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.