Page 3, 7th December 1956

7th December 1956
Page 3
Page 3, 7th December 1956 — CHARLES PEG U Y, THE POET AND HIS RELIGION

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Organisations: Charity of Joan of Arc
Locations: Orleans


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PEGUY, by Alexander Dru. (Harvill, 15s.).

THE HOLY INNOCENTS AND OTHER POEMS. by Charles Peguy, translated by Pansy Pakenhant (Harvill, 15s.).

CHARLES Peguy wrote three long poems-" The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc." " The Mystery of the Holy Innocents " and " Eve ". The first of these was translated into English by Julian Green and constitutes the sum total of Peguy's work so far published in this country. His dramatic life, too, is hardly known to us. A translation of a biography by his friend Daniel Haldvy was published 10 years ago by Dobson, and an essay in Karl Pfleger's " Wreet less with Christ " (published by Sheed 20 years ago) is devoted to him-hut apart from these modest attempts to introduce Peguy to the English public, nothing (to my knowledge) has been done. so that most of us know of him only through quotations on the fly-leases of Graleini

Greene novels. Indeed, he has been less well served over here than Bloy (whom he heartily disliked).

Thus the Harvill Press is to be warmly congratulated on bringing out the two hooks under reviewone a translation of the second of Pieguy's long poems, together with some of the better-known passages from " Eve" and a selection of shorter poems; the other an appraisal of P6guy's work against the baokground of his life and times.

Mr. Dru is admirably equipped

for this task, His book makes hard, intellectual reading, especially the detailed analysis of Coleridge's distinction between imagination and fancy and how it relates to Peguy's work. My one C1-itiCiRt11 is that Peguy, the fascinating, magnetic personality, does not come to life sufficiently to satisfy the novice who likes to see the man beneath the thinker and

the poet. In short, one regrets that the book is not longer.

CHARLES Pdguy was born in Orleans in 1873 of peasant stock. With the help of scholarships he was sent to the College

Louis-le-Grand, and thence to the Eeole Normale, where he came under Bergson's influence. However, marriage. the Dreyfus ease (he was a passionate Dreyfusard), his prose drama " Jeanne D'Arc." all interrupted his studies. and with the help of his wife's dowry he abandoned them and founded the publishing firm from which appeared for 10 years his famous "Cahiers de la Quinzaine" (besides hooks by ,Romain Rolland and the Tharauds. among others).

He was an ardent socialist at this time, and an atheist. His Thursday afternoons in his minute publishing office cum bookshop in the Rue de la Sorbonne were unique. Everyone loved him.

His conversion in 1908 he himself refused to call a "conversion" but an urerefondissement (a deepening): he hadn't changed. he had deepened, or had seen deeper. Thereafter. having been a prosewriter expounding 'his pewees in the Colliers. he started writing his poems.

In 1914 he was killed on the first day. of the Battle of the Marne at the age of 41.

UT Nguy's Catholicism was very much his own and is excellently explained by Mr. Dru. He believed profoundly in freedom. Tont le jaillissemeni est dans le gentle, tout l'ordre dons l'epi all the activity, the freedom is in the seed, all the order is in the fruit-a dictum applicable to his poetry (making him essentially a romantic) as much as to his faith.

So great a respect had he for freedom that he would not try to persuade his wife to become a Catholic or go through a religious form of marriage after his own conveision, a th the result that he was always excluded from the sacra ments.

He was deeply aware of his country's history and traditions and he loved the world, hoWever homely (unlike Bloy). fle referred to fathers of families as " the great adventurers of the modern world" and thought the rising generation magnificent. Peguy's influence on the French of today is enormous. When his son was ill he made a pilgrimage to Chartres. walking the 144 kilometres in three days. In 1956, sonic 11.000 students made that pilgrimage. In the last 10 years 20 biographies of Peguy have been published in France,

FOR the translation of " The Holy Innocents " by Pansy Pakenham there can be nothing but admiration. This great poem in praise of hope is written in free verse and simple language, and therefore, possibly, made fewer demands on the gifted translator than other poems in this selection where it is essential to preserve Peguy's rhyming scheme. ' Here. 1 feel, only Roy Campbell could have done better, and thlt is saying a great deal.

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