Searching out better translations of the poems of Paul Claudel, an influence now for more than 30 years. Today is dedicated to the rosary and much of the incantatory piercing poetry of Claudel reminds me that the rosary mysteries are more than just soothing pablum for those unable to sleep.
The Day of Gifts
[trans. Jonathan Monroe Geltner]
It’s not true that Your saints have won everything: they left me with sins enough.
Someday I’ll lie on my deathbed, Lord, ill-shaven and yellow as a lifelong drunk.
And I’ll make a general examination of myself, looking back over all my days,
And I’ll see that I’m rich after all, ripe and rich with evil in its unnumbered paths and ways.
I haven’t lost one single chance, Lord, to make matter for You to pardon.
Now I hearten myself with vice, having long ago sloughed off virtue’s burden.
Each day has its own kind of crime, plain to see, and I count them like some paranoid miser.
If what you need, Lord, are virgins, if what you need are brave men beneath your standard;
If there are people for whom to be Christian words alone would not suffice,
But who know rather that only in stirring themselves to chase after You is there any life,
Well then there’s Dominic and Francis, Saint Lawrence and Saint Cecilia and plenty more!
But if by chance You should have need of a lazy and imbecilic bore,
If a prideful coward could prove useful to You, or perhaps a soiled ingrate,
Or the sort of man whose hard heart shows up in a hard face—
Well, anyway, You didn’t come to save the just but that other type that abounds,
And if, miraculously, You run out of them elsewhere . . . Lord, I’m still around.
And what kind of a man is so crude that he hasn’t held a little something back from You,
Hasn’t in his free time fashioned something special for You,
Hoping that one day the idea will come to You to ask it of him,
And maybe this little that he’s made himself, kept back until then, though horrid and tortuous, will please Your whim.
It would be something that he’d put his whole heart into, something useless and malformed.
Just like that my little daughter once, on my birthday, teetered forward with encumbered arms
And offered me, her heart at once full of timidity and pride,
A magnificent little duck she had made with her own two hands, a pincushion, made of red wool and gold thread.