Prieres Dans L’Archen | Prayer’s from the Ark #poems

For those of you who know me well, you will know this is not my usual fare. But, I do like to research poems that have been used as epigraphs in the books I’m reading, or by authors I’m curious about.

Obviously I am curious about all things Rumer Godden, at the moment. Rumer Godden Reading Week begins in one months time on the 4th December.

Godden was not a poet herself, but as a writer, she knew when she was onto a good thing. Whilst on a writing retreat in a French Benedictine Abbey she uncovered a self-published collection of poems from 1947 called Prieres Dans L’Archen by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold (9 October 1919 – 23 September 1995).

Carmen spent the Occupation years of WWII at the Benedictine Abbaye de Saint Louis du Temple near Paris where she lived and worked under the care of the nuns. It appears that she had suffered a breakdown of some kind. As part of her treatment the nuns encouraged her to write.

Godden was charmed by the poems and sought Carmen’s permission to translate them into English. Two books were produced as a result – Prayers from the Ark (1963) and The Creatures’ Choir (1965).

As most translators do, Godden found capturing the nuance and double meaning of many of the French words a challenge. That may be, but the poems featured below are full of humour, characterisation and delight in their own right.

Over the years there have been a multitude of editions with accompanying illustrations. I’ve included four of my favourite poem-prayers below. The other 27 poems feature a tortoise, an owl, a rhinoceros, a raven, butterflies, a pig, a hedgehog, a goat and a dove, just to name a few.

The Prayer of the Dog

I keep watch!
If I am not here
who will guard their house?
Watch over their sleep?
Be faithful?
No one but you and I
what faithfulness is.
They call me, “Good dog! Nice dog!”
Words . . .
I take their pats
and the old bones they make me happy.
I take kicks too
when they come my way.
None of that matters.
I keep watch!
do not let me die
until, for them,
all danger is driven away.
Prayer of the Ox

Dear God, 
give me time.
Men are always so driven!
Make them understand that I can never hurry.
Give me time to eat.
Give me time to plod.
Give me time to sleep.
Give me time to think.
Prayer of the Little Ducks

Dear God, 
give us a flood of water.
Let it rain tomorrow and always.
Give us plenty of slugs
and other luscious things to eat.
Protect all of us who quack,
and bless everyone who knows how to swim.
The Prayer of the Cat

I am the cat.
It is not, exactly that I have something to ask of You!
I ask nothing of anyone---
if You have by some chance, in some celestial barn,
a little white mouse,
or a saucer of milk,
I know someone who would relish them.
Wouldn't You like someday
to put a curse on the whole race of dogs?
If so I should say,
Illustration by Jean Primrose (1965)

A Poem For a Thursday with Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness is a weekly opportunity to pay attention to poetry.


This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.

22 thoughts on “Prieres Dans L’Archen | Prayer’s from the Ark #poems

    1. It’s my turn now Lisa!! I scheduled this post last month – it was meant to be for Dec & Rumer Godden reading week 🤷🏼‍♀️🤦🏻‍♀️
      I guess I can now use it as an anticipation post instead!!!


  1. Oh, those are so much fun! I’m glad you found them.

    I’m glad there was a scheduling mistake. 😉 I briefly thought, oh, no! It’s Rumer Godden week already! And I’m behind…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. By the time I realised the mistake, the post was filling up with comments, so I decided to leave it here with a slight adjustment to the text. There are lots more poems. I will now save a couple more for December 🙂


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