JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT
Translated from the French by
A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOK
Copyright 1934, 1952 by Louis-Ferdinand Celine
Translation copyright S 1983 by Ralph Manheim
All rights reserved. Except for brief passages quoted in a newspaper, magazine, radio, or
television review, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage
and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher.
Manufactured in the United States of America
New Directions books are printed on acid-free paper.
This translation of Voyage au Bout de la Nuit first published clothbound and as New Directions
Paperbook 542 in 1983
Published simultaneously in Canada by Penguin Books Canada Limited
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Celine, Louis-Ferdinand, 1894-1961.
Journey to the end of the night.
(A New Directions Book)
Translation of: Voyage au bout de la nuit.
I. Manheim, Ralph, 1907-. II. Title.
PQ2607.E834V613 1983 843'.912 82-7970
ISBN 0-8112-0846-x AACR2
ISBN 0-8112-0847-8 (pbk.)
New Directions Books are published for James Laughlin
by New Directions Publishing Corporation,
80 Eighth Avenue, New York 10011
To Elisabeth Craig
Our life is a journey
Through winter and night,
We look for our way
In a sky without light.
(Song of the Swiss Guards 1793)
Travel is useful, it exercises the imagination. All the rest is disappointment and fatigue. Our
journey is entirely imaginary. That is its strength.
It goes from life to death. People, animals, cities, things, all are imagined. It's a novel, just a
fictitious narrative. Littre says so, and he's never wrong.
And besides, in the first place, anyone can do as much. You just have to close your eyes.
It's on the other side of life.
Preface to 1952 Gallimard Edition
Hey, they're putting Journey on the rails again.
What a feeling it gives me.
A lot of things have happened in fourteen years . . .
If I weren't under so much pressure, forced to earn my living, I can tell you right now, I'd
suppress the whole thing, I wouldn't let a single line through.
Everything gets taken the wrong way. I've been the cause of too much evil.
Just think of all the deaths, the hatreds around me ... the treachery . . . the sewer it adds up to ...
the monsters . . .
Oh, you've got to be blind and deaf!
You'll say: but it's not Journey! It's your crimes that are killing you, Journey has nothing to do
with it. You yourself have been your ruin! your Bagatelles! your abominable lingo! your
imaging, clowning villainy! The law's clutching you, strangling you? Hell, what are you
complaining about? You jerk!
Oh, many thanks! Many thanks! I'm raging! Fuming! Panting! With hatred! Hypocrites!
Jugheads! You can't fool me! It's for Journey that they're after me! Under the ax I'll bellow it!
between "them" and me it's to the finish! to the guts! too foul to talk about . . . pissed with
Mystique! What a business!
If I weren't under pressure, forced to earn my living, I'm telling you right now, I'd suppress the
whole lot. A homage I paid to jackals! . . . That's right! ... A free gift ... A tip ... I threw my luck
away ... in '36 ... gave it to the executioners' wives! the prosecutors! the undertakers! One two
three admirable books to cut my throat with! And listen to my groans! I made them a present! I
was charitable, that's all!
The world of intentions amuses me ... used to amuse me . . . not anymore.
If I weren't under such pressure, such duress, I'd suppress the whole lot ... especially Journey ...
Of all my books it's the only really vicious one . . . That's right . . . The heart of my sensibility . .
It'll all start over again. The Sarabbath! You'll hear a whistling from up above, from far away,
from places without names: words, orders . . .
You'll get an eyeful of their machinations! . . . You'll come and tell me about it ...
Oh, don't imagine that I'm playing! I've stopped playing . . . I've even stopped being amiable.
If I weren't under duress, as though standing with my back to something ... I'd suppress the whole
Here's how it started. I'd never said a word. Not one word. It was Arthur Ganate that made me
speak up. Arthur was a friend from med school. So we meet on the Place Clichy. It was after
breakfast. He wants to talk to me. I listen. "Not out here," he says. "Let's go in." We go in. And
there we were. "This terrace," he says, "is for jerks. Come on over there." Then we see that
there's not a soul in the street, because of the heat; no cars, nothing. Same when it's very cold, not
a soul in the street; I remember now, it was him who had said one time: "The people in Paris
always look busy, when all they actually do is roam around from morning to night; it's obvious,
because when the weather isn't right for walking around, when it's too cold or too hot, you don't
see them anymore; they're all indoors, drinking their cafes crmes or their beers. And that's the
truth. The century of speed! they call it. Where? Great changes! they say. For instance? Nothing
has changed. They go on admiring themselves, that's all. And that's not new either. Words. Even
the words haven't changed much. Two or three little ones, here and there . . ." Pleased at having
proclaimed these useful truths, we sat looking at the ladies in the cafe.
After a while the conversation turned to President Poincare, who was due to inaugurate a
puppy show that same morning, and that led to Le Temps where I'd read about it. Arthur
Banate starts kidding me about Le Temps. "What a paper!" he says. "When it comes to defending
the French race, it hasn't its equal." And quick to show I'm well informed, I fire back: "The
French race can do with some defending, seeing it doesn't exist."
"Oh yes, it does!" he says. "And a fine race it is! the finest in the world, and anybody who says
different is a yellow dog!" And he starts slanging me. Naturally I stuck to my guns.
"It's not true! What you call a race is nothing but a collection of riffraff like me, bleary-eyed,
flea-bitten, chilled to the bone.
They came from the four corners of the earth, driven by hunger, plague, tumors, and the cold,
and stopped here. They couldn't go any further because of the ocean. That's France, that's the
"Bardamu," he says very gravely and a bit sadly. "Our forefathers were as good as we are, don't
speak ill of them! . . ."
"You're right, Arthur, there you're right! Hateful and spineless, raped and robbed, mangled and
witless, they were as good as we are, you can say that again! We never change. Neither our socks
nor our masters nor our opinions, or we're so slow about it that it's no use. We were born loyal,
and that's what killed us! Soldiers free of charge, heroes for everyone else, talking monkeys,
tortured words, we are the minions of King Misery. He's our lord and master! When we
misbehave, he tightens his grip ... his fingers are around our neck, that makes it hard to talk, got
to be careful if we want to eat ... For nothing at all he'll choke you . . . It's not a life . . ."
"There's love, Bardamu!"
"Arthur," I tell him, "love is the infinite placed within the reach of poodles. I have my dignity!"
"You do, do you? You're an anarchist, that's what you are!"
A wise guy, as you see, with only the most advanced opinions.
"That's right, you windbag, I'm an anarchist. And to prove it, I've written a kind of prayer of
social vengeance, it'll bowl you over. The Golden Wings! That's the title!" And I recite:
"A God who counts minutes and pennies, a desperate sensual God, who grunts like a pig. A pig
with golden wings, who falls and falls, always belly side up, ready for caresses, that's him, our
master. Come, kiss me."
"Your little piece doesn't hold water," he says. "I'm for the established order, and I'm not
interested in politics. What's more, the day my country asks me to shed my blood, it'll find me
ready, and no slacker." That's what he said.
It so happened that the war was creeping up on us without our knowing it, and something was
wrong with my wits. That short but animated discussion had tired me out. Besides, I was upset
because the waiter had sort of called me a piker on account of the tip. Well, in the end Arthur and
I made up. Completely. We agreed about almost everything.
"It's true," I said, trying to be conciliatory. "All in all, you're right. But the fact is we're all sitting
in a big galley, pulling at the oars with all our might. You can't tell me different! . . . Sitting on
nails and pulling like mad. And what do we get for it? Nothing! Thrashings and misery, hard
words and hard knocks. We're workers, they say. Work, they call it! That's the crummiest part of
the whole business. We're down in the hold, heaving and panting, stinking and sweating our balls
off, and meanwhile! Up on deck in the fresh air, what do you see?! Our masters having a fine
time with beautiful pink and perfumed women on their laps. They send for us, we're brought up
on deck. They put on their top hats and give us a big spiel like as follows: "You no-good swine!
We're at war! Those stinkers in Country No. 2! We're going to board them and cut their livers
out! Let's go! Let's go! We've got everything we need on board! All together now! Let's hear you
shout so the deck trembles: 'Long live Country No. 1!' So you'll be heard for miles around. The
man that shouts the loudest will get a medal and a lollipop! Let's go! And if there's anybody that
doesn't want to be killed on the sea, he can go and get killed on land, it's even quicker!"
"That's the way it is exactly," said Arthur, suddenly willing to listen to reason.
But just then, who should come marching past the cafe where we're sitting but a regiment with
the colonel up front on his horse, looking nice and friendly, a fine figure of a man! Enthusiasm
lifted me to my feet.
"I'll just go see if that's the way it is!" I sing out to Arthur, and off I go to enlist, on the double.
"Ferdinand!" he yells back. "Don't be an ass!" I suppose he was nettled by the effect my heroism
was having on the people all around us.
It kind of hurt my feelings the way he was taking it, but that didn't stop me. I fell right in. "Here I
am," I says to myself, "and here I stay."
I just had time to call out to Arthur: "All right, you jerk, we'll see"before we turned the corner.
And there I was with the regiment, marching behind the colonel and his band. That's exactly how
We marched a long time. There were streets and more streets, and they were all crowded with
civilians and their wives, cheering us on, bombarding us with flowers from cafe terraces, railroad
stations, crowded churches. You never saw so many patriots in all your life! And then there were
fewer patriots ... It started to rain, and then there were still fewer and fewer, and not a single
cheer, not one.
Pretty soon there was nobody but us, we were all alone. Row after row. The music had stopped.
"Come to think of it," I said to myself, when I saw what was what, "this is no fun anymore! I'd
better try something else!" I was about to clear out. Too late! They'd quietly shut the gate behind
us civilians. We were caught like rats.
When you're in, you're in. They put us on horseback, and after we'd been on horseback for two
months, they put us back on our feet. Maybe because of the expense. Anyway, one morning the
colonel was looking for his horse, his orderly had made off with it, nobody knew where to,
probably some quiet spot that bullets couldn't get to as easily as the middle of the road. Because
that was exactly where the colonel and I had finally stationed ourselves, with me holding his
orderly book while he wrote out his orders.
Down the road, way in the distance, as far as we could see, there were two black dots, plunk in
the middle like us, but they were two Germans and they'd been busy shooting for the last fifteen
or twenty minutes.
Maybe our colonel knew why they were shooting, maybe the Germans knew, but I, so help me,
hadn't the vaguest idea. As far back as I could search my memory, I hadn't done a thing to the
Germans, I'd always treated them friendly and polite. I knew the Germans pretty well, I'd even
gone to school in their country when I was little, near Hanover. I'd spoken their language. A
bunch of loudmouthed little halfwits, that's what they were, with pale, furtive eyes like wolves;
we'd go out to the woods together after school to feel the girls up, or we'd fire popguns or pistols
you could buy for four marks. And we drank sugary beer together. But from that to shooting at
us right in the middle of the road, without so much as a word of introduction, was a long way, a
very long way. If you asked me, they were going too far.
This war, in fact, made no sense at all. It couldn't go on.
Had something weird got into these people? Something I didn't feel at all? I suppose I hadn't
noticed it . . .
Anyway, my feelings toward them hadn't changed. In spite of everything. I'd have liked to
understand their brutality, but what I wanted still more, enormously, with all my heart, was to get
out of there, because suddenly the whole business looked to me like a great big mistake.
"In a mess like this," I said to myself, "there's nothing to be done, all you can do is clear out . . ."
Over our heads, two millimeters, maybe one millimeter from our temples, those long tempting
lines of steel, that bullets make when they're out to kill you, were whistling through the hot
I'd never felt so useless as I did amid all those bullets in the sunlight. A vast and universal
I was only twenty at the time. Deserted farms in the distance, empty wide-open churches, as if
the peasants had gone out for the day to attend a fair at the other end of the county, leaving
everything they owned with us for safekeeping, their countryside, their carts with the shafts
pointing in the air, their fields, their barnyards, the road, the trees, even the cows, a chained dog,
the works. Leaving us free to do as we pleased while they were gone. Nice of them, in a way.
"Still," I said to myself, "if they hadn't gone somewhere else, if there were still somebody here,
I'm sure we wouldn't be behaving so badly! So disgustingly! We wouldn't dare in front of them!"
But there wasn't a soul to watch us! Nobody but us, like newlyweds that start messing around
when all the people have gone home.
And another thought I had (behind a tree) was that I wished Derouldethe one I'd heard so
much abouthad been there to describe his reactions when a ball tore open his guts.
Those Germans squatting on the road, shooting so obstinately, were rotten shots, but they
seemed to have ammunition to burn, whole warehouses full, it looked to me. Nobody could say
this war was over! I have to hand it to the colonel, his bravery was remarkable. He roamed
around in the middle of the road, up and down and back and forth in the midst of the bullets as
calmly as if he'd been waiting for a friend on a station platform, except just a tiny bit impatient.
One thing I'd better tell you right away, I'd never been able to stomach the country, I'd always
found it dreary, those endless fields of mud, those houses where nobody's ever home, those roads
that don't go anywhere. And if to all that you add a war, it's completely unbearable. A sudden
wind had come up on both sides of the road, the clattering leaves of the poplars mingled with the
sharp crackling sounds aimed at us from down the road. Those unknown soldiers missed us
every time, but they spun a thousand deaths around us, so close they seemed to clothe us. I was
afraid to move.
That colonel, I could see, was a monster. Now I knew it for sure, he was worse than a dog, he
couldn't conceive of his own death. At the same time I realized that there must be plenty of brave
men like him in our army, and just as many no doubt in the army facing us. How many, I
wondered. One or two million, say several millions in all? The thought turned my fear to panic.
With such people this infernal lunacy could go on for ever. . . . Why would they stop? Never had
the world seemed so implacably doomed.
Could I, I thought, be the last coward on earth? How terrifying! . . . All alone with two million
stark raving heroic madmen, armed to the eyeballs? With and without helmets, without horses,
on motorcycles, bellowing, in cars, screeching, shooting, plotting, flying, kneeling, digging,
taking cover, bounding over trails, root-toot-tooting, shut up on earth as if it were a loony bin,
ready to demolish everything on it, Germany, France, whole continents, everything that breathes,
destroy destroy, madder than mad dogs, worshiping their madness (which dogs don't), a hundred,
a thousand times madder than a thousand dogs, and a lot more vicious! A pretty mess we were
in! No doubt about it, this crusade I'd let myself in for was the apocalypse!
You can be a virgin in horror the same as in sex. How, when I left the Place Clichy, could I have
imagined such horror? Who could have suspected, before getting really into the war, all the
ingredients that go to make up the rotten, heroic, good-for-nothing soul of man? And there I was,
caught up in a mass flight into collective murder, into the fiery furnace . . . Something had come
up from the depths, and this is what happened.
The colonel was still as cool as a cucumber, I watched him as he stood on the embankment,
taking little messages sent by the general, reading them without haste as the bullets flew all
around him, and tearing them into little pieces. Did none of those messages include an order to
put an immediate stop to this abomination? Did no top brass tell him there had been a
misunderstanding? A horrible mistake? A misdeal? That some-body'd got it all wrong, that the
plan had been for maneuvers, a sham battle, not a massacre! Not at all! "Keep it up, colonel!
You're doing fine!" That's what General des Entrayes, the head of our division and
commander over us all, must have written in those notes that were being brought every five
minutes by a courier, who looked greener and more shitless each time. I could have palled up
with that boy, we'd have been scared together. But we had no time to fraternize.
So there was no mistake? So there was no law against people shooting at people they couldn't
even see! It was one of the things you could do without anybody reading you the riot act. In fact,
it was recognized and probably encouraged by upstanding citizens, like the draft, or marriage, or
hunting! ... No two ways about it. I was suddenly on the most intimate terms with war. I'd lost
my virginity. You've got to be pretty much alone with her as I was then to get a good look at her,
the slut, full face and profile. A war had been switched on between us and the other side, and
now it was burning! Like the current between the two carbons of an arc lamp! And this lamp was
in no hurry to go out! It would get us all, the colonel and everyone else, he looked pretty spiffy
now. but he wouldn't roast up any bigger than me when the current from the other side got him
between the shoulders.
There are different ways of being condemned to death. Oh! What wouldn't I have given to be in
jail instead of here! What a fool I'd been! If only I had had a little foresight and stolen something
or other when it would have been so easy and there was still time. I never think of anything. You
come out of jail alive, out of a war you don't! The rest is blarney.
If only I'd had time, but I didn't. There was nothing left to steal. How pleasant it would be in a
cozy little jailhouse, I said to myself, where the bullets couldn't get in. Where they never got in! I
knew of one that was ready and waiting, all sunny and warm! I saw it in my dreams, the
jailhouse of Saint-Germain to be exact, right near the forest. I knew it well, I'd often passed that
way. How a man changes! I was a child in those days, and that jail frightened me. Because I
didn't know what men are like. Never again will I believe what they say or what they think. Men
are the thing to be afraid of, always, men and nothing else.
How much longer would this madness have to go on before these monsters dropped with
exhaustion? How long could a convulsion like this last? Months? Years? How many? Maybe till
everyone's dead? All these lunatics? Every last one of them? And seeing events were taking such
a desperate turn, I decided to stake everything on one throw, to make one last try, to see if I
couldn't stop the war, just me, all by myself! At least in this one spot where I happened to be.
The colonel was only two steps away from me, pacing. I'd talk to him. Something I'd never done.
This was a time for daring. The way things stood, there was practically nothing to lose. "What is
it?" he'd ask me, startled, I imagined, at my bold interruption. Then I'd explain the situation as I
saw it, and we'd see what he thought. The essential is to talk things over. Two heads are better
I was about to take that decisive step when, at that very moment, who should arrive on the
double but a dismounted cavalryman (as we said in those days), exhausted, shaky in the joints,
holding his helmet upside-down in one hand like Belisarius, trembling, all covered with mud,
his face even greener than the courier I mentioned before. He stammered and gulped. You'd have
thought he was struggling to climb out of a tomb, and it made him sick to his stomach. Could it
be that this spook didn't like bullets any more than I did? That he saw them coming like me?
"What is it?" Disturbed, the colonel stopped him short; the glance he flung at that ghost was of
It made our colonel very angry to see that wretched cavalryman so incorrectly clad and shitting
in his pants with fright. The colonel had no use for fear, that was a sure thing. And especially that
helmet held in hand like a bowler was really too much in a combat regiment like ours that was
just getting into the war. It was as if this dismounted cavalryman had seen the war and taken his
hat off in greeting.
Under the colonel's withering look the wobbly messenger snapped to attention, pressing his little
finger to the seam of his trousers as the occasion demanded. And so he stood on the
embankment, stiff as a board, swaying, the sweat running down his chin strap; his jaws were
trembling so hard that little abortive cries kept coming out of him, like a puppy dreaming. You
couldn't make out whether he wanted to speak to us or whether he was crying.
Our Germans squatting at the end of the road had just changed instruments. Now they were
having their fun with a machine gun, sputtering like handfuls of matches, and all around us flew
swarms of angry bullets, as hostile as wasps.
The man finally managed to articulate a few words:
"Colonel, sir, Sergeant Barousse has been killed."
"He was on his way to meet the bread wagon on the Etrapes road, sir."
"He was blown up by a shell!"
"So what, dammit!"
"That's what, colonel, sir."
"Is that all?"
"Yes, sir, that's all, colonel, sir."
"What about the bread?" the colonel asked.
That was the end of the dialogue, because, I remember distinctly, he barely had time to say
"What about the bread?" That was all. After that there was nothing but flame and noise. The kind
of noise you wouldn't have thought possible. Our eyes, ears, nose, and mouth were so full of that
noise I thought it was all over and I'd turned into noise and flame myself.
After a while the flame went away, the noise stayed in my head, and my arms and legs trembled
as if somebody were shaking me from behind. My limbs seemed to be leaving me, but then in the
end they stayed on. The smoke stung my eyes for a long time, and the prickly smell of powder
and sulfur hung on, strong enough to kill all the fleas and bedbugs in the whole world.
I thought of Sergeant Barousse, who had just gone up in smoke like the man told us. That was
good news. Great, I thought to myself. That makes one less stinker in the regiment! He wanted to
have me court-martialed for a can of meat. "It's an ill wind," I said to myself. In that respect, you
can't deny it, the war seemed to serve a purpose now and then! I knew of three or four more in
the regiment, real scum, that I'd have gladly helped to make the acquaintance of a shell, like
As for the colonel, I didn't wish him any hard luck. But he was dead too. At first I didn't see him.
The blast had carried him up the embankment and laid him down on his side, right in the arms of
the dismounted cavalryman, the courier, who was finished too. They were embracing each other
for the moment and for all eternity, but the cavalryman's head was gone, all he had was an
opening at the top of the neck, with blood in it bubbling and glugging like jam in a kettle. The
colonel's belly was wide open, and he was making a nasty face about it. It must have hurt when it
happened. Tough shit for him! If he'd beat it when the shooting started, it wouldn't have
All that tangled meat was bleeding profusely.
Shells were still bursting to the right and left of the scene.
I'd had enough, I was glad to have such a good pretext for making myself scarce. I even hummed
a tune, and reeled like when you've been rowing a long way and your legs are wobbly. "Just one