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Denise Levertov: “Annunciation” from St. James Cathedral, Seattle on Vimeo.





The Virgin at Noon | Paul Claudel

 
It is noon. I see the church, open. I must go in.
Mother of Jesus Christ, I do not come to pray.
 
I have nothing to offer and nothing to ask.
I come, Mother, only to look at you.
 
To look at you, to weep for happiness, knowing that
I am your son, and that you are there.
 
Just one moment while everything stops.
Noon!
To be with you, Mary, in this place where you are.
 
Not to say anything, but only to sing
Because the heart is too full;
Like the blackbird that pursues its idea
In impromptu couplets like these.
 
Because you are beautiful, because you are immaculate,
The woman at last restored in Grace,
 
The creature in her first dignity
And in her final glory,
Just as she came forth from God in the morning
Of her original splendor.
 
Ineffably intact because you are
the Mother of Jesus Christ,
Who is the Truth carried in your arms, and the only hope
And the only fruit.
 
Because you are the woman,
The Eden of the old forgotten tenderness,
Whose glance finds the heart suddenly
And makes the pent-up tears overflow.
 
Because it is noon,
Because we are in this moment, today,
Because you are there, always,
Simply because you are Mary,
Simply because you exist,
 
Mother of Jesus Christ, thanks be to you!
 
Translation by Corinna Laughlin

Corinna Laughlin's reflection:

Paul Claudel was born in 1868 into a typical bourgeois French household. Though baptized a Catholic, religion was not really part of his life and by his teens he was a non-believer. At the age of 18, he went on a whim to Notre Dame in Paris for Mass on Christmas Day.  As he later wrote, he thought the ceremonies might give him some good material for a few decadent poems. Later that afternoon, he returned for Christmas Vespers. And something happened.
 
“I was towards the front of the crowd, close to the second pillar at the entrance to the choir, to the right on the sacristy side. It was then that the event happened which has dominated my entire life. In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed. I believed, with such strength… that ever since, no books, no reasonings, none of the vicissitudes of a restless life, have been able to shake my faith, nor, truth to tell, even to touch it.” Claudel tried to join the Benedictines, but was turned down. He entered the diplomatic service instead, and served all over the world, including the US, where he made the cover of Time magazine! His prolific writing—poetry, prose, and drama—was deeply imbued with his Catholic faith. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize six times.
 
For Claudel, that transforming moment of conversion was closely associated with Mary. Though he did not know it at the time, he later realized that his conversion had taken place as the choir began to sing Mary’s song, the Magnificat.
 
Claudel wrote, tongue in cheek, “After all, woman, it was you who made the first move…. Everything that has happened since, I can’t help it, you are responsible!”
 
Something of that same loving and playful tone comes through in today’s poem Claudel describes entering a church at Noon, which is of course the hour of the Angelus, a traditional Catholic prayer to Mary. But Claudel says, surprisingly, “I do not come to pray. I have nothing to offer and nothing to ask.” So why is he there? “not to say anything, but only to sing.” He simply wants to be in Mary’s presence, as in the presence of a mother.
 
In the second half of the poem, Claudel meditates on the uniqueness of Mary. Mary is the New Eve, giving us a glimpse of God’s creation in its “first dignity,” before the fall; and she is also God’s creature “in her final glory,” for in Mary’s Assumption, we glimpse the dignity of each human person, destined to share in the Resurrection of the Body.
 
At the end of the poem, Claudel steps back from the grandeur of this theologically rich imagery about Mary, and returns to the simplicity with which he began. He gives thanks, simply because Mary is there—simply because Mary is.



 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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