W. H. Auden got it dead wrong when he wrote of Paul Claudel in his celebrated “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” of 1939:
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
Perhaps only the young Auden could have been cheeky enough to patronize two writers immeasurably superior to himself. But in fact, Time has not pardoned Paul Claudel (1868–1955). He remains as peskily unpardonable now as he was in 1939. He represents a standing offence, a jagged stumbling-block, to all right-thinking folk, Catholics as well as “free-thinkers” (libres-penseurs), the term Claudel reserved for his most detested adversaries. Claudel has not been pardoned, nor is he likely to be. He was—and is—a massive, looming, unignorable presence in both French poetry and theater for over sixty years.
When t ...
Eric Ormsbys latest book is The Baboons of Hada, a selection of his poems (Carcanet)
more from this author