Its been a good year if you enjoy the poetry of Charles Péguy. In a recent post, I noted how The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc had been adapted into a feature film. I also just learned that an abridged English translation of the third book in Péguy’s great trilogy, The Mystery of the Holy Innocents, has been reissued for the first time since 1956, by the Wipf and Stock Company. I purchased my copy through Amazon.
The poem was translated by Lady Pansy Lamb, an English noblewoman who released it under her maiden name of Pansy Pakenham. For whatever reason, she chose not to translate about a third of the poem, so we have yet to see a complete translation in English. Alexander Dru, who translated some of Péguy’s other works, provides a lengthy Introduction. Lady Lamb also includes translation of four of Péguy’s shorter poems, as well as three excerpts from Péguy’s Eve, which may be the longest poem in the French language.
The Mystery of the Holy Innocents is very similar to The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, the second book in the trilogy. It is a long, free verse poem in which Madame Gervaise, who we meet in the first book, delivers a monologue to Joan of Arc in the voice of the Father. A wide range of subjects are covered: the virtues, the Cross, prayer, justice, mercy, the French people, etc. It concludes with a lengthy meditation on the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.
I am, God says, Master of the Three Virtues.
Faith is a loyal wife.
Charity is a fervent mother.
But hope is a very little girl.
I am, God says, the Master of the Virtues.
It is Faith who holds fast through century upon century.
It is Charity who gives herself through centuries of centuries,
But it is my little hope
Who gets up every morning.
Lady Lamb states in a translator’s note that she cannot understand why Faith and Charity are capitalized, but hope is in lower case … My dear Lady, its because she is a little girl. For Peguy, people could not help having Faith given the magnificence of creation, and Charity given our natural affections for one another. Having hope was the real surprise, and the greatest sign of something supernatural, given all the failure and misery in the world. Why do the poor and oppressed have hope, given what they experience day in and day out? It is a sign of grace.
Now we just need for The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc to be reissued, and all three books will be available to the general public. I would watch the Cluny Media website. They seem to be publishing a lot of out of print works of fiction and non-fiction by Catholic authors.