by Remy de Gourmont

In his humble cell, criss-crossed with light coming not from the nascent dawn or from the dying flame, the illustrious Heretic was writing. At the head of his little Warning, he had put this irrefutable aphorism, the foundation of every serious morality: THERE IS A HELL.

Now he distilled the filthy sulfurs in the reddening vessel, stirred the pitch in the devil’s cauldron, cooked the tar sauce, measured the doses of boiling oil, dipped the Beloved’s blond hair and Lovers’ beards in resin, for their anniversaries of enchantment. He expanded the huge pools of alcohol where the maniacs were floating like lemon rings in punch, bobbed up by green flames. With smelted lead he watered the heads that rebelled against the eternal Word and the devoured flesh magically grew back to sizzle again under the immortal rain of fire. Here a horrible axe hacked off lying hands, there a scraper (from a superhuman machine) scraped the flesh of mad virgins off their whimpering bones—and hearts were streaming into the infernal mill like grains of wheat.

The illustrious Heretic did not forget about the souls. He took great pains to repair the pitchforks of fear, the arrows of remorse, the collars of anguish, the hammers of dread, the chains of shame and the pliers of desolation.

Then he moved on to the trials.

He summoned the dreary damned; the pitiful corpses rose up, with their eyes full of frightening infinitude, and said: I am in hell! Ratbod, the Frisian king, came out of the depths of the abyss and shook his red-hot handcuffs in front of his officers. Likewise, Orloff left gehenna for a moment and thanks to his unusual appearance in slippers and bathrobe manifested the truth of hell denied by the incredulous public. And others, how many others, spat out momentarily by the pit, left their marks on the living, on the buildings, on the walls, burnt traces with their fingers on fire or, in truly demoniacal revelry, (like that famous damned whom Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, talked about) they had fun coming back to sprinkle the innocent creatures with a liquid more corrosive than aqua fortis, yelling out (not without irony), Here’s the cold water we drink in hell.


Clouds covered the sky and the humble cell was criss-crossed with light coming not from the veiled sun or the dead flame.

The illustrious Heretic was bent over the table but he suddenly lifted up his mediating head. He started cackling sorrowfully and muttered these words, Me too, I’m going to hell.

And the hearts streamed into the infernal mill like grains of wheat.

(translated by Michael Shreve)

Remy de Gourmont (1858-1915) was a French symbolist novelist, poet, and critic. Along with Alfred Jarry, Albert Samain, and others, he helped to establish the journal Mercure de France. His novels, stories, and plays include such works as Les Chevaux de Diomède (1897) and Un Cœur virginal (1907).

Michael Shreve has taught Greek, Latin, Classical Civilization, French, Spanish and English in universities and other schools in the U.S., Canada, Lebanon, Mexico and Malaysia. Currently he is a language teacher and translator in Paris, France. In Fall of 2009 he published first English translations of Jean Meslier, Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier (Prometheus Books) and Voltaire, God and Human Beings (Prometheus Books). He has translated works by John Antoine Nau, André Laurie and Jacques Barbéri among others. His translation of Marcel Schwob's "Morphiel the Demiurge" appeared in Issue #30 of The Cafe Irreal.