Walled in Light
Paul Claudel

'Twas the hour of the flaming out of the sun from the fogs of the North
When Colette, as a grain full-ripe, sees the shell burst forth
Of the narrow cell she had built twelve feet from the altar of God,
Its sill no more to be trod.
But now the voice of heaven has sounded: "Forth, and abroad!"
No need of enclosure now in the shell of stone;
She is free in the salt of heaven, she is walled in light alone.
God, knowing good before ill, to this girl has given
No brief temporal task, but to heal
The hurts of a Land, of a Church, that are rent and riven.
Hell and its works she shall know in the course of a week - and feel.
She takes and bends in her hand like a waxen taper the bar of steel;
But she is not sent to challenge the devil to duels of steel.
The tender harvest of good, the flower of innocent peace
She must woo from their root in the earth, so bring surcease
Of the choking weeds of sin that blossom in blood.
So does Nature herself on the slope of a quiet hill
Copy a glorious lily's exuberant bud,
While men beneath are destroying and slaying and plotting ill.
So then, like a diligent needle, in and out of the torn and ravelled realm of France
Glides she, and mends from beneath; and whatever the lance
Has left agape, with charity sweet she bindeth in one,
Innocent, guided by God, she knows not what she has done:
She sees but Him and His ways: she hears but Him and obeys,
Mother of hungry little ones, her nestlings that cry from the chinks of the wall -
He provideth their food, who marketh the sparrow's fall.
Meantime Satan toils with glee, and knows not the ruin to come. -
Yet what is there new to be seen on those roads 'twixt Paris and Rome?
Behold that woman, frowzily gowned, upheld by Sister Perrine
On a lumbering cart, in her looks the light of things unseen!
No doubt the wise political eye to the council at Constance will fly,
Or study that "man of the moon" - the singular Shepherd from Spain;
But we - we will turn from these to a rough Burgundian lane
And four or five peasants and women that plod
By the oats in the fields, the windmill, the willow tree,
And one among them, dusty and poor - Colette.
'Tis she Calmly breasting the hill on her ass, riding direct to God.

Translated by George O’Neill