Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Antoine de Chandieu’s “Octonaires”

This article was first published at The Master’s Artist.

The Calvinist theologian was also a poet.

Antoine de la Roche Chandieu was a Calvinist theologian, student of John Calvin, and a key figure in the French Huguenot church. He was pastor of the French Huguenot Church in Paris from 1556-1562, was active in several Huguenot synod meetings (and for one of which he wrote what is now called the Gallic or French confession).  He remained active in the church in France until it was smashed in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572. De Chandieu escaped the massacre and fled to Switzerland. He continued his studies and writings until his death in 1591 in Geneva.

He was also a poet. He wrote three sonnets on the death of Calvin. He wrote a whole series of eight-line poems called “Octonaires,” and a lot of other poetry as well, especially lyric poems. One of his more recent translators is Nate Klug, a published poet and a divinity student at Yale University. Klug has been translating the Octonaires of de Chandieu, but, as he says in his translator’s note, he’s loosely translating the poems to remain true to the poet’s words and intent. Five of them can be read at the Poetry Foundation’s web site. Here’s one Octonaire, as translated by Klug:

Ice glitters like it’s good.
The whole world glitters,
Sped toward ends,
We all fall in.

Under the ice is water.
But under the world, between you
and the everything
of your vanishing…

Edith Grossman, in Why Translation Matters, speaks to the things that translations can and can’t do. One thing translations do accomplish, however, is to change the original. They can’t help but do that, because no language translates perfectly into another (blame the tower of Babel). Godd translators, however, and Grossman and I suspect Klug and are good translators, strive mightily to remain true to the author’s intent and meaning.

De Chandieu endured imprisonment and persecution. He saw friends massacred. He had to flee his native country for his own life. Through it all, he maintained his faith, and his Octonaires were enormously popular during his lifetime, not only with his Calvinist friends but with French Catholics as well.

Wanting what you fear,
fearing your own desire:
icicles at the heart
form to burn apart.

When, in this cycle
of suffering he sings,
does the martyr begin
to suspect himself?

The Calvinist was indeed a poet. He lived in a time when holding on to one’s faith could mean death. And I suspect he used poetry to understand that.

Related: A post I did on a painting in the St. Louis Art Museum of Gaspard de Coligny, whose death was the first in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. De Coligny would have known de Chandieu.

Painting: St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre by Francois Dubois (1570s).

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