Ève by Charles Péguy, in English

illustration-eve

 

(Update January 2018: I stopped working on this in mid-2017, and set it aside to see if I my interest would rekindle. It has not, so I have updated this post to reflect the most recent translation of the first 6-7% of the poem. I actually translated about 10%, but the last 3% percent was pretty bad. The more time I spent on this, I realized its not feasible to do a good translation and preserve the French Alexandrine Péguy’used. It just doesn’t sound very good, though this probably reflects a lot of my limitations as a non-French speaker and amateur poet. And as even Von Balthasar said in one book, the poem  is simply too long, though it may sound wonderful in French …. If a complete translation is ever to be attempted, it may be better to go with a free verse version, or to try Lady Lamb’s approach where the structure and rhyme scheme is preserved, but significant changes are made to the syntax, word choice, etc.)

Ève was Charles Péguy’s longest and last major poem, originally published in his literary journal in 1914. It was written in what are known as quatrains, four line stanzas using alternating rhymes. It also uses a form of French Alexandrine, a syllabic poetic meter.  Given that this was a tightly structured and very long poem (over 9000 lines), its not surprising that it has not been fully translated into English. Three small sections are available in The Holy Innocents and Other Poems, a collection of Péguy’s poems translated by Lady Pansy Lamb (what a name!), writing under her maiden name of Pansy Pakenham.  Of course, that book is out of print, and may be hard to find.

The poem, described as a Christian Epic by some, is essentially a long speech directed by Christ to Eve. Here Christ apparently stands outside time, surveying the history of Man. The three epochs or conditions covered are the time of Paradise, the time after the Fall, and the time after the Redemption.

At this blog I have often complained about the fact that a lot of great Catholic literature and poetry is either out of print or has never been translated into English. So instead of always complaining about this, I will attempt to do my part to resolve it. This will take a long time, perhaps a year or so, so blogging may be intermittent in the meantime.

This will be done in free verse. I do not know French, and am not a poet, so it’s quite beyond my ability to reproduce the meter or consistently rhyme. (* Changed my mind. I am getting the hang of this, and think I can rhyme most of it.  I will also use syllabic meter, and try to have the same number of syllables per line within each quatrain. The meter will vary by quatrain though. And this will take longer). I will start with Google Translate, which appears to be the best, free online translation software, as well as French to English online dictionaries.

I will try to rhyme where the opportunity presents itself, but I won’t force the poem to do so.  Lady Lamb’s three excerpts do use alternating rhyme, and sound wonderful, but her achievement is beyond my ability.  She also made substantial changes to word order and content of the individual lines to do this. Something substantive may be lost in this, but I am not qualified to criticize her choices. *As I said above, I have changed my approach. I am going to keep Peguy’s French Alexandrine meter for each line: twelve syllables divided into two half-lines of six syllables each, separated by a caesura. And also his paired rhymes, which use an ABBA or ABAB rhyme scheme. English syllablic verse does not sound as good to the ear as accentual or accentual-syllabic verse, but it is truly beyond my ability to create an accentual verse translation for a poem this long. (January 2018 Update. After reading Mary Oliver’s book on poetry, I appreciate why Peguy used the long 12 syllable line. Oliver argued that lines with more than 10 syllables were best used when the speaker was divine, such as God. It gives each line some extra heft.)

It’s fair to argue that you cannot translate this kind of poem without doing too much violence to it. Like all his poems, they are better appreciated in French.  My focus is on capturing the tone, imagery and religious symbolism.

Another problem is that this is a very dense poem, and Péguy uses idiom, puns and allusions to stay within the bounds of the quatrain. He was also his own typesetter, and others have written that his spelling and grammar are “incorrect” at times, either accidentally or deliberately in order to preserve the rhyme and meter. As good as Google is, I cannot simply accept the results it gives. Below is a link to a Google translated version of the poem, which is available in French at wikisource.

https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/%25C3%2588ve&prev=search

In the original French its this.

Google’s translation, while technically getting most of the words “correct”, often sounds really bad, and misses the idioms, allusions, and puns. It does not attempt to recapture the rhyme or meter.  So I do have to change quite a bit of the word order, substitute synonyms, etc. to improve the flow and capture what I think the true intent was.

For example, Google translates one of the early paragraphs as:

And to measure well their original strength

And to put their steps on these soft carpets,

And these two beautiful runners on oneself carpet

In order to salute their solemn slowness.

What? I think Peguy is attempting to describe a doe and buck at rest after they have been running around Paradise.

I changed this to:

And the preservation of their immortal worth

And the resting of their hooves on the carpet blest,

And the laying of the two beauties on the earth,

Which serenely welcomed their most languorous rest.

That’s not going to win any awards, but I like to think it makes more sense and sounds better than Google.

Also, there are many subtle allusions.  A later paragraph Google translates as:

And all these spinners and spinners

Mingling and unraveling the skein of their course,

And in the golden sand of the nebulous waves

Seven articulated nails cut the Great Bear.

The “Great Bear” is the constellation Ursa Major, which is part of the Big Dipper. What is he describing?

In French, this reads:

Et tous ces filateurs et toutes ces fileuses

Mêlant et démêlant l’écheveau de leur course,

Et dans le sable d’or des vagues nébuleuses

Sept clous articulés découpaient la Grande Ourse.

“Sept clous articules” translates variously as “seven stud nails” and elsewhere I get “seven hinged nails.” I have also seen “articules” used in French sentences to describe “swiveling” or “swivel.”

Péguy is describing the night sky as seen by Eve in the last two lines. I think the picture he is asking us to see is this:

810px-Dipper_constellations_(PSF)

Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Great and Little Bear

Ursa Minor or the “Little Bear” includes the star Polaris, also known as the Pole Star or North Star. It is close to the celestial pole, which remains a fixed point in the night sky.  The rest of the stars appear to swivel, or rotate around Polaris.  The Little Bear is composed of seven stars, or the “seven stud nails” that Peguy alludes to with “sept clous articules.” So the Great Bear swivels, circles, or goes around the Little Bear in the starry night sky, which Péguy describes as “golden stars” and “wavy spiral arms”. So I translated this as:

And all these spinning ones and all these weaving ones

Tying and untying their knotted silk fiber,

Amid the golden stars and wavy spiral arms,

The Great Bear circled all around the Little Bear.

 

This is my own interpretation, and may be completely wrong.  But given the paired animals of the earlier quatrains (goat and roe, buck and doe, etc.), I think he intended to describe two bears. And even if its right, it took a lot of time just to figure out this one line. The allusion, if I am reading it correctly, may be completely obvious to a native French speaker.

Finally, I probably should not dignify this by calling it a “translation,” as I am not a translator. At best it is a sketch or rough draft of a translation. My hope would be that a real translator, student, teacher or writer who is both fluent in French and has a lot of free time  would take interest in this and polish and edit it after I am done.  The first part is below, which represents about 4% of the poem (January 2018 update: The revised excerpt at the end is probably about 6-7% of the poem).

I will attach a complete PDF or Word document to the blog when (and if) I am done. Its possible I may get tired or grow bored with this.  I may sprinkle a few updates in the blog as the work progresses.

The poem is also available as an ebook at Amazon for a dollar or two.

*(Below is a revised excerpt, which follows Péguy’s approach in using a French Alexandrine meter, with a paired rhyme scheme in each quatrain)

(January 2018 Update.  Below is a revised attempt at translation, it is also a bit longer than my prior effort. As I said in the January 2018 update at the beginning of the post, I don’t plan to work on this any more.)

 

JESUS SPEAKS:

 

O my Mother buried beyond the first garden,

You no longer know of the kingdom of grace,

From the basin and spring to the high starlit place,

And the virgin sun that unveiled the first morning.

 

And the twists and the turns of the deer and the hind

Winding and unwinding in their friendly chase

And the sprints and the leaps that eventually end

And the celebration of their eternal race.

 

And the honoring of their original worth

And the resting of their hooves on the carpet blest,

And the laying of the two beauties on the earth,

Which serenely welcomed their most languorous rest.

 

And the rising rapture of the childlike gazelle

Lacing and unlacing his wandering trace,

Galloping and trotting and ending his chase,

And the salutation of his spirit vernal.

 

And the navigation of the goat and the roe

The crossing and curling of their audacious road.

And the sudden ascent to some immense plateau

And the salutation of their spacious abode.

 

And all these spinning ones and all these weaving ones

Tying and untying their knotted silk fiber,

Amid the golden stars and wavy spiral arms,

The Great Bear circled all around the Little Bear.

 

And these inventors and these embroiderers

Amid winding mazes of their organic lace.

And the fine surveyors from among these menders

Were rounding the corners of a hexahedron’s face.

 

A dawning creation without a single care

Turning and returning to the curves of the orb.

And the nut and the acorn the pome and the sorb

Under the teeth sweeter than the plum and the pear.

 

You remember no more the soft soil maternal

Its lush breasts exciting the many rising ears,

And your breed nursing from the numerous udders

And a chaste nature born from a body carnal.

 

You remember no more the soil all sable,

Nor the silence the shade and the white grape cluster,

Nor the ocean of wheat and weight of the table,

And the days of pleasure trailing one another.

 

You remember no more this plain in the summer,

Nor the oats and the rye and their overflowing,

Nor the vine and trellis and the flowers growing,

And the days of pleasure trailing one another.

 

You remember no more this dirt like a wellspring,

Which goes dull by the dint of being nourishing;

You remember no more the green vine flourishing,

And the amber wheat that shot up for your offspring.

 

You remember no more the tree red with apples

That bends under the weight at the harvest season;

You remember no more in front of your chapel

The youthful wheat springing right up for your children.

 

What since that dread day has become the sucking slime

Was then both a fulsome and a compliant soil;

And the Lady Wisdom and great King Solomon

Would not have divided the man from the angel.

 

What since that sad day has become the broken sum

Was obtained without a total or addition;

Lady Wisdom sitting on the Hill of Zion

Was no angel saving man from his destruction.

 

You remember neither this wide sweeping grassland,

Nor the secret ravine with the sharp slopes rising,

Nor the changing canvas of deep shadows falling.

Nor the valley sides as rich as fine porcelain.

 

You remember no more the gold seasons crowning

Dancing the same rhythm while still keeping the rhyme;

You remember no more the thrill of the springtime,

And the deeper sway of the cold seasons frowning.

 

You remember no more the bright dawning flowers

Flowing from the summits in rich drenching showers;

You remember no more the depths of the arcade,

And from the cypress tops the well-awarded shade.

 

You remember no more all the new years rising

Singing like a choir that summits the aeon.

You remember no more the start of the season

The chaste entwining of the sisters embracing.

 

You remember no more the seasons well aligned

Equal and happy at the times of the ebbing;

You remember no more the springtime returning

The seasons unfolding and straightened within time.

 

You remember no more the seasons returning

Sharing an equal joy in a frisson of time;

You remember no more the coming of springtime

The lithe winding of the seasons diverting.

 

You remember no more, one pole to the other

The earth rocking gently as a pretty cradle;

And the harsh withdrawal and the sudden departure

Of a young season that perished from betrayal.

 

You remember no more, one pole to the other

The earth sailing smoothly as a fine three-master;

And renunciation, and the harsh departure

Of the season that dies from the frosty weather.

 

You remember no more, one pole to the other,

The earth balanced as well as a mighty tower;

And the cold diversion and the ivory pallor

Of an old season that dies now and forever.

 

What since elder days has become an endless toil

Was then the nectar of the rich and fertile soil.

And no one understood the dread ancestral woe.

And no one put their hand to the crook and the hoe.

 

What since elder days has become a painful death

Was only a normal and tranquil departure.

Happiness pressed on man with every joyful breath.

The embarking was like leaving a sweet harbor.

 

Happiness flowed like some ale over a spillway,

The soul was a still pond of deepening silence.

The rising sun made a glowing golden monstrance

And reverberated in a bright silver day.

 

The censor made vapors like a sweet-smelling balm

And the red cedars were rising like barricades.

And the days of rapture were growing colonnades.

And all things were at rest in the grey evening calm.

 

And the wide earth was but a vast altar of peace.

And the ripe fruit always ready on the tall trees,

And the long days were scribed on the tombs of marble

In all they were but a splendid serving table.

 

And the wide earth was but a vast sylvan courtyard.

And the fruit all piled at the bottom of the trees,

And the days aligned down through the marble ages

In all they were but a sweet blooming orchard.

 

And the wide earth was but a tone garden of herbs.

And man was here at home while the pretty buds flowered,

And man respected by all the beasts and their herds

An amicable and benevolent shepherd.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Both resting and leaning onto His creation.

And with a love that was loyal yet paternal

Was then nourished by its homage and libation.

 

And God Himself alone holy and eternal

Had weighed the planet on his merciful balance.

And then considered with a regard paternal

The man of his image and of his resemblance.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Saw the inception of a new flowering age.

And the Father watching with a gaze paternal

The world brought together as a humble village.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Meditated on the splitting of night and day.

And he contemplated with a gaze paternal

The world timbered from wood into a fine chalet.

 

 

And God Himself one youthful yet eternal

Measuring all kairos and the plentiful age;

Fatherly considered with a gaze paternal

The world circumscribed like a beautiful village.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Made plans for going on a trip and the return.

And the Father watching with a gaze paternal

The world gathered around like an enormous burgh.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Started calculating the extent of the years.

And constantly watching with a gaze paternal

The seasons’ crown passing among the four sisters.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Saw the beginning of the chora and kairos.

And calmly looking down with a gaze paternal

Saw the reflection of God on its countenance.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Saw the beginning of the chora and kairos.

And quietly watching with a gaze paternal,

Saw the perfect image of God in every locus.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Saw the beginning of kairos and the cosmos.

Fatherly considered with a gaze paternal,

That the world is fading and a thing that passes.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Saw the first budding of a garden that says yes.

This Florist regarded with a gaze paternal

The blooming of a world putting on its best dress.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Marveled at the scale of the great sprawling spaces.

He then considered with a gaze paternal,

The relaxation of a world in its paces.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

A spectator watching the games of a young age.

Looking quietly with a gaze paternal,

He considered himself in man’s mirror image

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Laughed indulgently at the wishes of youth.

Prudently He then watched with a gaze paternal,

The world all dressed up in its own birthday suit.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Looked at how the children of the primal age are.

Watching impartially with a gaze paternal

The world sailing along a beautiful seashore.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Counted on his one hand the number of infants.

Cautiously he watched with a gaze paternal

The younger girl who was the last of the twins.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Noticed the playing of children with their rattles.

Cautiously he watched with a gaze paternal

Like a mother leans on the sides of two cradles.

 

God Himself leaning then over love eternal

Noticed her flourish in their little dwellings.

And Fatherly he saw with a love maternal

It doubly shared between the two beautiful twins.

 

God himself bending then over love solemnly

Noticed her flourish in the two little dwellings.

And Fatherly he saw the love joyfully

Being spoken between the two beautiful twins.

 

God Himself bent over the flower eternal

Watching her blooming at the tips of the new stems.

And God himself leaning on a love fraternal

Watched her germinating in the hearts of the twins.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Watched the beginning of the laughter of the age

Impartially he watched with a gaze paternal

The world grouped together on a beautiful stage.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Watched the beginning of the weeping of the age.

Impartially he watched with a gaze paternal

The world embarking on a golden pilgrimage.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Watched the beginning of the crying of the age.

Impartially he watched with a gaze paternal

The world sailing away on an ocean voyage

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Watched the beginning of the kissing of the day.

Impartially he watched with a gaze paternal

The world raising anchor and sailing far away.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Watched the beginning of bold and careless thinking.

He watched anxiously and with a gaze paternal

The world sailing to the threshold of a sinking.

 

And God Himself holy youthful yet eternal

Watched the beginning of the advancing of age.

With a look always young and always paternal

He saw the beginning of a world growing sage.

 

And God Himself holy thoughtful and eternal

Considered all his work and found it a wonder.

From the first diamond to the final black cinder,

He enveloped it all with a gaze paternal.

 

And God himself holy blessed and eternal

Considered all his work and found it to be good

And that he was perfect and there was no falsehood

And it unfolded in an order paternal.

 

And the creation was like a mighty tower

That rises high above as an immense palace.

And kairos and chora provided the passage.

And the days of pleasure were like a sweet bower.

 

And the fidelities were strong as a tower.

And kairos and chora were waiting like footmen

And kairos and chora protected the deadline.

And the fidelities were not a fin’amor.

 

A God Himself holy, author and eternal

Considered all his work and found it a wonder.

From the apple blossom to the thistle flower,

He enveloped everything with a gaze paternal.

 

A God Himself holy, august and eternal

Saw only decency and a love filial.

And the world of spirit and the world temporal

Was before his true eyes a temple lilial.

 

A God Himself holy, father and eternal

Saw everywhere his sons and the sons of his sons.

And the fields of meslin, beside the fields of maize

Were before his eyes as the cloth of the altar.

 

A God Himself holy, youthful yet eternal

Saw then the universe as a boundless legacy.

A world without offense, a world without mercy

Developing the folds of an order formal.

 

A new God Himself one, holy and eternal

Saw then the inception of youthful novelty.

Fatherly watching with a gaze paternal

He beheld the real Form of emerging beauty.

 

A good God well-meaning, holy and eternal

Considered his work and then found it to be pure.

A cultivating God, economic and real

He saw the rye yellow and thought it was mature.

 

A fair statuesque God, holy and eternal

Considered his work and thought it was beautiful.

From the first fold and to the final crucible

There was one asylum equal and fraternal.

 

You remember no more this bright coat of rapture

Thrown over the shoulders for the world’s blessedness,

And this river and this flood and this genesis,

And gentle submission to the rules of honor.

 

You remember no more this cloak of tenderness

Thrown over the whole soul and this cape of honor.

You no longer experienced this chaste caress

And gentle submission to the rules of rapture.

 

You remember no more this bright coat of goodness

Thrown upon a whole world and this benevolence,

And this multitude and the ancient excellence,

And this cool solitude and this honest firmness.

 

You remember no more this satin coat of grace

Thrown upon the people and in great joyfulness

An entire world swollen with the same tenderness

From the close-cropped surface to the final terrace.

 

You remember no more this august wedding feast,

And the sap and the blood purer than morning dew.

The young soul had put on her snowy bridal dress,

And the whole earth inhaled the lavender and rue.

 

And the young man’s body was then very chaste

And the regard of man was a fathomless pool.

And the pleasure of man was then so vast

And the goodness of man was like a priceless jewel.

 

You remember no more the innocence of earth

The storehouse crowded to the front of the portal.

You remember no more this wild breed giving birth

And the meadows streaming with the immense cattle.

 

You remember no more the austere destiny.

You remember no more the revitalized earth

You remember no more the passion clandestine.

You remember no more the deeply covered earth.

 

You remember no more the wheat a vast blanket

And the sheaves rising to assault the granaries.

You remember no more the tireless grapevines.

And the clusters mounting to assault the basket.

 

You remember no more the enduring footsteps,

And the harvest rising in flight like some insects.

The grape harvest rising to assault the baskets.

The shoes of the pickers left some sandy footprints.

 

You remember no more the yawning cistern,

And the harvest rising to assault the millstone.

You remember no more the one wandering soul

And the suspicious steps on the paths through the shoal.

 

You remember no more the everlasting days,

And the grapes rising up to assault the vintner.

And the trellis rising to assault the farmer.

And the sumptuous steps on the sandy pathways.

 

You remember no more the involuntary corn,

You have known nothing but poor and futile plowing.

You have known nothing but poor and futile loving.

You have only known the dour worldly scorn.

 

You remember no more corn unforgettable.

You have known nothing but the harvested seasons.

And from the hills of the dying evergreen trees

You saw the starting of the days implacable.

 

You only remember cisterns leaking,

And the meager pastures and the meager plowing.

And the meager measures and the meager loving.

And the highest plateau of the cedars rotting.

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry

2 responses to “Ève by Charles Péguy, in English

  1. Hi,

    Came across your blog as I searched for an English translation of Eve.

    First off, I’m totally in awe of anyone even attempting to translate this; I’m a professional translator with 40 years’ experience, but I’m not a literary translator, and my knowledge of poetry is way below the level of yours!

    I’m translating a non-fiction work (a history of the First World War) in which the author quotes from Eve, and I was wondering if you have had a go at this stanza, or could make any good suggestions?

    Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour la terre charnelle,
    Mais pourvu que ce fût dans une juste guerre.
    Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour quatre coins de terre.
    Heureux ceux qui sont morts d’une mort solennelle.

    It comes here: https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Page%3ACahiers_de_la_Quinzaine_-_S%C3%A9rie_15%2C_cahiers_4-6%2C_1914.djvu/168

    My attempted translation:

    Happy are those who die for this our carnal earth,
    But let their death have been in a war that was just.
    Happy are those who die for four corners of dust.
    Happy are those who die removed from wit or mirth.

    This preserves the rhyming pattern and the number of syllables, but not the rhythm, and I’ve taken huge liberties by interpreting “solennelle” (which of course normally means “solemn” or “formal”) as “removed from wit or mirth”.

    Definitely a case of “words that tear and strain to rhyme”.

    Any better ideas? Suggestions?

    Many thanks,

    Steve Rawcliffe

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, thanks for the compliment. I would caution you that I am very new to poetry, and am self-taught, so a real poet would probably disagree with a lot of what I did in this attempt. This section you cite is one of the more famous quatrains of the poem, and there have been a number of attempts to translate it into English by respected translators. I will post a few later this evening with references to the works where you can find them and other excerpts of Eve translated into English.

      Like

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