Morning Prayer

Catulle Mendès


To one who honors you, Lord, be just,
And may my sonorous work be blessed.
Dear lord, by your will be it wrought
That out of nothing comes a new Thought.
Let it be pure, proud, faithful, worthwhile,
Like spring water and like fine style;
With nothing untoward or vile,
May it be as the newborn lily;
That eternal and new as dawn’s brief light,
It be fashioned of love and dream’s delight;
May it be both simple and proud
Like an angel, or a beloved child;
And may it inspire without feint or dread,
The hope of life when time has fled.
I pray too that Art, noble and fine
May etch in me its deft design.
Grant to my artist’s hand control
To set the amethyst in gold;
For such a splendorous diadem
Enhances the glow of a new thought-gem.
With fine jewels may my poem be sewn,
Crafted of precious metals and stones,
Let this ornament of great merit
Be worn by those of proud spirit!
But do not let my timid efforts
Cede to the lure of cheap endeavors;
There is no poem of perfect alloy
That is not the flower of strictest law;
Even the eagle’s infinite flight
Follows a rule’s orb through the skies!
And in this work I have, on my knees,
Placed for us, brother, a proud dream,
To serve pilgrims before the temple
As enchantment, and as example.
If I sometimes follow perfumed ways,
Lord, let me not stray.
You know well, you, creator of Eve,
A sweet dream-trap mars the true dream.
Let me not smile on the wasp-desires
Swarming their way toward a breast in flower!
But constrain me, roughly, when I stumble,
Like a good master who prowls and grumbles;
By the ear, when zeal is weak,
Lead me back to strict technique.

Translated by
Michele McKay


Catulle Mendès, from “Prière du matin” [Morning Prayer], in Les braises du cendrier (Paris: Bibliothèque-Charpentier, 1900), pp. 2, 14–16.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 7.

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