Academic journal article Cithara

Gratia Gratis Data: Claudel's Concept of Poet and Poetry

Academic journal article Cithara

Gratia Gratis Data: Claudel's Concept of Poet and Poetry

Article excerpt

In an essay intended as a conclusion to a series of modern critical reflections on Claudel's work, Pierre-Henri Simon observed that Claudel's fundamental mission was to "dedicate the creation to the Creator through the word" and that "he, the poet" would be placed between God and the world as a witness explaining to the world "God's word and offering to God the intelligible hymn of creation."1

Claudel's poetic work manifests the unmistakable seal of grace and faith. His poetic work, consequently, almost as an ancilla theologiae, is an act aiming to reflect on, to decipher metaphorically God's presence in creation. His poetic work makes of the poet himself a creator in the image of the Creator.

As André Blanc observes, for Claudel the universe is a work of art, a divine poem, which the poet tries to decipher.2 The universe therefore answers to God's intention and to its internal logic; God is the center of the universe just as He is its initial and also final cause, and the poet breathes, expresses and explains its rhythm, movement and sense. Claudel articulates the essence of this concept in the following terms in his Positions et Propositions 1:

We know that the world is in fact a text and that it speaks to us, humbly and joyously, of its own absence but also of the eternal presence in it of someone else, that is to say of its Creator. Not only the writing, but also the writer, not only the dead letter, but the living spirit, and not a magical book of spells, but the Word (Verbe) in which all things have been uttered-God!3

The poet's role is to discover the sense of things; to understand is necessary in order to create, and the poet creates to decipher, to transcribe, to explain, at the existential level, God's admirable work. In a long reflection on the book and on poetry, after observing that no existence is possible for poetry without emotion, without a movement of the soul (anima) which regulates that of the words,4 Claudel explains that the book is not only an instrument in the hands of a virtuoso, but above all an instrument of knowledge;5 the object of poetry is not therefore dreams, illusions or ideas, but what he calls "this sacred reality," that is the universe of things invisible, the work of God which gives inexhaustible matter to the poet whose creation constitutes "an image and a view of the entire creation."6

Poetry, for Claudel, is a mirror which recovers by reflection the sense of humanity, the mirror where God looks at himself through the human lens. In L'Oeil Écoute, a collection of essays on art, Claudel observes that "God gives all that he has done to us not only to look at but also to understand."7 But to understand "the mark of the Creator" it is necessary to have intelligence, that is to say, the capacity to intelligere, to inlire or "to read from within." In order to understand, it is not sufficient to think, but it is necessary to incarnate God's word, it is necessary to realize the Verbum. "The happiness of being Catholic," Claudel writes, "was for me above all that of communicating with the universe, in agreement with those first and fundamental things which are the sea, the earth, the sky and the word of God."8 The function of the poetical logos for Claudel is to utter, to pronounce God's name. In this sense, observes Claudel, poetry is similar to prayer, for it extracts from things their purest essence: "It is in this sense that poetry rejoins prayer, for it extracts from things their pure essence which is to be God's creatures and witness to God."9 Before the word of the Verbum there is chaos, which does not have being. By analogy to the Creator who "says," the poet "repeats," creates to offer evidence of the Verbum. The Logos is what assures the coherence of the universe; the Catholic poet with his word impresses, engraves, on the white of the page, on its silence, producing a text which is the witness, affirmation, explanation of the Verbum. The poet's logos is communication; the logos of the Catholic poet is, for Claudel, the human equivalent of the divine word during the act of Creation. …

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