The Third Great Ode
By Paul Claudel
The poet recalls the blessings of God and lifts to him
a canticle of acknowledgement.
—For you have delivered me from idols.
Solemnity and magnificence of those things which are real, a spectacle of activity; for all things serve.
The poet asks for his place among these servants.
—For you have delivered me from death.
Horror and execration of a murderous and
dehumanizing philosophy. Embrace of poetic duty,
which is to discover God in all things and
to render them like love itself.—Pause.
Weariness of created things. Submission pure and simple
to the divine will and order.—Blessed are you, my God,
who have delivered me from myself and who have
placed yourself in my arms in the form
of this newborn child.
Thus bearing God, the poet enters
upon the Promised Land.
"Be blessed, my God, who have delivered me from idols,
who have made me to adore you alone, and not Isis or Osiris,
or Justice or Progress or Truth or Divinity or Humanity
or Art or Beauty—
all these abstractions which you have not permitted, nothing—
nor even to adore the Void left by your absence."
"Fierce and dramatic and revelatory and full of gift...
Geltner's splendid translation—precise, fluid, and visceral—
~ Jennifer Newsome Martin,
author of Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought
"For I am not free among the dead,
I exist among the things that are, and I constrain them
to hold me indispensable.
What do your fables matter to me? Only let me
go to the window and open the night, and let burst
upon my eyes, in a single instant figure,
the innumerable stars that are my constant necessity."
I desire not to be superior but to be just
Just as You are Perfect, just and living
among the other spirits that are real.
"Here at last is an English Claudel that does justice to his magnificent vision of grace and abundance."
~ James Matthew Wilson,
author of The Hanging God
"You, newly arrived, I may look on you at last.
You, my soul, at last I can see your face,
like a mirror I've just withdrawn from God
and still holding no image but His."
"Truly, it is cause for celebration that one of the finest poetic works of the 20th century is now available to an English audience in language so shimmering,
so passionate, so deeply-rooted in the grace of poesis."
~ Michael Martin,
author of Transfiguration: Notes Toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything
"As You needed Mary, and Mary needed
the line of all her ancestors
before her soul could magnify you, before
to receive life from me, as from the hand
of the consecrating priest, and you have placed yourself
in this image I hold in my arms, this image that is real."
You could receive from her glory in our eyes,
even so You have needed me in my turn,
so you have desired, oh my Master,
FROM THE TRANSLATOR:
"So often being a modern person—
a person, perhaps, in this respect unlike the brilliantly and energetically and erotically unselfconscious Claudel—
so much of being modern means not even wanting that [invisible] world, but only wanting to want it.
Belief or faith is really trust. Trust in what?
In the realness of that other world.
What we lack is belief, faith, ontological trust.
And so reality seems less and less real to us, and we make more and more virtuality to compensate for the lack, more introspection but less real inwardness...
But for Claudel reality was real, awesomely real,
both inwardly and outwardly. It is my chief hope that the reader of these Odes will, like me, come through the poetry to feel, if only momentarily, the realness of reality."
~ Jonathan Geltner
Paul Claudel was born in rural northeastern France. He absorbed the poetry of Walt Whitman and Arthur Rimbaud while in his teens, and experienced a religious epiphany at Notre Dame cathedral during Christmas 1886. The poet served throughout the world in the French diplomatic corps, and died in 1955.
James T. Majewski holds an MFA in Acting from the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. His one-man show, Magnificat, is a dramatic adaptation of Claudel's Third Great Ode. He is the host and narrator of Catholic Culture Audiobooks, and lives in New York City with his wife and one-year-old son.
Jonathan Geltner lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and children. He is fiction editor for Orison Books and teaches at Adrian College. He is the translator of Paul Claudel's Five Great Odes. His novel, Absolute Music, is forthcoming from Slant books.