curiosity. I was counting on it; it is by their curiosity that one captures these daydreamers.

Fourth Day

M.02.04.02.04 / M.107

Yet another mystery of which I had not thought, so much does custom render natural for us the strangest things! Why is he called the White Hare? When we enter into the sleep of the Long Night, – it is by way of abbreviation that I still call it the Long Night, – he is russet, as at present. When we awake, he is bizarrely mottled with white and grey; sometimes even, if our awakening is not too late, he is white, except for two black spots on the tips of his ears, which one sees running over the snow. Still earlier, he would be, without doubt, completely white. If during the Long Night he moults from russet to white in the same manner and with the same speed as, when awake, we see him moulting from white to russet, it must be that we are asleep for nearly two moons. That is the critical figure. Everything points to it.

Fifth Day

M.02.04.02.05 / M.108

You have to see the grand airs of a matron that my neighbour assumes – as she surveys her world, as she misuses her poor husband, as she teaches him the difficult task of being a father, as she grows anxious, makes a fuss, bustles around. She has raised an alarm call thrice in one half hour for nothing… And when one thinks that in all the education she gives her six children, there is not one thought, not one word for wisdom! To browse, to scrape the earth, and to multiply – is that, then, the whole of life?

Seventh Day

M.02.04.02.07 / M.109

Today, on my ninth visit, I was able to exchange a pair of words with the White Hare and to assure him of my friendship. He was close to me, twenty Marmot lengths, at most. I saw his ears quivering; but curiosity held him back. At this word of friendship, he rubbed his nose with his two front paws, and told me in a voice that was full of unease, with a marked stutter, that he did not believe in f… f… f… friendship. I replied that I too hardly believed in it any longer, at least among Marmots, and that was the reason why I was seeking friends elsewhere. “We are brothers,” I added, “recluses both of us; let us join our two solitudes and let us be happy together.” He appeared most surprised by this discourse; he twitched his ears, which indicated clearly that he did not place any great faith in this.

 

“What do you have there, on your neck?” he asked me, continuing to stutter.

 

I was expecting the question. I adopted the humblest attitude; I put together my paws and said:

 

“I wear on my neck the token of one hundred and eighty days and one hundred and eighty nights of captivity. Noble Hare, the miserable wretch that you see before you is a living miracle. The odour of Man follows him…”

 

At these words, the White Hare left like a bolt.

 

“Stop,” I called after him in a desperate voice. “Have pity on my misfortune.”

 

He stopped, measured the distance that separated us and seemed half reassured.

 

“The odour of Man follows me everywhere,” I continued, emphasizing each word, as if to accustom him to the horror of what I said, “it is like the curse of the universe.  Everything that this execrable race touches is cursed forthwith. Even so, I assure you that this collar is the least offensive of collars. It has never done ill to anyone, except to myself alone. In your mercy, hear my request, Sir Hare; grant me that I should recount to you, from where I stand, my story. It is tragic, and I am certain that it will interest you; I am certain also that it will inspire you with compassion, because your soul is good, that can be read in your eyes. Then will you judge if you wish to reject or accept the offers of service that I lay before your feet.”

 

During this discourse the twitching ears of the Hare never ceased to move this way and that in great agitation. He had a certain flustered air, more even than startled. Seeing that he was not about to reply, I broke boldly into my story, in the hope of stirring him. What story could stir him if not mine? He seemed moved, indeed. I shed tears, and I thought that I saw him drying the corner of his eye with a furtive gesture. When I spoke of my resolution to devote myself to wisdom, I saw him keenly lower and raise his ears, in token of agreement; but when I came to explain the subject that torments me, when I spoke of the Long Night, of our sleep, of the mystery of our existence, he assumed a sort of foolish smile, as Hares do. It was less his ears than his whiskers that twitched in a convulsive movement, of which he seemed not to be the master. I could have struck him, but I restrained myself. He knows a lot, perhaps. My speech completed, I remained in the attitude of a suppliant, paws held together. Then he looked at me fixedly and addressed me in a confident voice, which proved that fear alone had made him stutter.

 

“Marmot,” he said, “I sympathise with your troubles. I believe that you are sincere. Return tomorrow. If tomorrow you find me at my form, we will try to be friends. If not, look for me no longer.”

 

I bowed deeply and retraced the route to my burrow… Until tomorrow!

Full Moon

full_moon

First Day

M.02.04.03.01 / M.110

Be praised, o Gods, for the good fortune that you have just accorded me! All my sorrows are forgotten. I have a friend. Other Marmots have their ladies and their little ones; I have a friend.

 

With what sinking of heart and nervous expectation did I retrace the path to his form! He was there! To tell the truth, I thought I saw him beginning to tremble still at the moment when I approached; but he pulled himself together little by little, and he concluded by touching my collar with his paw. The spell, this time, must be broken. He asked me lots of questions besides about my story. I answered them all simply and without embarrassment. I gained his confidence.

 

“I will come to see you,” he said on my departure, “we will speak of wisdom.”

Third Day

M.02.04.03.03 / M.111

He came and did not speak. I wished to do him the honours of my burrow; but he left precipitately, from the first chamber, as soon as he could turn around. Barely outside, he saw my neighbours. The matron was sitting on her rear legs and holding her paws to heaven, to mark her astonishment. A White Hare in a Marmot burrow! The husband and the six little ones were drawn up around her and were imitating her gestures.

 

“There is no safety here,” exclaimed the Hare. “If you wish to converse, climb back up to my form. I’m not budging from it.”

 

Saying this, he left as fast as he could, to the great joy of my neighbours. I considered that I owed it to my dignity not to follow. I will return tomorrow.

Fourth Day

M.02.04.03.04 / M.112

I returned; but we still said nothing about the great problem. It took me a long time and all my power of persuasion to regain his confidence. He has a horror of burrows. To live in this darkness, not to breathe the free air, to be always crawling, to be always sullying  oneself on the walls of galleries that are far too low: all that seemed to him sad – a low condition and a natural ill.

 

“One can have only base thoughts in a burrow”, he told me gravely.

 

I replied that it was our custom to keep warm in times of cold. He made a gesture of disdain and shewed me his fur. I added that our burrows were places of refuge and that they served to protect us from the pursuits of our enemies.

 

“When one has enemies,” he exclaimed, “one must have eyes to see them, ears to hear them and legs to flee them.”

 

I could have told him that our industry was worth perhaps his lightness of foot; but I preferred to admit that he was right and to beg him to take pity on those whom Nature has not favoured so much as him. I believe that I succeeded, by dint of modesty and condescension, in effacing the memory of yesterday. I dare not be too sure of this, even so. His farewell was not as cordial as the other day. Is it, then, so difficult to have and to hold a friend?

Fifth Day

M.02.04.03.05 / M.113

The Dogs again! Life is a school of patience.

Sixth Day

M.02.04.03.06 / M.114

Has light dawned before my eyes? Am I plunged into the darkest of shadows?

 

Whether this Hare be fool or sage, whether he lie or tell the truth, his words have cast me into a violent agitation. I know not if I dream, I know not if I think. I try anew to assure myself that I am alive.  All my ideas roll and tumble in my head. I cannot hold a single one down. I have vertigo.

Seventh Day

M.02.04.03.07 / M.115

I must note down the most memorable points of this conversation, so far at least as my recollections will allow.

 

I feared a cold welcome; I asked myself even if he would not have left his form, to cut short importunate visits. Accordingly, I was greatly astonished to see him coming to greet me with the friendliest air.

 

“I beseech your forgiveness,” he said, “for the remarks that I made yesterday to you. They were unkind. I have reflected since then, and I have come to understand why you love burrows. It is an ill taste; you must get over it.”

 

“Sir Hare,” I replied, “I think it hardly more ill than you.”

 

“For the present, you are right; the illness from which the race of Marmots suffers is an intermittent illness. Can one not call a race ill that each year is dead for six moons out of twelve, sometimes seven?”

 

He saw that I did not understand.

 

“Yes,” he continued, “it is a matter of discussion among the White Hares to know whether Marmots sleep in winter or are, in fact, dead. My opinion is that there are many degrees between sleep and death, and that the sleep of Marmots in winter is so similar to death that it is impossible to distinguish between the two – with this difference, however, that Marmots return, as if by a miracle, whereas one does not return from death.”

 

When he had spoken these words, the White Hare fell quiet, and for my part, I stood mute before him. The strangest ideas began to cross before my eyes. He was the first to break the silence.

 

“I spoke inaccurately when I said that one does not return from death; I should have said that, up to now, no-one has been observed to have returned. Death is perhaps only a very long sleep, which has yet to be measured. Since one returns from a sleep of six months, why should one not return from a sleep of several years, even several hundreds of years.”

 

This singular discourse unbound my tongue.

 

“Sir Hare,” I exclaimed, “please do not be offended by my frankness, but I see well that you are a dreamer rather than a Philosopher. Solitude and leisure disturb your imagination. Whoever could dream that it is possible to return from the sleep of death could dream also that we sleep for six moons.”

 

“If you do not believe me,” he continued, “address yourself to others. There is no shortage of folk in this country to tell you if I lie or if I speak according to the truth.”

 

Then I repeated for him the words that Master Badger had told me on another occasion. They lifted him into a fit of gaiety that was very amusing. He claims that the Badger sleeps just like us, for three moons at least.

 

“The world is thus,” he said; “yes, the world is indeed thus! He who sleeps for one moon makes fun of him who sleeps for two, he who sleeps for three makes fun of him who sleeps for six, and so forth. And neither the one nor the other suspects that he sleeps himself.”

 

“And are you sure,” I asked him, “are you so sure that you do not sleep?”

 

“I do not flatter myself on that account,” he replied. “I know only that there are six moons for which I do not sleep, whereas you, you sleep. If in some other season, I sleep while you are awake, you must be aware of it and I shall be grateful if you let me know.”

 

This discourse inspired me with confidence. I told him all my thoughts on the Long Night, and by what line of arguments I had persuaded myself that the Long Night is only an illusion of our sleep. He seemed greatly interested.

 

“You are right,” he said, when I had finished. “There is no Long Night. All nights are equal, or rather all nights are not equal, but only by a very little. They increase or they decrease imperceptibly. We call the succession of days and nights for which you sleep ‘winter’. It does not last two moons, as you supposed, but six moons and sometimes more.”

 

I let out anew an expression of surprise.

 

“Allow me,” he continued, “to remind you of the composure that becomes Philosophy. He is not worthy to seek the truth who is not prepared to listen to the whole. Each year, at the time when the sun disappears behind the mountains, Marmots retreat into their burrows and sleep a sleep that is not their ordinary sleep.”

 

“I know,” I said; “it is a deeper sleep, a sort of benumbing.”

 

“It is more than a sleep, it is a death. During this time it is possible to touch you, to shake you, to seize you, to carry you away, even to kill you – and you would not give any sign of life.”

 

“Sir Hare,” I exclaimed, “once more, do not abuse the advantage that our infirmity gives you.”

 

“Sir Philosopher,” he replied with a composure that was always imperturbable, “there will be no shortage of witnesses, if you suspect mine. This sleep which is a death lasts six moons, just as I have told you. With greater rigour in your arguments, you would have been able to convince yourself. There could be no equality between one of your own ladies and a Mountain Goat’s. She carries for five moons. You have counted only two moons for the transformation of our fur; but we are white for as long as we are russet, that is to say, four moons. During these four moons we are confounded with the snow, even in the eyes of the Eagle, except for these two black spots on the tips of our ears, which one still sees running. You were indeed right to think that they disappeared. They should disappear. It is evidently the design of Nature that we should be white like the snow. But it seems that she has too much to do to succeed in everything that she undertakes. She makes a start and not an end. Look closely, and in most of her works you will discover the black spot at the tips of the ears.”

 

Such were the first lessons of the White Hare.

Last Quarter

last_quarter

First Day

M.02.04.04.01 / M.116

Yesterday I gave an account of the first lessons of the White Hare. They made on me such an impression that I did not know at first how to reply. He was there, before me, looking at me squarely and smiling always his tranquil smile. I began to find this smile unbearable. I excused myself to take the air. I was beginning to suffocate. I took a long stroll, I know not in which direction. I think that I heard the baying of Dogs. What did Dogs matter to me? At last, I felt myself drawn back by an insuperable force to the Hare’s form. I had collected my ideas, and I thought that I had found the means to confound all his arguments. He is a dreamer or errant, but in good faith. He is not a liar.

Second Day

M.02.04.04.02 / M.117

The Hare claims that we are not the only ones to sleep during what he calls winter. He says that Vipers sleep, Dormice sleep, Bears sleep, and probably many others besides, without counting Badgers. However, it is us, he says, who of all the inhabitants of the mountain, us who sleep the longest and the most deeply.

 

He claims to have seen more than once now – seen with his own eyes – Men coming in winter, armed with singular instruments, with which they turn up the earth. He says that he has seen – seen with his own eyes – Men opening Marmot burrows and seizing, in their sleep, a whole family or a whole tribe, father, mother, children. They carry them away as if they were carrying stones. Accordingly, my adventure would have been nothing out of the ordinary, except, however, for one point. There is no other example, according to him, of a Marmot carried away in this manner who had been brought back.

Third Day

M.02.04.04.03 / M.118

It is on this matter of winter that the White Hare is curious to hear. He speaks of it at length and reproaches himself for speaking of it, judging us incapable of sharing his enthusiasm.

 

Winter, he says, is a season that resembles none other, the coldest, but the most beautiful. – I do not understand, actually, how what is cold can be beautiful. – It never rains in winter, it snows. It snows so much that one can hardly see the cliffs along the whole valley. The most rugged summits grow white. All is white, all is snow. When it is not snowing, the sky is a darker and deeper blue than in summer; it is also a lot more peopled with stars. Sometimes one sees them in full day, so brilliant they are.

 

He says further that the difficulty is to feed oneself in winter, because of the snow which covers the grass; but one always finds a means to live. – I can well believe it. White Hares are not particular, they hardly live from flowers. – The wind sweeps the snows from some crag, which it uncovers. Immediately, all the animals of the neighbourhood gather there to browse. The grass is withered and tough, but one lives frugally in winter, and there is no thirst. Another resource, the most precious, lies in these piles of cut grass that Man heaps up carefully around a long pole. One can make for oneself a nice soft nest there, snuggle up and bury oneself, make for oneself galleries warmer than ours, but basically they are still forms and coverts. These are the only burrows that White Hares know. When the weather is bad, they pass the day there, dreaming and dining well. – He calls that dining well. – When the weather is fine, they run afar over the snow, whose every flake sparkles, and they return only in the evening. Supper is always ready.

 

It is the enchantment of winter that one might go anywhere without having always to throw off the hunter and his Dogs. Once the snow has settled in, Man appears no more on the mountain, and safety would be complete except for the Eagles and Vultures. As soon as one discerns a moving point in the sky, one scrapes the snow and enters a gallery.

 

Looking on this as best I could, I pressed him on this grass that was withered and tough, and on this beautiful season that is the coldest of all; it is the only occasion, during this long day when he spoke of so much, that he lost his habitual composure.

 

“I pity you,” he replied, “yes, I pity you for not knowing winter. You seek wisdom and you are right; but when you call yourself a Philosopher and, nevertheless, you sleep, you demonstrate all too clearly that Philosophy is not your vocation. Philosophy consists not in sleeping, but in remaining awake. The beautiful days of winter are those when most Philosophy is done. You are asleep at the time, you, the false thinkers; we, the true, are awake. We are alone on the solitary alp, alone under the vast heaven. We are the only ones to stir in the stillness of Nature, the only ones to breathe in the universal silence. There is no silence in summer, when Nature labours and Man exploits her, communicating the disturbance that surrounds him to the most distant solitudes. Men need to hear each other, and it is why they live massed together in towns and villages. In summer, everything is a town, everything is noise, even the mountain. In winter, when the air is calm, we have only to hold our breath for the silence to be complete. Nature sleeps, the spirit alone is awake. It is then that come great thoughts. Let us not speak of spring, season of weaknesses! The Hare is sufficient unto himself in winter. A philosophical recluse, he is, in winter, king of the mountain. Disturb him not, people of burrows; weigh him not down with ill judged questions. You ask him what winter is. Must he tell you? Do you share a language in common? Can you see by thought what he has seen with his eyes? Live with him, breathe with him this silent air, and you will know what winter is. If not, sound not a word. It is better that whoever sleeps should remain silent.”

 

Thus spoke the White Hare and his discourses began to win me over. Wakefulness is the means and condition of all knowledge.

Seventh Day

M.02.04.04.07 / M.119

The days are passing. In my head I turn over and over again the discourses of the White Hare. Where is truth? where is error?

 

I consider it now as proved that the Long Night is not one continuous night, but a succession of ordinary days and nights, increasing and decreasing by slow degrees. Until verification by experience, I consider this first point beyond question.

 

On the duration of our sleep, I cannot forbear to acknowledge that there is a great deal of likelihood in the arguments of the White Hare. What he said about the moults of his fur impressed me. I have no reason to suspect his witness. Moreover, I do not see why we could not sleep for three moons, four moons, five moons, even six moons, just as well as for two. It is strange, I confess it, and the imagination pictures it uneasily; but it is not impossible.

 

By contrast, I refuse absolutely to accept this sleep which is indistinguishable from death except by awakening. Is there, can there be a like sleep? Even if Sir Hare tries to say so, I will not take it on trust. We sleep, so be it; but our blood still flows, more slowly, it is true. We live, we breathe, there take place in our bodies transformations which are not corruption. So how can he allege that we are insensible and manipulable, as if we were dead flesh? What lives, lives, and is not insensible. Let others believe this sleep which is a death, and this death from which one revives!

 

Even so, it is certain that I fell asleep in my burrow and awoke far from my burrow. It is certain that Men violated my burrow during my sleep. I was there and I was not aware of anything. How to reconcile all this?

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 02.04 (English)

Richard L. Hewitt
Kamuzu Academy, Malawi

2020