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Hommages poétiques

Seven Hymns to our Lady of Chartres

Sept hymnes à Notre Dame de Chartres
Geoffrey Hill
p. 19-26

Texte intégral

En hommage amical à René Gallet.

Regarder un bien, aimé comme tel, comme condamné par le cours prochain des événements est une douleur intolérable.
Simone Weil.


1Portrait of a centurion, haggard, shot
To glory: Third Republic uniform;
Mort au champ d’honneur. Well, good for him.
Képi, white gloves, pantalon rouge, the lot.

But there are certainly others: the child
Who restores justice, the officer
Standing over the heart; and some who bear
The weight of sorrow to the driven fold.

How many centurions are there in the New
Testament? Have I miscounted? One
Spoke with authority of discipline
Brought to salvation. Yet another slew

Christ with a thrust straight out of army school.
One guarded the Sepulchre: he’s portrayed
All of a heap, slack-jawed plebeian dread.
One made himself responsible to St. Paul.

One I think was blinded and then saved
Through blindness by a superflux of faith;
Soured wine of Cana sweet upon the breath,
Christ’s mourners risen as the unbereaved.


2Prayers are imprecations for a start;
Piety may be possible with time;
Plodding through metric and four-square of rhyme;
A soul’s conviction, ill-conditioned heart.

Tinctured by death as blood sinks into sand,
Befouled by our fecundity the earth
Construes itself embrangled in Cain’s wrath,
The serpent of the tree long gone to ground;

You new-arising through a cosmic web
Of truth and fable to a signal reign;
Grand misconceivings we ourselves assign;
Interminably thus, the Goat, the Crab —

Cursing I say: never so much betrayed,
Regina Coeli; onerous desire
Something implanted in the viscera,
A sensual migraine shafting eye through head;

Cries of assent from those displaced in mind.
Childhood, Annunciation, the Dormition:
Rich in theology our poor contrition;
Late snow ravelling off along the wind.


3Handbells might do it, jews’ harps, risible
Tuckets of salutation. Otherwise
Gnashing and gnawing sound out your praise.
Salve regina. Visible, invisible,

Powers, presences, in and beyond the blue
Glass, radiantly-occluded Sion, pour
Festal light at the feet of the new poor,
Scavengers upon grace, if grace is true;

If not, then, as they say, all is allowed.
Where chronic devoirs clatter to adore
La Dame du Pilier and her wooden stare,
The priests come nodding by, dainty and shrewd,

Like virgins with trim lamps devoutly oiled,
To do the honours of your mysteries.
Through what straits might I come to worship this,
And kneel before you, and be reconciled,

Among the flowering lances, the heathen
Gold phalanxes of flame; at the high seats
Where Mercy is redeemed from its own threats;
With dumb-struck martyrs trumpeted to heaven?


4Trumpets again, as this is Sion’s twin city
Or city-in-law. Across France the great west
Windows are full of the sun’s holocaust,
The dying blazons of eternity

Secured in mazy lead and bevelled stone.
Outside the glass, pigeons rancid as gulls
Roost in their stucco-dung on the tiered sills.
The candles blur the air before your throne.

Love is at odds. Your beauty has gone out
Too many times, too vividly has flared
Through the mild dreams of Herod undeterred.
His eyes are like the eyes of the devout.

O dulcis Virgo, you are the stained world’s
Ransom, bear its image, live through your
Perpetual exile in its courts of prayer.
‘This is the carnal rose that re-enfolds

Heaven into earth.’ They say you are disposed
To acts of grace: tumblers and holy fools.
Child-saints rejoice you, small immaculate souls,
And mundane sorrows mystically espoused.


5Redemptrice of all vows and fealties, Dame
De Sous-Terre, pray for us, pitched beneath
Your mantle of limestone and sifted earth.
Assoil your present and lost children; some

Mettled by virtue, briskly taking Christ,
And some as captives; those to whom the kiss
Of peace is torment in the midst of mass,
Those who salute you with a raised fist.

Spes nostra, salve! Your strange countenance
Is our remaking. Turn, then, its remote
Familial smile upon this Christian rote.
Sly innocence of the blood seized in a trance

By violent knowledge – what it is to know
Our strength. Pray for those neophytes who found
In you, the source of life, their secret wound.
The seraphim with stark pinions aglow

Look blankly at us: we who may be spared,
As well as other ecstasies, the hues
Of burning and the damned at their old cries,
Your varied mercies, variously adored.


6A match crack-scuffs, a flame spurts in the fosse,
Faces bow to cupped hands, a thing archaic,
A gesture proletarian and stoic;
Homeric, even; look at Odysseus,

Who was of course a prince in his own country,
Champing on Gauloises; Hector of the taut
Monocle, dragged helplessly by a foot.
Other manners, another century.

Herod was dire but he was not the Shoah.
What do you say, Vierge, to this Jewish child
Fixed at your breast, in the great glass annealed,
Himself the threefold shattering of Chaos?

Another language, such as your Dai Greatcoat
Unerringly presented: misadventure
For the machine gun’s cunningly-loosed ceinture
Binding in blood all those who late set out —

Jehovah’s time not ours. We might have given
The temple scroll for Péguy to repair,
Indomitable, as an unsold Cahier,
Mystique and politique there intershriven.


7Return, if in mauvais esprit, to Chartres;
There’s my old pension in the rue St-Jacques;
There Notre-Dame stone-turbining to Pâques
Slices the gloom with radiance of martyrs.

On the cleft hill that odd man jousting blame,
Péguy, to whom Olivier Messiaen
Part-offered Et exspecto, something brazen;
Jean Moulin whom they also thrust at fame,

His agony finessed to silver wire,
Received by Malraux at the Panthéon
With words of platitudinous haut ton,
That France might clamour, swoon, and rise entire.

Entre lutte et louange, deep-tolled sonorities,
The makers work and sleep and have their sex.
Travestied Judas reddish as a fox
Swings on his pendulum and never dies.

Malraux negotiates the elevation:
The organ barking mad, the iron vats
Terraced with candles wallowing in their fats.
This passage of great things your conflagration.

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Référence papier

Geoffrey Hill, « Seven Hymns to our Lady of Chartres »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. VII – n°3 | 2009, 19-26.

Référence électronique

Geoffrey Hill, « Seven Hymns to our Lady of Chartres »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. VII – n°3 | 2009, mis en ligne le 19 mai 2009, consulté le 28 mai 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Geoffrey Hill

(Cambridge, UK)
Geoffrey Hill is an English poet, professor emeritus of English literature and religion, and former co-director of the Editorial Institute, at Boston University. His first five books of poetry spanning from For the Unfallen (1959) to The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy (1983) were brought out in Collected Poems (Penguin, 1985).  Since then he has published nine books of poetry and a Selected Poems (2006).  His latest books are A Treatise of Civil Power (2007) and Collected Critical Writings (2008) which recently won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. He visited the University of Caen in the spring of 2008, answering questions from René Gallet at the conference “Selected Poems from Modernism to Now.” René Gallet, whose first contact with Hill’s poetry dates from 1968, has published numerous French translations of Hill’s work including Le Château de Pentecôte et autres poèmes (Obsidiane, 1988), Scènes avec arlequins et autres poèmes (La Différence, 1998) and portions of The Triumph of Love in Conférence leading to Le Triomphe de l’amour (Cheyne, 2006).

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