Ève by Charles Péguy, in English

illustration-eve

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.

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 sands” and “nebulous waves”. 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,

And the Great Bear circling 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.

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)

 

JESUS SPEAKS:

O my Mother buried beyond the first garden,

You remember no more the kingdom of grace,

And the bowl and the spring and the upper terrace,

And the virginal sun demure at the dawning.

 

And the twists and the turns of the doe and the deer

Winding and unwinding in their journey twining

And running and jumping and suddenly stopping

In celebration of their unbroken vigour.

 

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.

 

And the rising rapture of the childly gazelle

Lacing and unlacing his wandering trace,

Galloping and trotting and arresting his chase,

And the salutation of his spirit vernal.

 

And the navigation of the goat and the roe

Crossing and uncrossing 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,

And the Great Bear circling around the Little Bear.

 

And all these seamstresses and these clothiers

Sewing pretty laces from their uncut chenille.

And beautiful dreamers from among these menders

Were drawing curved glazes on the slopes of foothills.

 

A dawning creation without a memory

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 maternal earth

Its lush breasts exciting the rising corn ears,

And your breed nursing from the countless udders

A body born from a virgin and carnal birth.

 

You remember no more the soil all sable,

Nor the silence the shade and the ripe grape cluster,

Nor the ocean of wheat and weight of the table,

And days of happiness in train to the other.

 

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 days of happiness in train to the other.

 

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 shoots 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 still then 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 long swaying of the cold seasons frowning.

 

You remember no more the bright dawning flowers

Flowing from the summits in rich mighty 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

Gushing like a choir above a tall geyser;

You remember no more the cool springtime water

The chaste entwining of the seasons embracing.

 

You remember no more the seasons well aligned

Equal and happy at the times of the ebbing;

You remember no more the spring reoccurring

The unfolding of the seasons changing with time.

 

You remember no more all the seasons returned

Towards an equal joy and towards an equal time;

You remember no more the coming of springtime

The lithe winding of the long seasons diverted.

 

You remember no more one pole to the other

The earth rocking just like a beautiful cradle;

And the harsh departure and the shoulder withdrawal

Of a young season that perished with a shudder.

 

You remember no more one pole to the other

The earth balanced just like a pretty three-master;

And renunciation, and the harsh erasure

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 diverting and the ivory pallor

Of an old season that dies now and forever.

 

What has since elder days 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 has since elder days has become painful death

Was only a tranquil and normal departure.

Happiness pressed on man with every joyful breath.

The day of leaving was as from a sweet harbor.

 

Happiness flowed like some ale over a spillway,

The soul was like a pond of deepening silence.

The rising sun made a golden shining monstrance

And reverberated in a white blazing day.

 

The censor made vapors with a sweet-smelling balm

And the tall red cedars made for strong barricades.

And the days of rapture were like great colonnades.

And at rest were all things 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 long days already scribed on 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 buds all flowered,

And man respected by all the beasts and their herds

An amicable and benevolent shepherd.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Both resting and leaning onto His creation.

And with a filial and a love paternal

Was then nourished by its homage and libation.

 

And God Himself alone holy and eternal

Had weighed the whole world on his merciful balance.

And then considered with a regard paternal

The man of his image and of his resemblance.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Saw the inception of a new flowering age.

And the Father watching with a gaze paternal

The world brought together like a humble village.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Meditated on what was the night and the day.

And he contemplated with a gaze paternal

The world sawed from timber into a great city.

 

 

And God Himself youthful one and eternal

Measuring all kairos and the plentiful age;

Fatherly considered with a gaze paternal

The world circumscribed like a beautiful village.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Planning for what was then a trip and a return

And the Father watching with a gaze paternal

The world gathered around like an enormous burg.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Started measuring then the extent of the years.

And constantly watching with a gaze paternal

The seasons’ crown passing among the four sisters.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and 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 youthful holy and eternal

Saw the beginning of the chora and kairos.

And quietly watching with a gaze paternal,

Saw the perfect image of God in every place.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and 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 youthful holy and eternal

Saw the first budding of a garden that says yes.

This Florist watching with a gaze paternal

The blooming of a world that was getting dressed.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and 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 youthful holy and eternal

A spectator that watched 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 dressing all 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.

Caringly 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.

Caringly he watched with a gaze paternal

Like a mother leans on the sides of two cradles.

 

God Himself leaning then over love eternal

Seeing her flourish in their two 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

Looked at her flourish in their two little dwellings.

And Fatherly he saw the love joyfully

Being spoken between the two beautiful twins.

 

God Himself bent over the flower eternal

Watched her blooming at the tips of the young branches.

And God himself leaning on a love fraternal

Watched her germinating in the hearts of twin buds.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Watched the inception of the laughter of young age

Impartially he watched with a gaze paternal

The world grouped together on a beautiful stage.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Watched the inception of the weeping of age.

Impartially he watched with a gaze paternal

The world embarking on its solemn pilgrimage.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Watched the inception of the tears of the young age.

Impartially he watched with a gaze paternal

The world sailing away on an ocean voyage

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Watched the inception of the kissing of the day.

Impartially he watched with a gaze paternal

The world raising anchor while starting the journey.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Watched the inception of the neglect of younglings.

Anxiously he watched them with a gaze paternal

The world sailing to the threshold of a sinking.

 

And God Himself youthful holy and eternal

Watched the inception of the advancing of age.

With a look always young and always paternal

He was watching a young but aging world grow sage.

 

And God Himself thoughtful holy 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 blessed holy 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

Which 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 author holy and eternal

Considered all his work and found it a wonder.

From the apple blossom to the thistle flower,

He enveloped everything with a love paternal.

 

A God Himself august holy and eternal

Saw only decency and a love filial.

And the world of spirit and the world temporal

Were before his true eyes a temple lilial.

 

A God Himself father holy 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 and newly 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 on the soul itself 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.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s