THE PRAYER OF THE GOLDFISH
forever I turn in this hard crystal,
so transparent, yet I can find no way out.
deliver me from the cramp of this water
and these terrifying things I see through it.
Put me back in the play of Your torrents,
in Your limpid springs.
Let me no longer be a little goldfish
in its prison of glass,
but a living spark
in the gentleness of Your reeds.
– Carmen Bernos de Gasztold
Prayers from the Ark
Translated from the French by Rumer Godden.
Dear Mrs. Bread gave me this book “some time” ago. I did not peruse it much until this week when I was feeling the need of poetry and wondered if I had any on my mobile bookshelf here in the kitchen/family room. It was the only book of poems there currently.
When did I move it downstairs? It is a constant wonder how various boons (I did mean boons and not only books) are organized and lined up so as to come to me at the perfect time. I know Who does it, and so does Mrs. Bread, but I bet even she is surprised to find how long it took Him to arrange this one by means of my constantly re-jumbling the jumble.
If you read French you might like to read or listen to these prayer poems in that language in which they were written. Rumer Godden was very motivated to do her best, but she writes in the foreword how difficult and not completely satisfying it was. One example she gives is the use of encense in “The Old Horse”:
Ma pauvre tête encense
toute la solitude de mon coeur!
…which she understands as giving “in two syllables, the double picture of the old horse’s swinging head and a censer swinging to ‘offer up’ in the Catholic sense [I might say, the Orthodox as well] all that he has left, his loneliness? The dictionary translation of encenser, which, when used of a horse, means ‘to toss,’ is too young and gay.” She ends up writing it as, “my poor head swings.”
The old horse’s prayer, and that of the butterfly and the lark and a couple of others, are especially meaningful to me among the more than two dozen animals featured. Oh, and Noah prays as well, you will be glad to know! Certain personalities or complaints resonate with my own human self. Imagining how the animal might pray does engender a feeling of fellow-creatureliness, and their heartfelt prayers teach me how to talk to God about my longings and sufferings. The animal whose prayer I will share in closing might be the one I fly – I mean pray! – with most of all; I can always relate to:
THE PRAYER OF THE BUTTERFLY
Where was I?
Oh yes! This flower, this sun,
thank You! Your world is beautiful!
This scent of roses…
Where was I?
A drop of dew
rolls to sparkle in a lily’s heart.
I have to go…
Where? I do not know!
The wind has painted fancies
on my wings.
Where was I?
Oh yes! Lord,
I had something to tell you: