Two Poems from the French of Paul Claudel

The Resurrection

 

This silence of all the centuries before me: there was no way,
             it had to be given up.
No way to say anymore of interrogated Earth:
             she shut herself up.
The stars set themselves to tell what they’ve seen,
             in tumult, each to each.
The ground’s broken silence and whatever it knows
             it sets itself to teach.

The sun’s not yet risen; before that immense solitude
             there’s an hour yet.
From Pole to Pole, there’s nothing to guard the tomb
             but the vigil of the firmament.
When suddenly by moonlight the bells—fat cluster of grapes
             hanging in the tower—
those benighted bells set themselves to sounding
             as if by their own power.

It’s no human word. It’s the outsize sidereal
             vintage swaying
in triumph; and the Earth, delivered Godward blow by blow,
             urges this solemn baying.
The soul, already half-undressed, cries out
             craving delirium.
And the dead, already half-living, mix with those bells’
             mumbled magisterium.

 

The Virgin of Brangues

 

I am at her feet and I am praying.
But she, well… you couldn’t exactly say she sees me or hears me.
She is reflecting.
In the way one says that calm, pure water reflects.
The infant she holds in her left arm is the one who hears me. His ear
      is turned toward me.
His heart beats…
And the proof that it beats is the long thin hand, raised over him, of
     his mother, who listens to him.
She listens to him listening.
And the hand of the child in its turn rests on the mother’s arm.
Upon the maternal artery.
The Virgin of Brangues is a virgin who works.
And here I am, showing up at a job already well under way.

 

Brangues, 6 August, 1950

 

Paul Claudel (1868-1955) was a French poet, dramatist, and diplomat.As well as his famous verse dramas, Claudel also wrote lyric poetry. A major example is the Cinq Grandes Odes (Five Great Odes, 1907).






Jonathan Geltner is the translator of Paul Claudel's Five Great Odes (Angelico Press 2020) and author of Absolute Music: a novel (Slant Books 2022).


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