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Five Great Odes

Five Great Odes

By Paul Claudel

Translated by Jonathan Geltner

128 pp

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About the Book

One curious feature of our times is the co-existence of a nearly unimaginable rapidity of communications with an at-times slow, even glacial, movement of ideas. Narratives that have lost any genuine explanatory power, along with the biased historical scholarship of earlier centuries, have become entrenched in the minds of millions, seemingly immune from being dislodged. Such simplistic queries as “What about Galileo?” “What about the Crusades?” are still meant to draw Catholics up short, a conversation-stopper. Scholarship of recent decades, however, has thrown new light on these matters, and is finally allowing the truths of history to become more widely known. Here is the distillation of the best of that recent historical work for students and adults alike—an unadorned laying bare of the truth. The five myths analyzed in this book have each been shaped by post-Reformation propaganda and Enlightenment prejudices and their residual effects. With Gerard Verschuuren’s new book, Catholics now have sure and ready replies to these baneful narratives.


“Claudel’s poetry is generally feared for its spontaneous excess, its Rimbaudian logorrhea, and this has hurt its reception by English readers. This new translation reveals, however, that Claudel is the true Catholic poet, one of mastery and plentitude, and, in this, that strangest of figures comparable perhaps only to J.R.R. Tolkien. Claudel’s Odes show him indeed to be a new Tom Bombadil, who moves through the world without irony because he has already transcended the jaded and impoverished vision typical of the modern age and entered with joy into an experience of the universal and the eternal. Here at last is an English Claudel that does justice to his magnificent vision of grace and abundance.”


author of The Hanging God

“With this new translation of Five Great Odes, Jonathan Geltner has reintroduced Claudel’s poetry to the Anglophone world with all the elegance, sensitivity, and power that the magisterial French Catholic poet merits. The poems themselves are minor miracles of both language and spiritual theology: fierce and dramatic and revelatory and full of gift. Indeed, Claudel is much like the biblical Psalmist, variously giving poetic, even sensual, voice to the anguish of desire, the mysteries of creation, and the ineffable, unsettling presence of God within the human soul. Geltner’s splendid translation—precise, fluid, and visceral—absolutely sings.”


author of Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought

“‘Translation,’ Kenneth Rexroth famously observed, ‘saves you from your contemporaries.’ English-language readers have long been overdue a fresh translation of Paul Claudel’s sprawling, ambitious, ecstatic, shape-shifting Five Great Odes. And Jonathan Geltner’s utterly absorbing translation not only gives contemporary readers a gorgeous example of one of the twentieth century’s greatest religious poets, but embodies in English Claudel’s singular poetic genius of yoking literal and figurative realms.”


author of Window Left Open: Poems

“Jonathan Geltner’s English translation of Paul Claudel’s sublime Cinq Grandes Odes is a rare event. Truly, it is cause for celebration that one of the finest poetic works of the 20th century is now available to an English audience in language so shimmering, so passionate, so deeply-rooted in the grace of poesis. The absolute gratuity and freedom of Claudel’s French finds a proper home in Geltner’s English.”


author of Transfiguration: Notes Toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything

About the Author

Paul Claudel was born in 1868 in rural northeastern France. He absorbed the poetry of Walt Whitman and Arthur Rimbaud while in his teens, and experienced a religious epiphany at Notre Dame cathedral during Christmas 1886. Claudel was productive in many literary genres. Besides the Odes, his masterpieces include the dramas Le Partage de midi (The Break of Noon), L’Annonce faite à Marie (The Tidings Brought to Mary), and Le Soulier de satin (The Satin Slipper). The poet served throughout the world in the French diplomatic corps, and died in 1955. 

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