Monday, October 22, 2018

Paul Claudel

Paul Claudel (1868—1955) is a French dramatist and poet, who was nominated six times for the Nobel Prize. He was also a French diplomat, serving in the United States, China, Tokyo, Brazil, and in several European cities.

Although he had been an unbeliever in his teens, on Christmas Day when he was 18 years old he heard a choir singing Vespers in Notre Dame cathedral; he reported, "In an instant, my heart was touched, and I believed." He was a faithful Catholic for the rest of his life.

He is often criticized for his conservative beliefs, including the antisemitism common to the France of his day; he, however, was opposed to the views of Nazis as early as 1930, and in 1940 he actively interceded for the Jewish husband of a distant relative who had been arrested by the Vichy government.

W.H. Auden, whose political views differed from Claudel’s, wrote the following couplet:
-----"Time will pardon Paul Claudel,
-----Pardon him for writing well"
which speaks to the conundrum of admiring an artist who voices opinions quite different from your own. George Steiner paired Claudel with Brecht as the two greatest dramatists of the 20th century.

The following is from "Magnificat" which is the third of the Five Great Odes as translated by Edward Lucie-Smith.

from Magnificat

My soul doth magnify the Lord.

O those long bitter streets of years ago. And the time when I was
-----single and alone!
Walking through Paris, that long street which goes down to Notre
I was like the young athlete going towards the Stadium, amidst
-----an eager group of friends and trainers,
One whispers in his ear, another, to strengthen the tendons,
-----bandages the arm given over to him.
It was thus that I walked amid the hurrying feet of my gods!
Fewer murmurs in the forest of St-Jean in summertime,
Less noise in Damascus when the sigh of the desert and the sound
-----of the plane-trees moving at evening in the ventilated air
Are joined to the speech of the waters that fall from the mountains
-----in tumult,
Than in this young heart filled with desires.
O Lord God a young man and the son of woman is more pleasing
-----to you than a young bull.
And, meeting you, I was like a wrestler who yields,
Not because he thinks himself weak, but because his opponent
-----is stronger.
You called me by my name
Like one who knew it, you chose me from among all those of my

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.