Tag Archives: peguy

Heureux Ceux …

This post is in response to a comment and question left by the translator Steve Rawcliffe at my prior post on Eve, a poem written by Charles Peguy.  Mr. Rawcliffe was looking for feedback on and examples of a translation of one of the most quoted quatrains from the poem.

In the French, the section reads:

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

Heureux ceux qui sont morts dans les grandes batailles,
Couchés dessus le sol à la face de Dieu.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts sur un dernier haut lieu,
Parmi tout l’appareil des grandes funérailles.

Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour des cités charnelles.
Car elles sont le corps de la cité de Dieu.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour leur âtre et leur feu,
Et les pauvres honneurs des maisons paternelles.

 

I am only aware of two previous attempts to translate this section, and Peguy generally, into English. Both occurred in the mid-20th century. I’m not sure whether this is a reflection more on Peguy’s obscurity in the English speaking world or the state of modern poetry.

The excerpt below is free verse translation of this section by Julien and Anne Greene, from their book Basic Verities, which includes samples from many of Peguy’s works. This book is out of print, but Cluny Media (the subject of my next post), will be reissuing it soon.

 

Blessed are those who died for carnal earth

Provided it was in a just war.

Blessed are those who died for a plot of ground.

Blessed are those who died a solemn death.

 

Blessed are those who died in great battles.

Stretched out on the ground in the face of God.

Blessed are those who died on a final high place,

Amid all the pomp of grandiose funerals.

 

Blessed are those who died for carnal cites.

For they are the body of the city of God.

Blessed are those who died for their hearth and fire,

And the lowly honors of their father’s house.

 

The other version is a formal verse translation by Lady Lamb, which was included in The Mysteries of the Holy Innocents and Other Poems (this was reissued just this year by Wipf). Lady Lamb translated several excerpts of Eve, in addition to a translation of the poem named in the title.  She largely preserves Peguy’s paired rhyme scheme and the 12 syllable Alexandrine structure.

Happy are they who die for a temporal land,

When a just war calls, and they obey and go forth,

Happy are they who die for a handful of earth,

Happy are they who die in so noble a band.

 

Happy are they who die in their country’s defence,

Lying outstretched before God with upturned faces.

Happy are they who die in those last high places,

Such funeral rites have a great magnificence.

 

Happy are they who die for their cities of earth,

They are the outward forms of the City above.

Happy are they who die for their fire and their hearth,

Their father’s house and its humble honour and love.

 

Mr. Rawcliffe shared his version of the first quatrain:

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

Mr. Rawcliffe, your  version seems to be a very faithful translation (except for the last line, as you note), arguably more faithful than Lady Lamb’s.  I have observed that in some of her other translations of Eve that she seems to sacrifice accuracy in order to preserve the rhyme scheme and meter. This is not a criticism, as I was forced to do the same in my version in a fair number of places. Your effort sounds fine to my untrained ear. I doubt that the rhythm could be duplicated in English for any length without a superhuman effort.

I find it difficult to advise you much beyond this, as I am not a professional translator (Eve was my first attempt) or fluent in French.  The only alternative that came to me, and this may sound very odd, is to change the last line to:

“Happy are those who die through a solemn rebirth.”

In the Christian faith, death is sometimes compared to a second birth, or being born into the next life, Heaven. And maybe “rebirth” connects in a way with the word “carnal” from the first line of the quatrain, with its association with flesh and sexuality? This keeps the rhyme scheme and the 12 syllable meter. But I think your version is perfectly acceptable, and its often best to go with our original instinct in these matters.

Personally, I am partial to formal verse, yet Eve is just so long that I think it would take a large team of dedicated translators to put together a complete, respectable version that mimics Peguy’s form. It may be easier (and saner) for someone to attempt a free verse version that both accurately conveys the meaning and has a pleasing rhythm.

Thank you very much for sharing your translation and comments. Good luck with your project.

5 Comments

Filed under Poetry

The Mystery of the Holy Innocents: Reissued

PDDEMO.CS5

 

Its been a good year if you enjoy the poetry of Charles Péguy. In a recent post, I noted how The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc had been adapted into a feature film.  I also just learned that an abridged English translation of the third book in Péguy’s great trilogy, The Mystery of the Holy Innocents, has been reissued for the first time since 1956, by the Wipf and Stock Company. I purchased my copy through Amazon.

The poem was translated by Lady Pansy Lamb, an English noblewoman who released it under her maiden name of Pansy Pakenham.  For whatever reason, she chose not to translate about a third of the poem, so we have yet to see a complete translation in English. Alexander Dru, who translated some of Péguy’s other works, provides a lengthy Introduction.  Lady Lamb also includes translation of four of Péguy’s shorter poems, as well as three excerpts from Péguy’s Eve, which may be the longest poem in the French language.

The Mystery of the Holy Innocents is very similar to The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, the second book in the trilogy. It is a long, free verse poem in which Madame Gervaise, who we meet in the first book, delivers a monologue to Joan of Arc in the voice of the Father.  A wide range of subjects are covered: the virtues, the Cross, prayer, justice, mercy,  the French people, etc. It concludes with a lengthy meditation on the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

It begins:

I am, God says, Master of the Three Virtues.

 

Faith is a loyal wife.

Charity is a fervent mother.

But hope is a very little girl.

 

I am, God says, the Master of the Virtues.

 

It is Faith who holds fast through century upon century.

 

It is Charity who gives herself through centuries of centuries,

But it is my little hope

Who gets up every morning.

Lady Lamb states in a translator’s note that she cannot understand why Faith and Charity are capitalized, but hope is in lower case … My dear Lady, its because she is a little girl.  For Peguy, people could not help having Faith given the magnificence of creation, and Charity given our natural affections for one another. Having hope was the real surprise, and the greatest sign of something supernatural, given all the failure and misery in the world.  Why do the poor and oppressed have hope, given what they experience day in and day out? It is a sign of grace.

Now we just need for The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc to be reissued, and all three books will be available to the general public. I would watch the Cluny Media website. They seem to be publishing a lot of out of print works of fiction and non-fiction by Catholic authors.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

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.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies