Tag Archives: charles peguy

Jeannette: Péguy goes to the movies

 

Jeannette-poster-2-620x821

Well, I never expected this.

Apparently the French director Bruno Dumont has adapted Charles Péguy’s The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc into a feature film. It was released in France last fall, and has popped up at a few American film festivals.  Unless you live in a big city, you will probably have to get the DVD or stream it to see it.

 

… And he turned it into a musical with a rock score. Wow.  From viewing the trailer, I can tell that he is using the names of the characters and I do recognize a few lines of dialog from Péguy’s prose poem/play.

The Village Voice describes the film as “pious,” so it sounds like the director intends a faithful adaptation.  They do criticize the method, though acknowledging that Dumont has a “streak of madman genius about him.” So you may very well hate or love the film.

The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc was the first piece in Péguy’s great trilogy of book length poems (followed by The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, and The Mystery of the Holy Innocents), published shortly before World War One.

If you are not familiar with the book, this will not be like other filmed versions of Joan’s life. It will not focus on the later military campaigns or her martyrdom. It is about the origin of Joan’s mission.

Péguy is a very important artist for some Catholic theologians, and Pope Francis has quoted from his works a few times.  If you were surprised by the Pope’s alleged comments about Hell a few weeks ago, Péguy may be relevant.  The concept of solidarity was very important to Péguy, and he wondered aloud whether solidarity extended to those in Hell. The ultimate fate of those souls who go to Hell was an element in some of Adrienne Von Speyr’s spiritual commentaries, which were edited and published by the Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

I think that Hell exists, and that a soul can go to Hell by refusing God’s mercy at the end of their life and the particular judgment. One of many questions raised by Péguy in The Mystery,  and by Adrienne in some of her writings, involves the scope of Christ’s “descent into hell” after his crucifixion. Does Christ’s solidarity extend to those in Hell in any way, and if it does, what are the implications of that? Can the damned change their mind through some extraordinary grace? I suspect that the Italian atheist the Pope spoke to may have been attempting, in a very poor way, to recapture Francis’ speculation on similar questions. I acknowledge such speculation is very controversial, and would appear to conflict with Church tradition as expressed in the Catechism that Christ did not descend to save those who had already damned themselves by refusing God’s mercy. The issue is discussed with much greater detail in Balthasar’s book Dare we hope that all may be saved? and the many responses to it.

I blogged about Péguy’s book last year. I will probably do a movie review after I have seen it.

 

 

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Eve, the Eternal Housewife

 

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By artist Edward Burne-Jones for William Morris’ A Dream of John Ball. Illustrating the couplet “When Adam delved and Eve span/ Who was then the gentleman?” (Public Domain)

The translation of Ève continues.  To recap, I am translating Charles Péguy’s poem, Ève, from French to English. In the poem, Jesus delivers a long monologue to our ultimate mother, and humanity generally, about Paradise, the Fall and the Redemption.

Below is my first draft of the section of the poem where Jesus compares Eve to a housewife whose work is never done, partly because she can never be content with leaving anything alone.  This part led me to an insight about some of the people in my life, and might cause me to be more compassionate about the things they do that get on my nerves. The word Péguy uses in various forms in this section is “arrange” or “tidy up.” According to Péguy, we are plagued by an insatiable urge to bring order to chaos of the world, even though it is futile

Péguy humorously asks us to imagine Eve as the hard-charging homemaker who would ask God to wipe the mud of his shoes and then wash his hands if he ever popped in for a visit:

Woman, I tell you, you would arrange God himself

If he came to visit your house in the season.

You would arrange the shame, and the blasphemy,

If he came to visit and flatter your reason.

 

You would have tidied up the wrath of God divine.

You would have washed away the great iniquity.

The time has long since passed. You cannot take your leave,

When you are stuck in the bottom of the ravine.

 

Women, you would clean up after the explosion

If God threw a bolt down at your lowly dwelling.

You would arrange for grace, and the absolution

If God visited you in this lonely lodging.

 

You would have tidied up the first anathema,

When it came upon you in your bleak loneliness.

You would have soon placed it within your formula

Of benign government and deceptive meekness.

 

Women, you would arrange for a renewed baptism,

If John the Baptist came and entered the Jordan.

You would tidy up the host, oil, and the chrism

If the men of the world returned to the garden.

 

Women, you would sweep up like crumbs from your kitchen

The bread from My body, of the Resurrection.

Instead you have stored up from your false religion,

The dry crumbled leaves from the tree of rejection.

 

You would sweep up the leaves from the red Tree of Life

Even after I sprang into the deepest womb.

You would demand to be the attending midwife

Even after I stepped from the mouth of the tomb

I know one woman I will call the Narrator. The day’s schedule is narrated to everyone several times a day. “First we are doing this, and at 4 o’clock we have to go to dinner, and then … ” If we are at a restaurant, the menu selections are read aloud and recommendations given to the other members of the dining party.

Another one I will call the Arranger.  If you leave a half-empty glass of water, tea or coffee by itself for five minutes, it will magically disappear, and reappear, emptied, in a kitchen sink.  Half-read magazines will be put away if left unattended too long.

There is another I would call the Director.  As you can guess, she likes to give directions to everyone about just about everything, no matter how small.

There is a certain lack of self-awareness in these behaviors. And they persist despite objection. And I can see now that it’s not really their fault, as it’s a consequence of original sin. Eve was not content in the garden, she felt she had to arrange for man’s destiny through knowledge of good and evil. Her daughters are cursed, on an almost unconscious level,  to try to put Humpty Dumpty back together for the rest of human history, and it shows up at the micro level in the most mundane things.

I don’t intend to leave men off the hook. Men have tried to “arrange” the world and humanity throughout history, though our errors are more apparent on the macro level: the misuse of political power, the abuse and exploitation of natural resources, or unethical scientific research and discovery, to name a few.

If we are listening to Jesus and his Mother, the best attitude includes letting things be. Yes, we must fulfill our daily obligations and take care of what has been entrusted to us, but you will never achieve perfection.  Whatever leisure or “free time” you have been gifted by God can always be consumed by an inordinate desire for order, if you let it.

 

 

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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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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-native 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.

 

 

 

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Charles Peguy’s “The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc”

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(Thanks for all the likes in response to the recent poems. Writing poetry was certainly never on my bucket list, and its a relief that they weren’t complete disasters.)

I mentioned in a prior post I was going to provide excerpts from some of the French poet Charles Péguy’s major works.  He was the one who inspired me to write a few. The thing about his major poems is that they are very, very long, sometimes running into hundreds of pages. You will either love them or be very bored by them. It’s ok.

The following excerpt is from his 1910 poem (though some call it a play) Le Mystére de la Charité de Jeanne D’Arc. This translates into English as The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc. It is the first part of a trilogy, the other two being The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, and The Mystery of the Holy Innocents.  All three are hard to come by in libraries, and the first and third are out of print. Péguy had planned to write as many as fifteen mysteries on various topics of faith, but he tragically died too soon at the age of 41.

It is hard to describe this one. It reminds me a lot of one of Plato’s Socratic dialogs. There are three speaking roles, Joan, her friend Hauviette, and a local nun, named Madame Gervaise. The events, which occupy the space of an afternoon, occur in Joan’s village before she begins her quest to save France. There are long stretches that are akin to poetry, and other sections of ordinary dialog.

The part I am going to quote comes at the beginning, when Joan is considering the plight of France during its war with England. It almost reminds me of a Psalm of lamentation from the Old Testament. This is all spoken by Joan:

Our father, our father who art in heaven, how far is your name from being hallowed; how far is your kingdom from coming.

Our father, who art in the kingdom of heaven, how far is your kingdom from coming to the kingdom of the earth.

Our father, who art in the kingdom of heaven, how far is your kingdom from coming to the kingdom of France.

Our father, our father who art in Heaven, how far is your will from being done; how far are we from being given our daily bread.

How far are we from forgiving those who trespass against us; and not succumbing to temptation; and being delivered from evil.

That was just the warm up. The better part, which speaks to our Christian frustration follows in a few excerpts:

O God, if we could only see the beginning of your kingdom. If we could only see the sun of your kingdom rise. But there is nothing, there is never anything. You have sent us your son whom you loved so dearly, your son came, who suffered so much, and died. And now, nothing. There is never anything. If we could only see the daybreak of your kingdom. And you have sent us your saints, you have called each one of them by his name, your other sons the saints and your daughters the saints, and your saints have come, men and women, and now nothing, there is never anything.

Years have gone by, so many years that I cannot count them; centuries of years have gone by; fourteen centuries of Christianity, alas, since the nativity, and death and preaching. And now nothing, nothing, ever. And what reigns on the face of the earth is nothing but perdition.

You have sent us your son and the other saints. And nothing flows upon the face of the earth but a stream of ingratitude and perdition. God, God, will it have to be that your son died in vain?

And not only do temptations besiege us, but temptations triumph, and temptations reign, and it is the reign of temptation, and the reign of the kingdoms of the earth have fallen into the reign of the kingdom of temptation, and the evil succumb to the temptation to do evil … but the good, who were good, succumb to a temptation infinitely worse: the temptation to believe they have been forsaken by you.

Her friend Hauviette, commenting on this, accuses Joan of trying to pick a fight with Jesus. Themes of despair, damnation and others are explored.

Peguy wrote a sequel, called The Mystery of the Vocation of Joan of Arc.  It is set some time later. It was published posthumously, and never translated into English.

P.S. There appear to be two English translations. The more recent, which has a reddish cover, only gives you about half the poem. The full version runs about 200 pages.

 

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Sinner and Poet: The Diamond Tears of Charles Péguy

 

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Charles Peguy by Jean-Pierre Laurens

“I am a sinner, but there is no sin in my work.” – Charles Péguy

This guy. But since he was French, he might have been this “Guy.” But rather, his name is Charles Péguy.

Be careful with this guy, cause if you read him, you might actually start writing poetry. I know nothing about poetry, but after reading him, I was inspired to write some of my own. As I said, I know nothing about poetry, but some people who do think he might be the best Catholic poet of the last few hundred years. Those who like Gerard Manley Hopkins would probably disagree. Hopkins was a genius, and smart people who truly understand poetry can explain why he was. I am not a genius or a poet, so don’t ask me to explain Hopkins.

Péguy perhaps was a peasant genius. He wrote in free verse, with little to no rhyme or consistent meter. His poems were long, used simple vocabulary, and much repetition. If this were Seinfeld, he would be Charles Festivus, the “Poet for the Rest of Us”, the 99%. His work is accessible.

But he is largely unknown right now.

Why? He had too much integrity. He came from very modest beginnings, and when he grew older became a socialist and agnostic. He was a very much a defender of Dreyfus, a famous French Jew wrongly accused of treason. However, he fell out with most of his friends on the Left over time due to what he perceived as their pursuit of political advantage over the truth. “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics” is a famous quote of his.

He came to occupy a lonely place, neither trusted nor wanted by the Left or the Right. He was a patriot, and a French nationalist, and his basic politics was one of solidarity with the common man. Unfortunately for his reputation, and despite his defense of Dreyfus, the fascists of the 30s and 40s later tried to claim him as a patron for their twisted politics. And when you put God first, you eventually realize that there is no ideology or political party that can really express what you want. So you hang there, suspended between two thieves, one on the right and another on the left.

But he had integrity, and so when the Great War came, he enlisted, even though he was 41 years old, married and his wife pregnant with their fourth child. He was a little guy too. Because while he was a French nationalist and a patriot, he was not going to let some 18 and 19-year-old kids do the dying for him. And so he died for them, leading from the front, shot through the forehead in 1914.

But the politics are less interesting  than the faith. When he married he did not believe, but by 1908 he had come back to the Catholic faith of his baptism. But his wife was an atheist, and refused to allow their children to be baptized. And because he was not married in the Church, his conscience did not allow him to receive the Sacraments, ever. And out of solidarity with his family, he did not go to Mass.  But that did not stop him from making a forty mile pilgrimage on foot to the Cathedral of Chartres in thanks to Our Lady when his son recovered from an illness. Integrity.

A man in such a situation can get lonely. And you might find yourself falling in love with the young Jewish girl (and she with you) who works at your literary journal. But a man with integrity doesn’t have an affair. Instead, like Péguy , you play matchmaker and find her a husband.

All this pain and sadness generated great diamond tears of words, a series of poems and plays written during the five years before his death. Much of it is out of print, of course, because that’s the way things are right now. The real treasures of the past have to be unearthed.  I am going to copy a few excerpts of his poems in some future posts (My understanding of U.S law is that there is no copyright for the works of foreign authors who died before 1923).

Oh yes, his family … His wife converted after he died, and had their children baptized. As it will always be, a man and father will die for the sake of his people.

 

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