The shadows beckon,
Pledging no expectation
The shadows beckon,
Pledging no expectation
Its been a good year if you enjoy the poetry of Charles Péguy. In a recent post, I noted how The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc had been adapted into a feature film. I also just learned that an abridged English translation of the third book in Péguy’s great trilogy, The Mystery of the Holy Innocents, has been reissued for the first time since 1956, by the Wipf and Stock Company. I purchased my copy through Amazon.
The poem was translated by Lady Pansy Lamb, an English noblewoman who released it under her maiden name of Pansy Pakenham. For whatever reason, she chose not to translate about a third of the poem, so we have yet to see a complete translation in English. Alexander Dru, who translated some of Péguy’s other works, provides a lengthy Introduction. Lady Lamb also includes translation of four of Péguy’s shorter poems, as well as three excerpts from Péguy’s Eve, which may be the longest poem in the French language.
The Mystery of the Holy Innocents is very similar to The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, the second book in the trilogy. It is a long, free verse poem in which Madame Gervaise, who we meet in the first book, delivers a monologue to Joan of Arc in the voice of the Father. A wide range of subjects are covered: the virtues, the Cross, prayer, justice, mercy, the French people, etc. It concludes with a lengthy meditation on the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.
I am, God says, Master of the Three Virtues.
Faith is a loyal wife.
Charity is a fervent mother.
But hope is a very little girl.
I am, God says, the Master of the Virtues.
It is Faith who holds fast through century upon century.
It is Charity who gives herself through centuries of centuries,
But it is my little hope
Who gets up every morning.
Lady Lamb states in a translator’s note that she cannot understand why Faith and Charity are capitalized, but hope is in lower case … My dear Lady, its because she is a little girl. For Peguy, people could not help having Faith given the magnificence of creation, and Charity given our natural affections for one another. Having hope was the real surprise, and the greatest sign of something supernatural, given all the failure and misery in the world. Why do the poor and oppressed have hope, given what they experience day in and day out? It is a sign of grace.
Now we just need for The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc to be reissued, and all three books will be available to the general public. I would watch the Cluny Media website. They seem to be publishing a lot of out of print works of fiction and non-fiction by Catholic authors.
Not to pluck this flower,
Which bides inside this bower,
And lies within his power:
His strangest trial,
Perhaps to smile,
And forbear a little while.
And oh to hear his laughter,
At us who would be master.
Impatiens so sought after
And asters would fly faster.
But too soon a prune, before the bloom,
Not June, but a disaster.
A Shasta seeks a ladder
To scale some frail hereafter.
Yet better stay a daisy,
And linger long and lazy.
For too soon a bloom, before the groom,
Not June, but a disaster.
And Susans may be hasty
To grasp for shady rapture.
Rather black eyes capture,
The patience of Our Lady.
For too soon the groom, before there’s room,
Not June, but a disaster.
I am the troll of icy fells,
My hole beneath the bells.
What bells disturb my nest?
You ask and seem to jest.
Yet I trow I know your quest,
So I will tell of hellish test
I failed and fell to frozen rest.
I tried to cross that bridge,
A ridge wrapped in mist.
No easy path, I tripped and roared
In wrath and plunged to
Fires cold, not soared
To spires above the blue,
Shores of heaven hue.
But alas, would this tale were true.
The final wall that we
Would scale at last,
I climbed but was too fast
And slipped and missed my grasp,
Slid down to under pass.
A river pouring fast
Lashed and beached me
On this bank at last,
To scrape rank hole,
And roll and roll amid my
Pile of gold, pale and cold.
And now I smell the putrid air
Of self-regard that taints my lair.
Shallow pride I would ascribe
To callow member of your tribe.
Trust much in vestus virum facit?
There is no treasure in your pocket.
Do you think your ore so rare,
A priceless earth without compare?
Mere slag and dross I see,
Not free of flaw, no loss if lost
Among these crags and hoar.
So go from this stronghold
And take your precious quest
Away from here. No bells
Will tell me what to fear.
As if a brass hourglass
Were creeping near, to ware
Me of some ending year,
When shadows no more linger
And even ice despairs.
And would that cold could crack
Those bells. No chimes will
Drive me from these fells,
Or twist my will by spells.
Nor would dread foe come near,
For I hold this hoard so dear,
And yet these words I hear …
I whisper, lean here.
See, I would not pay the toll,
This gold we clutch so bold.
Merits of old we hold as if
To seize a feast we long
To eat, us least who chose
To fast from love, not soar
By trust above, light as sands
That slide from empty hands.
One must let go to pay the toll,
And see fool’s gold slip below,
Down to darken cold so vast,
No concern for first or last.
An old troll swallows whole
The truth that wealth won’t ask:
Two open palms grip the grasp.
Those reaching hands you seek
Wait there the poor and meek.
So go. Leave tarnished gold,
Dull and cold, in this bowl
For sinner low and weak.
No fear? Stand there, before that door,
A bloody badge the bridge of gold
To kingdom last, where bells adore
That master of the silver shore
Who calls to severed souls: Amor
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.
For a man
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every woman
That lived and died.
For a woman
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every child
That died young.
Thinking on Hesperides, Muses
A growing doubt put me through my paces:
Do they love us,
And our pretty faces?
For we men are prone to idolatry,
And of that they ask no apology.
See any array of feminine statuary,
They seem content with their mythology.
And I would remind the men that marry,
That our brides make no sculptuary,
For the tribe of Tom, Dick or Harry.
Nor do they personify, the virtues masculine
of Guy or guy, in figures legendary.
There are no Gracos, Musers or Hesperados,
Our sisters sing no hymns to such desperados.
And while they have many talents to discover,
When will they paint the Mona Lisa’s brother?
And why no verse and oratory
To the universe of our glory?
What’s the story,
are we so ordinary?
My reply is negatory.
There is no need to bronze a paragon like Ron,
To carve a steed named Hugh into a statue,
Or marble Dave, already suave in his man-cave,
And launch a thousand ships, to bring back Skip.
Our poetesses need no such excesses.
For every man is grand,
and when a woman takes his hand,
She is flown to Shang-Ri-Land,
His well earned reward are her caresses.
So dear women, do not apologize,
For your failure to mythologize.
For in our natural state,
There is nothing much to hate.
‘Tis your fate to be tongued-tied,
When you contemplate your mate.
And so I close this song of Orpheus,
For fear of an approaching chorus,
Some reproach by a throng of Maenads,
Who appear to be quite mad … Egad!
Yes, this does rely on some made up words, and incorrect pronunciations. “Guy” should be the French version too.
Here lies my poor homage to Robert Herrick. And my apologies for departing from poems about a more worthy Subject. However, when I read a poet, I find I want to write a poem like they did. When I read Peguy, I tried writing poems like Peguy … And now I am reading Herrick. And I can’t move onto my next poem until I get an idea out of my system.
Herrick was very witty, and though a minister, he liked to write about the battle of the sexes. So I wrote a poem he might like, if he was around now. I agree with the advice of the poetry teachers I am reading that you shoud read from a great variety of poets. Imitation is a good learning method.
Herrick is very readable, and his entire output, over 1000 poems, is collected in Hesperides and Noble Numbers. They are available in ebook form on Kindle or at iBooks. I would recommend the 1898 combined edition, Volume 1 and 2, with the preface by Swinburne at the iBooks store. That one is free, and has notes to explain archaic words.
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.
Will our eyes grow weary,
Of staring at your glory?
I think not, but if I did,
I’d wonder on the humble lid.
When you rose and played the host,
Your friends saw you and not a ghost.
They did not cry, and run or hide,
In fear of man with no lid of eye.
In this dream I find some comfort,
That in our mansions we may slumber.
For it is fine to feast, and play and pray,
But I think I’d miss the end of day,
To feel some weakness in my bones,
And sigh, and stretch and head for home.
I would climb up to my royal room,
Where awaits our friend the groom,
Who speaks the name that no one knows,
The stone a rose our hearts disclose,
And drift away as eyelids close,
To blessed darkness, sweet repose.