Tag Archives: catholic

A Poem for Robert Hubert

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The Great Fire of London (artist unknown)

 

No one carved you an epitaph,

For a grave you will never have,

Just a pale pillar raised to the sky,

Until 1830 a bone trophy for a lie.

 

Fair Eden’s breeze did not reach Rouen, 

Where the Maid of Orleans met her end,

For you were a Huguenot, and dare not

Honor her or dream of you her Lancelot.

 

For the watchmaker had a watch for a son.

Slow ticking and from nature’s bag of tricks

Two arms, a big one and a little one,

One moving, the other stuck at six.

 

Your uneven legs were no better,

Left straight and thick, the right a stick.

A watchmaker, a clockmaker?  Never

would Robert be more than ever sick.

 

Nor could you play or run with the other boys

In the lanes. Your mind imbued in a grace

That lay in the sublime ticking of papa’s toys

And the plain charm of your mother’s face.

 

And she died when you were young,

The shield against the city’s scorn and din

of insults that you bore your parent’s sin.

She the patient one that loved so strong.

 

What do we do with a simpleton?

The family mused on their child like son.

Our lame boy is easy prey for a city’s hate,

Do we pay and pray he meets a better fate?

 

Thus sent away to his future dungeon

The target, the joke, and the Huguenot.

Robert Hubert, the unlikely Argonaut,

Seeking a fleece in the City of London.

 

It was said that there you were laborer,

More likely you were just a neighbor.

Our Robert, slow of mind with body tremor,

You never worked, but always labored.

 

They were not seven, your daily needs,

But what a struggle, these mighty deeds,

To dress, eat and pray with only one arm,

To hide ears and tears from worldly harm.

 

In 1666, you changed your fortune,

seeking treasure, you sailed for Sweden.

What you hoped to gain we do not know,

No fleece or gold in this land of snow.

 

A good soul took pity there on your woe,

And paid your passage to Rouen your home.

You called her “Skipper”, the Maid of Sweden,

A name too long for you long to know.

 

A happy reunion was not to be,

For your passage was blocked by war,

You encountered there upon the sea,

A dreaded English Man-Of-War.

 

The Maid was forced to London,

to stay at port a while. For trade

with hostile France and Holland

was by royal order stayed.

 

And standing there on wooden deck

You saw flames begin and spread.

The fire soared and sky turned red,

A glowing oven for the dead.

 

It was the strangest thing you had seen,

This curling, crackling pyre.

But did no one share that children

Should stay far away from fire?

 

Your body fluttered toward the flame,

To those who sought someone to blame,

The mob took you there upon the wharf,

A Frenchman, a fool, a limping dwarf.

 

Good Captain Petersen later swore,

That then and there he washed his hands.

Your keeper no more with you ashore,

The Maid of Sweden left for France.

 

Into the darkness you were cast,

With no friends but fleas and rats.

In filth and slime a month you stayed,

And to our blessed Lord you prayed.

 

The only miracle that did occur,

Your confession to an act of war,

“I, Robert”, set the flames you swore.

(Please do not hit me any more)

 

From France you came with ill intent,

One of twenty three confederates,

No, on further thought it was a trio,

And you of course the lead commando.

 

For but a single coin of gold,

You would set the town aflame,

A plot of cunning by one so bold,

So true to those with no shame.

 

I must admit that most did doubt

the tale of this sad and lonely youth,

But what prevailed were those who spout,

That old line, “What is truth?”

 

Though the great flame had died,

A cloud of hate had spread,

It was best that some had lied,

For a king might lose his head.

 

It was October twenty seven,

Climb the cart, does your stomach churn?

Who knows? (Today you will be in Heaven).

So off you roll to Tyburn.

 

The mob blew you stony kisses,

Some flew true, some were misses.

The red ran down onto the rope,

Coiled round one without a hope.

 

They saluted you with jeers and cheers,

That stung your ears and fed your fears.

For the final ride you were all alone,

You knew at last you would not see home.

 

The wagon reached the triple tree,

At Tyburn where the gallows rise.

The seats are filled though none were free,

All pay when a doomed man dies.

 

And from the hills the shades looked down,

With them the Maid and Thomas More,

Martyrs, scapegoats and many more,

Who drain this drink for strange renown.

 

They stand you up and set the noose,

You have no words to spare them,

The whip is cracked and horse is loose,

It flees the sin and mayhem.

 

You are too light to break your twig,

So you swing your legs about,

The children prance and do a jig,

The adults sneer and shout.

 

When at last your dance is done,

Your face is black and still,

It is a race we all must run,

May our end be not so ill.

 

Jack Ketch laid you out upon the ground,

And stripped your body bare,

Your noose and clothes worth half a pound,

To those who know no prayer.

 

The surgeons came to take you then,

But the final sale was broken.

The mob surged forward in revenge,

To claim a meager token.

 

Hands and knives went to work,

And tore your form asunder.

Your heard came free with a jerk,

Your heart was someone’s plunder.

 

This reddened patch of ugly ground,

With bloody bits spread all around,

Was Robert Hubert’s only grave,

Made by those whom sin make brave.

 

And far away a dream is broken

By knocking hands, a father woken,

Hears the words that drowns his joy:

“The English hanged your boy.”

 


Robert Hubert (those are silent “t”s in French) was a French Protestant who was made the scapegoat for the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Little is known of him, or why spent much of his adult life in England and Sweden.  He most likely was not a watchmaker, despite what Wikipedia might say, though his family included many.

Late 17th century France was a place of rising tension between French Protestants and Catholics.  Many French Protestants emigrated to England, Scandinavia and North America.  My theory is that Robert was sent away by his wealthy family to live among those communities.  A number of French Protestant witnesses participated in his trial, and tried to save him, suggesting he was known to them. One of the many ironies of this scandal was that, though a Protestant, he was accused of being a Catholic spy and received his final absolution at his hanging by a Catholic priest, the Queen’s own confessor.

Based on the recorded descriptions of his appearance and behavior, it seems he was born with cerebral palsy, and had severe motor (hemiplegia) and cognitive deficits. All those in power knew he was innocent, but post-fire, wartime London was boiling cauldron of violence and unrest. Somebody needed to be held accountable for what scholars generally believe was just a tragic accident.

What happened to Hubert was a textbook illustration of the scapegoat concept that French philosopher Rene Girard explored  in his study of mythology, religion and literature.  During a time of an intense cultural or political crisis, some individual becomes the focus of hate and anxiety of the crowd. After his death, the cloud of anxiety dissipates, and society returns to a measure of equilibrium (until the next crisis and scapegoat).  Girard, a believer, wrote that Christ was the ultimate scapegoat since he was completely without blame, and his death was in part intended to point the way for breaking this cycle, which Girard implied was a system of control by the Prince of this World.

Hubert’s family was quite good at watchmaking, and you can find images on the internet of what are either his father or uncle’s watches still present in various museum collections.

I am in a bit of a rut, so say a prayer for me if you have the time.  There may not be any posts for a while.

 

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For a Child Receiving Their First Communion This Weekend

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Louis Janmot, Première Communion (public domain)

 

Now the time for First Communion,

Join in Eucharistic union.

Bow down low before you greet him,

Then say Amen when you eat him.

On the tongue or on the throne,

In your heart he makes his home.

When you kneel down in your pew,

Thank the one who died for you.

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The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer

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Father Louis Bouyer

This is a review of The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth to Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After.  Father Bouyer was a French Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1939, and then became respected priest and scholar who served as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council. He prepared these memoirs during his retirement in the 1990s, and died in 2004.   They were not published until 2014.

I have read the ebook version. The work is meticulously endnoted, with hypertext links that allow one to jump back and forth from notes and text with ease.

This book will be most enjoyed by those already familiar with his body of work, who are familiar with the history of Vatican II, and have an interest in the history and reform of Catholic liturgy. I do not fall into any of those categories, but I will share my thoughts for those who may be interested in reading it.

About half of Father Bouyer’s non-fiction bibliography is available in English, though you might have to buy used copies.  He also wrote four novels under pseudonyms. Those books have never been translated into English, and may even be out of print. He developed friendships with a number of other writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien.

Father Bouyer reminds me of another Catholic priest, writer and scholar:  Father Andrew Greeley. Both were scholars who wrote novels, though Greeley much more so. Bouyer’s career was more consumed by teaching duties than Greeley’s was.  Both men seemed to have a lot of energy, were inquisitive, and had a certain cheerfulness (at least in their writing), and had a tendency to speak their minds and thus get into scrapes with their peers in the Church.

The most charming part of the book is the first few chapters, regarding his family, youth and early crushes.  He had a great eye for detail and characterization. and I would have liked to read one of his novels. His mother died when he was 11.

The weakest part (though not bad) of the book is the middle part, covering his career during the 1940s and 1950s. Its a whirlwind of all the characters he knew and met, and the various places he worked and studied. Friends and historians will probably find this more useful.

The last part involves his role at Vatican II, and for a period of time in implementing it. Its good basis for a belief that the fewer the big conferences there are in Rome, probably the better.  He also covers some friendships and favorite places.

Two friends he singled out are a testimony to his generosity of spirit. One was Julian Green, an American, Catholic convert. He was a diarist, novelist and translator who lived most of his life in France. He also struggled with a homosexual orientation, and Bouyer seems to have been a good friend and confidante.  The other was an English writer, Elizabeth Boudge. Though she was not a Catholic, they struck up a deep and persistent correspondence that lasted many years.

Now, the themes:

The Mediocrity of the Church’s Institutions and its Leaders

It is suggested in the introduction that the long delay between the writing of the memoirs and their publication was deliberate, to perhaps protect Father Bouyer in his retirement, and to spare many of the targets of his criticism while they were still alive or holding high positions.

It is difficult, as with Greeley’s memoirs, to read about priests criticizing others under Holy Orders. However, Paul rebuked Peter once, so as long as it is done in Charity, it must be done when there is error or failure.  The Church, in its institutions and members, comes across in these memoirs as a sprawling university system. We meet “tenured” priests (e.g. isn’t Holy Orders the ultimate tenure?) who loaf and don’t do much work, administrators who have been promoted beyond their competence, or aging leaders who should have been retired and can’t keep up anymore. There is envy for other’s accomplishments, an unwillingness to consider new ideas, hiring decisions based on personal favoritism over merit, etc.

Bouyer sometimes names names, sometimes he doesn’t. He is not nasty about it, he offers his assessment, and moves on. I am reminded of an anecdote from Father Benedict Groeschel, where he relates a conversation he had with Mother Teresa. She asked him why God chose him to be a priest, and he replied with a joke. She answered “You were called by the humility of God.” He chooses very frail instruments to work with, so we should not be surprised when they fail.  Fortunately, we have great servants like Groeschel, Greeley or Bouyer to make up for the masses of mediocre Catholics (myself included among them).

Pre-Vatican II Church Dynamics

These memoirs confirm what I have read elsewhere about the pre-Vatican II dynamic.  The controversy and confusion that followed Vatican II didn’t just fall from the sky. It had been building for a few decades among silently warring camps.

On the one hand, we had the confident, established Church. It was orthodox and resistant to any change, perhaps more out of fear of modernity than willful close-mindedness.  And on the other hand, there was a large camp that fully subscribed to the modernist project, and wanted to conform the Church to the world.

In the middle it seems, were perhaps the smallest, least powerful group. Some reformers who wanted moderate change to the liturgy, Church organization, teaching methods, etc. This includes men like the future Pope Benedict, Bouyer, Henri De Lubac, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.   They thought they had some good ideas for how the Church could respond to the problems of modernity

These reformers were criticized as dangerous radicals before Vatican II, and then criticized as out-of-touch conservatives in the decades after Vatican II. In fact, they never changed their position on anything.

What happened is that there was a rupture, and the modernist camp largely won, and imposed a lot of change very quickly. One of the stranger things I learned reading this was that during the Vatican II conferences there was a strong consensus at one point to abolish Ash Wednesday. It would have been moved to the first Sunday of Lent.  It narrowly survived. And it is one of the few times a lot of Catholics see the inside of a Church other than on weekends.  Many will skip Holy Days of obligation, but will go to Ash Wednesday services. This is an example of the kind of mentality that was at work at Vatican II.

One of the villains in this drama was Annibale Bugnini (may he rest in peace). He was a Catholic priest and important administrator given a position of great authority at Vatican II, and a staunch modernist.  When he ran into obstacles, he would pull out his trump card, “The Pope Wills It!” Bouyer and others later found out he was making it all up, the Pope did not will it. He was later punished by being named the Vatican’s delegate to Iran, where he finished his career.

Bridges between Catholics and Protestants

Though a convert, Bouyer retained his strong belief that Protestants had often outdone Catholics in both their study of scripture and their emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord. I tend to agree, though I think the Church has made great strides in recent decades, particularly with emphasis on new devotional practices (e.g. the Divine Mercy), and Pope Benedict XVI’s great example in his series on the Gospels.  Bouyer felt these two areas should be ones the Church should focus on in its pursuit, perhaps vain, of reconciliation with our Anglican and Lutheran brethren (which were the focus of his ecumenism).

Based on my reading of his memoirs, I do have an interest in trying at least one of his books.  I am more focused on poetry now, so it may be a while before I read one. I will post a review if I do.

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An Ode for the Rhapsode

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The Muse, Gabriel De Cool

Here blooms a fair poet,
In whom there is no deceit.
I would play him like a cello,
And sway him to singing
Of the rage of Achilles
While there calmly sitting
With unfair, wily Socrates
Ensnared under an olive tree,
Already lost in some debate.

You thought to put him to the test,
This child my mind had blessed.
He waited patient on your con,
And played along without protest.
Your method led to trouble later on,
But you were gentle with my friend, Ion.

Yes, I am the guilty one.
He was my pretty Grecian urn,
Into which I’d pour some wine.
I would let poor Ion burn,
And turn his thoughts to Helen.
Only her pure limbs could compare
To the towers of topless Ilium.

For a poet is a winged being,
And thus belongs to me.
My spirit starts them singing
In rhythm to my breathing.
And my hidden, lyric purpose,
Is not for you to parse or reason.

And when you shake and start,
And reach for pen or lyre,
It is done on my desire.
There is no shame in that,
For I undress your heart,
And set your soul afire.

Be a son as my wise Ion,
Who is a guileless child,
And enjoys my pardon,
Heaven, and my smile.
Now he sings of glory,
Not of kings or rage,
With his friend Socrates,
On my eternal stage.

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Holy of Holies (II)

 

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From “The Dance of Death” by Hans Holbein

 

Father, is this the hour of desolation?

The one you know and of which I warn.

In my holy place an abomination,

Will my Church be still-born?

Is this the day the world swore:

“Blessed be the barren women,

the womb that never bore,

And their breasts never nursing.”

I see two boys in the meadow playing,

A shadow falls and one is taken.

I see two girls in my temple spinning,

One is gone and the sanctum shaken.

The iron nails pierce my bride,

Her veil is torn from top to bottom.

The rusted lance rends my side,

Has my Mother’s “Yes” been forgotten?

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The Ballad of Doubting Thomas

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Martyrdom of St. Thomas, by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain)

There is a man of famous doubt,
And Thomas was his name.
You think you know the truth about,
This rascal and his shame.

You mockers joke about his sin,
So I will tell you true.
He was the Master’s living twin,
And far more brave than you.

Mother Mary was a wise one,
The flower of our race.
But even she would greet her Son,
When Thomas showed his face.

Our Lord was fond of nicknames,
As Adam’s son should be.
And so he called him “Didymus,”
That’s Greek to you and me.

The twin was not one to pander,
And always spoke his heart.
When others thought to flatter,
The doubter took no part.

By deeds not words, he might have said,
This man, the Nazarene.
And when he learned his friend had died,
He left for Bethany.

“You must not go!” the others cried,
Your foes will seek your end.
But doubting Thomas then replied,
“Let’s go and die with him.”

But when one day they struck the King,
As foretold they scattered.
Reluctantly, I have to sing,
All of them were shattered.

The Prince of Peace was put to death,
His heart pierced by a spear.
And when he spoke his final breath,
The twin was nowhere near.

Shame can drive a man to rages,
An anger for an end.
We want to be courageous,
For weakness we must mend.

And so the doubter walked about,
And with his life made free.
And to the Romans gave a shout,
“Please nail me to a tree.”

So then the Lord came back to them,
The spirit was his breath.
While on the streets of Jerusalem,
Thomas sought after death.

And when at last he heard the news,
His pride would not give in.
His shame then fought to probe the wounds,
That truly lay within.

The Lord heard every word he said,
That reckless Didymus,
And then appeared with wounds still red,
Spoke, “Put me to the test.”

A weaker man just might have died,
When hearing such a sound.
But “My lord and my God” he cried,
And knelt upon the ground.

The Lord so quick forgave his twin,
All brothers he did bless.
And while Jesus soon ascended,
The saints began their quest.

For he left a great commandment,
To each and every one.
All of Adam’s descendants,
Must learn about God’s son.

Doubting Thomas took his mission,
Into Assyria.
And seeking for his own passion,
Took sail for India.

He preached the Word in that far land,
And many knew the Lord.
He prayed that all might understand,
No thought for his reward.

Thomas walked his Master’s path,
Until the kingdom come.
He soon did suffer the world’s wrath,
A bloody martyrdom.

I now end and seek your promise,
To give the man his due.
That you never slander Thomas,
This doubter died for you.

Note: This poem was inspired by Fabrice Hadjadj’s interesting interpretation of Thomas the Apostle in his book Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ, which I reviewed here.

Most of my poems are in free verse, and sound better to my ear, but I read a persuasive article that an aspiring poet should practice with formal modes to build their skills. So this is in the form of a ballad, which uses the traditional 8-6-8-6 syllables on each line of the quatrains. It  feels clunky, and is pretty much my first draft. I don’t have much appetite for polishing and revising yet, but maybe I will come back to it at a later date.

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Holy of Holies

 

Visitación_de_Rafael

The Visitation, by Raphael. 1517.

Every womb is holy.

I have made it so.

I am born anew with every soul.

My Father’s temple stood in Jerusalem long ago.

His presence dwelled in the inner room,

Shielded by the temple veil.

The temple fell, but lives again in the womb

Of every woman, a Holy Grail.

So be modest, and guard this font of birth,

This chamber of my sons and daughters,

My Church here on Earth.

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What Follows Politics: De Lubac Responds to Charles Péguy

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(This is more a note to myself, connecting some dots as I work my way through Péguy.)

One of Charles Péguy’s famous quotes is: “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.”

This was something he learned from the Dreyfus Affair, a political controversy that tore France apart for about a decade.  While Péguy was on the right side of the conflict, he felt that the winners wasted their victory through an unjust and unworthy political power grab.

He made this observation years later in his book, Notre Jeunesse (translated as “Memories of Youth”).  Péguy reflected that great movements often spring from a mysterious, almost spiritual, yearning to set things right. However, because of original sin, whatever victories or progress we win harden into a rather ordinary political party, program or bureaucracy. Many idealistic young people who vote for a politician wind up being somewhat disappointed within a few years. The lesson is that it is beyond our ability to permanently “set things right”, and therefore we must be very fluid, very pliant to where the Holy Spirit wants to take us next. Don’t rest on any worldly laurels.

Cardinal Henri De Lubac responded to Péguy, I think, years later.  In the essay titled “A Christian Explanation for Our Times”, published in 1942 (and collected by Ignatius in  Theology in History), he described what follows the politics that had succeeded mysticism:

It is then that substitute faiths inevitably present themselves to fill this tragic void. Such is the fourth and final period of the process. Man is not satisfied by ideologies cut off from any source of real efficacy: the hour must come when he is disenchanted with them. He lives still less from criticism and negations. He does not live by laicism and neutrality. Inevitably something like a great call for air is produced in his inner void, which opens him to the invasion of new positive forces, whatever they might be. The latter conquer him all the more quickly, the more coarse and virulent they are. Cut off from a higher life, he gives in to the brutal pressures that, at least, give him the feeling of a life. Having abused criticism to make truth itself vanish, he now dislikes using it to protect his mirages.

A troubled credulity succeeds his faith. Rationalism has expelled mystery: myth takes its place. We know great examples of this.

(emphasis added)

Writing in 1942, De Lubac was referring to the mythology of Nazi Germany: its Aryan race doctrine, its occult pageantry, etc.  Mysticism had been expelled, but politics and reason were soon banished as well.

I find De Lubac’s observation to be an excellent lens through which to view subsequent history.  Reason and science were too dry for our taste buds, and we have embraced a host of myth “isms” as a substitute. They are not a religion in name, but are so in practice. Daedalus, Sisyphus and Tiresias stride the earth once more. And their progeny follow: a new Talos,  a new Chimera, etc.

And if you oppose them, you are an enemy of that myth.  You cannot beat these new mythologies purely with reason or politics. You must return to faith, and the tools of faith, to respond. The ancient world was laid to rest by Jesus, but the de-Christianization of the world has allowed it to return as a revenant.

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Games the Angels Play

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An Angel Playing a Flageolet, Edward Burne-Jones 

 

(The translation of Ève is coming along nicely. I’ve translated a little over 8% of the poem in the last few weeks. I think it is the longest poem ever written in French, at over 200 pages, so I will be happy to be done by the end of the year.)

This is in part a confessional blog, so let me confess that I am continually struck by the truth of what the novelist Georges Bernanos wrote: Sin makes us live on the surface of ourselves, and we will only come home to ourselves to die. And he awaits us there.

You are more likely to find your heart’s content, in part (this being the shadowland), the less sin and the more grace you have in your life. I have gone from spending a lot of time on sports, tv and politics (which were very unsatisfying anyway) to pretty much ignoring them. Classical music and poetry are my brand new passions, after ignoring them like some  homely wall flowers all my life. Translating French poems into English and trying to learn how to write my own poems is very satisfying, even if its purely a hobby.

I noticed an instructional book at B&N over the weekend, A Poet’s Guide to Poetry, by Mary Kinzie, that looks pretty good, which I may buy. If anyone has an opinion on it, please comment.

What follows is a simple, baby poem, but a good practice exercise nonetheless.  Rhymed couplets, eight syllables per line.  Initially I was trying for iambic tetrameter, but I do not have the discipline yet to work at poem long enough to create a consistent meter throughout. This was ripped off pretty quickly. I will probably never write anything but earnest religious poetry, and in this I try to sum up a lot of what I have read and learned the last few years.

 

GAMES THE ANGELS PLAY

 

There is a game the angels play,

They fold their wings and fall away.

 

Carried high on the winds of love,

They put their trust in God above.

 

There is no fear, there is no doubt,

Their bodies limp and blown about.

 

We hope to join them in the sky,

But first a child must learn to fly.

 

The lesson imparts hurt and shame,

You bear within the ancient blame.

 

But if you start to learn to cry,

You may grow wings before you die.

 

As you lay the weight on the ground,

Your soul begins to fly around.

 

And joins the dance up in the air,

And clasps the hands of the angels fair.

 

But first do find the partner true,

The one who gave his life for you.

 

He knows the dance and how to move,

There is no skill that you must prove.

 

No mighty faith nor works you need,

Just be content with him the lead.

 

And walk along the little way,

His heart will teach you how to pray.

 

And listen to the holy dove,

Who flies about the air above.

 

And when your time has reached its end,

Comes the hand of a silent friend.

 

This guardian you never heard,

Will take you to the living word.

 

You will learn your true name that day,

And join the games the angels play.

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Ève by Charles Péguy, in English

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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.

 

 

 

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