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 Lord, 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 understand 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! Lord, do not let me die until, for them, all danger is driven away. Amen
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. Amen
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. Amen
The Prayer of the Cat Lord, I am the cat. It is not, exactly that I have something to ask of You! No--- I ask nothing of anyone--- but, 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, Amen
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 this land’s first storytellers.