A Poet Before the Cross
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By Paul Claudel
A Poet Before the Cross is an impassioned testimony of faith, made through a series of meditations on the Cross and Christ’s seven last words. The title is perfectly intentional: Claudel as a poet stands, kneels, prays, and writes at the foot of the Cross, employing the full extent of and his literary genius and his explosive eloquence in this contemplation of the divine suffering and its salvific effects. Staunchly upholding the unity of the Old and New Testaments, Claudel sees the crucifixion of the Word-Made-Flesh as the ultimate fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. The link between the Cross and myriad Old Testament texts emphasizes that the messianic mission was, not to elude or to elide, but to enter into man’s suffering, and thus redeem it.
Written in 1933 and first published in English in 1958, A Poet Before the Cross captures the cosmic and spiritual vision which inspired Claudel’s vast poetic and dramatic output and offers an encounter of faith as a power by which the recalcitrant, unseeing human heart can pray: “Lord, open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things.”
Paul Claudel (1868–1955) was a French poet, dramatist, and essayist, and a convert to Roman Catholicism. A six-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Claudel achieved prominence in twentieth-century French literature for his unique prose style and powerful verse dramas. The 1924 drama Le Soulier de satin (The Satin Slipper) is widely recognized as his masterpiece.