De la Corona aux Visages radieux

Poetry written after the Five Great Odes is from a man of faith. Catholicism often rhymes with liturgy. The Processional to greet the new century (1907) takes its form in the procession to celebrate the temporal continuity of the Catholic world until the advent of the heavenly Jerusalem. The Offering of Time (1914) reminds us that religion, “feeling of origin”, unites what is passing, beings, with what remains, eternity. The Corona Benignitatis Anni Dei (“Crown of Benignity of the Year of God”, 1915) is partly organized around the traditional divisions of the breviary. From the liturgical model, Claudel retains the existence, above the earthly year, of a celestial year, constantly restarted, “whose stages Christ has fixed”. Collection in four parts, “The first part of the year”, “The Apostles’ Group”, “The second part of the year”, “The Way of the Cross”, these two symmetrical sets being separated by the “Images and bookmarks between the leaves”, a set of poems of youth, crisis, circumstances or provoked by the diplomatic career. The Corona integrates the biography into the Christic drama. The diversity of poetic forms, hagiographic poem (St. Francis Xavier), biblical poem (The Presentation), prayer (Prayer for Sunday Morning), exegetical meditation (Hymn of the Sacred Heart), contributes to the tonal diversity of the collection: joy, meditation, solemnity, seriousness inspired by dogma alternate, lyrical, didactic and epic succeed each other. For the saint is indeed for Claudel an exemplary being, who offers, like those holy images that Rodrigo drew in the fourth Day of the Satin Slipper, to the community of believers the model of a total self-accomplishment for God. The Catholic epic is thus coupled with a Catholic ethic. Other collections practice this writing, nourished by liturgical and biblical references: The Mass there, composed in Brazil during the First World War between May and December 1917, in a period of boredom, exile and family separation, follows in its structure the ordinary of the Mass (“Introït”, “Kyrie eleison”, “Gloria”, etc.). Biography and History, dramatic, as in the Poems of War (1914-1918), makes sense in and through Catholicism.

This writing, nourished by biblical and liturgical inter-texts, close to exegesis and commentary, is practiced in other collections. The biographical facts and the dramatic collective history are integrated and subsumed in the sacred time and space of the Office: the indicator there refers to the liturgical and transitional place that gives meaning to existence. The War Poems, those of the 1914-1918 war, then those of the Second World War, obey the same ecstatic and interpretative movement.

Feuilles de Saints (1925) is based on hagiographical inspiration (“Sainte Cécile”, “Sainte Thérèse”, “Sainte Geneviève” etc.), integrating literary figures (“Verlaine”, “Jacques Rivière”) or close friends (“L’Architecte”, Claudel’s father-in-law) into this sacred and sanctified ensemble. By their length, these little epics reflect aesthetic and poetic choices: the composition uses “the proportion that infinitely raises each detail and gives it all its value”. After the First World War, the Catholic’s ethical choices became more assertive: the French saints established “essential attitudes” of France’s “organic and traditional society”. The 1947 collection, Radiant faces, extends the 1925 project, without bringing structural, thematic and prosodic innovation.

In this collection after the Five Great Odes, a constant, other than questions of composition, faith, catechesis and composition, is affirmed: the importance given to rhythmic questions. The Processional opens “new rhythmic studies” modelled on the Liturgical Sequence, on the emphasis placed on the center of the verse line, without the measure being that of the 12- syllable “alexandrine”, and on the return to rhyme, if not assonance, which, “by its whimsical and arbitrary nature, is a wonderful element of discovery”. The musicality of the distics, even the verse, is thus put at the service of faith to celebrate the word of God.