Ils reviendront, ces Dieux que tu pleures toujours!
Le temps va ramener l'ordre des anciens jours;
La terre a tressailli d'un souffle prophétique...

Cependant la sibylle au visage latin
Est endormie encor sous l'arc de Constantin
--Et rien n'a dérangé le sévère portique.

--Gérard de Nerval--from "Delfica"

My translation to English verse:

They shall return, these Gods you always mourn!
Time shall to ancient days order return;
The ground has shuddered with prophetic blow...

Meanwhile the Sibyl with the Latin face
Under Constantine's arc still sleeps in place
And naught has molested the strict portico.

My first foray into French poetry for plaisir (as opposed to slogging through Hugo in fifth form French class) was to get properly at the Symbolistes, revered by my hero Ezra Pound. I started, as all Symboliste studies do, with Nerval. But rather than seeing him as a bump on the road to the greats--Verlaine, Mallarmé, Rimbaud--I was captured by his lunatic vision.

"Delfica" has always been a favorite poem in mine, and it has come to my mind often during this papal interregnum. The heavy marble of Catholic order doesn't exactly recall Delfica's arboreal pagan shrine (from the earlier part of the poem I didn't quote), but in the thread of latin-tongued prophecy, Constantine triumphant, and severity of mission I do find resonance with the somber, perfunctionary pageant constantly being reported from The Vatican.

Not that it stirs any sort of devotion in me. My Catholicism is even more dormant than Nerval's Sibyl. If anything, I read Delfica's two prophetic final stanzas as a window beyond the apotheosis of some odd bureaucrat cardinal, looking beyond the evident crumbling of empire-church. Even in the case (middling likelihood) that the new Pope is fellow Igbo Cardinal Arinze, I'd probably be more stirred by sense of nationalism than religion (and nationalism is very weak in me).

What paganism gets right about religion over Christianity is mystery of the local. No. Protenstantism didn't get this right either. They claimed to be rebelling against the tyranny of Catholic dogma, but they are still chained to the Bible. Paganism derives power not from some dusty logos, but rather from the magic of particular time and place. I think that local mystery is enhanced rather than abated by global communication, and I can imagine a near end to all these crepuscular, ecclesiastical institutions that now seem to dominate our lives.

I see the church as Petronius's Cumaean Sibyl (famous from Eliot's quotation in The Wasteland). She says "apothanein thelo". Yes thelo. Every immortal Sibyl dies, succeeded by symbol, which becomes Sibyl. Et rien n'a dérangé le sévère portique.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia