Paradise with the Donkeys

Richard Wilbur, a great poet in his own right, also has a reputation as an exceptional translator of non-English poetry. What follows is one I enjoy, originally written by French poet Francis Jammes (1868-1938). I cannot read French, so I don’t know if Wilbur improved on the original or not. Either way, this version is very fine.
 (The photograph is of Jammes, n.d.)

A Prayer to Go to Paradise with the Donkeys
            to Máire and Jack
When I must come to you, O my God, I pray
It be some dusty-roaded holiday,
And even as in my travels here below,
I beg to choose by what road I shall go
To Paradise, where the clear stars shine by day.
I’ll take my walking-stick and go my way,
And to my friends the donkeys I shall say,
“I am Francis Jammes, and I’m going to Paradise,
For there is no hell in the land of the loving God.”
And I’ll say to them: “Come, sweet friends of the blue skies,
Poor creatures who with a flap of the ears or a nod
Of the head shake off the buffets, the bees, the flies . . .”
Let me come with these donkeys, Lord, into your land,
These beasts who bow their heads so gently, and stand
With their small feet joined together in a fashion
Utterly gentle, asking your compassion.
I shall arrive, followed by their thousands of ears,
Followed by those with baskets at their flanks,
By those who lug the carts of mountebanks
Or loads of feather-dusters and kitchen-wares,
By those with humps of battered water-cans,
By bottle-shaped she-asses who halt and stumble,
By those tricked out in little pantaloons
To cover their wet, blue galls where flies assemble
In whirling swarms, making a drunken hum.
Dear God, let it be with these donkeys that I come,
And let it be that angels lead us in peace
To leafy streams where cherries tremble in air,
Sleek as the laughing flesh of girls; and there
In that haven of souls let it be that, leaning above
Your divine waters, I shall resemble these donkeys,
Whose humble and sweet poverty will appear
Clear in the clearness of your eternal love.

Ignoring the Person

When the truth of the person is underrated or ignored in the realm of theology, this inevitably leads to the creation of a legal, external ethic. Man’s ethos or morality ceases to relate to the truth of the person, to the dynamic event of true life and its existential realization. His moral problem is no longer an existential one, a problem of salvation from natural necessity; it is a pseudo-problem of objective obligations which remain existentially unjustifiable. Then repentance too is distorted by elements alien to it . . . 

–Christos Yannaras, from The Freedom of Morality


Three Word Wednesday, prompt words affair, expectation, free. Mixed feelings about this one.

I heard my share
of sermons, serving
time on straight-backed
pews, begrudging each
moment lost
                  to eternity.
My elders sat willingly
in expectation
of heavenly reward, glad
to leave all worldly affairs,
glad to rest weary
bones if only for
a moment.
They meant well.
I see that now, now
that my own bones
need rest, now that
I hope beyond all hope
to be free 
in the divine.
But we will never
decipher the mystery, try
as we might. Will we?
All we have from him
we already know,
written bold. Do
not kill, do
not steal, do
unto others.
We stumble over what
we do not have: the
shrouded, incomprehensible,
written in sand, faint
markings that lead us
to belief or despair. I believe
it is enough to want
to believe. It is enough.

Milton and Blake–Expulsion from Paradise

(image by the incomparable William Blake)

In either hand the hastening Angel caught
Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast
To the subjected plain; then disappeared.
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms.
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

–John Milton, from Paradise Lost (12.641-649)