Charles-Pierre Péguy Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Most of Charles-Pierre Péguy’s prose falls into the category of journalism. His articles, which first appeared in La Revue socialiste (1897) and La Revue blanche (1899), are currently available in Notes politiques et sociales (1957). Other prose works by Péguy have been collected in Œuvres en prose I, 1898-1908 (1959) and Œuvres en prose II, 1909-1941 (1961), both edited by Marcel Péguy. Gallimard has also published the Œuvres complètes (1917-1955) in twenty volumes, including Deuxième Élégie XXX, L’Esprit de système, Un Poète m’a dit, Par ce demi-clair matin, Situations, and La Thèse, all posthumous publications or fragments. Les Œuvres posthumes de Charles Péguy (1969) was edited by Jacques Viard.

Very few of these works have been translated into English in their entirety. Selections from Péguy’s prose are available in Basic Verities: Prose and Poetry (1943), Men and Saints: Prose and Poetry (1944), and God Speaks: Religious Poetry. In Temporal and Eternal (1958), translated by Alexander Dru, there are selections from Notre Jeunesse (1910; our youth), Clio (1917, 1955), and Deuxième Élégie XXX. Péguy’s correspondence is published in Lettres à André Bourgeois (1950). Marcel Péguy has edited a volume of selected correspondence titled Lettres et entretiens (1927).


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Charles-Pierre Péguy, the militant journalist, the unswerving Socialist, the ardent defender of Alfred Dreyfus, was a writer who might be unknown to the world at large and even to France today if it were not for his poetry. In the last four years of his life, having “found the faith anew,” he turned to poetry as a medium of expression. This intensely personal verse, in colloquial but correct French, in which God speaks with men as if He were one of them, touches the reader with its simplicity.

Péguy is able to personify hope as a little child in The Portico of the Mystery of the Second Virtue; God himself is taken off guard by the unassuming courage of this girl who can change the world. Péguy sees hope in the possibility of beginning anew: “Le premier jour est le plus beau jour” (the first day is the most beautiful day). His Joan of Arc is also a defenseless child who nevertheless believes in action: One must not save, but spend, oneself. Thus, Péguy offers a message of simple heroism, much needed in prewar France and still appealing two wars later.

Péguy extols France, perhaps a bit too much when the God of the Holy Innocents says that the French are His favorite people. Péguy weaves a rich tapestry of French heroes and saints, most of whom are drawn from the Middle Ages: King Dagobert, Saint Genevieve, Joan of Arc, Saint Louis, Jean de Joinville. Perhaps the only nonmedieval heroes admitted are Pierre Corneille, Jules...

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Aronowicz, Annette. Jews and Christians on Time and Eternity: Charles Péguy’s “Portrait of Bernard-Lazare.” Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998. An insightful book which explains clearly Péguy’s deep sympathy for Jews and his strong opposition to anti-Semitism.

Hill, Geoffrey. The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy. 1985. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. This poem by a notoriously difficult modern poet is an elegy for and rumination of Péguy’s life and political thought.

Humes, Joy. Two Against Time: A Study of the Very Present Worlds of Paul Claudel and Charles Péguy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978. A clearly written book which describes the profound differences between Claudel and Péguy, who were the most important Catholic poets in France during the early twentieth century.

Kimball, Roger. “Charles Péguy.” New Criterion 20, no. 3 (2001): 15-21. A profile of Péguy emphasizing the interrelationship of events in his life with his work, especially Notre Jeunesse.

St. Aubyn, F. C. Charles Péguy. Boston: Twayne, 1977. Albeit somewhat old, this book remains the best introduction to the rich diversity of Péguy’s life and works. This book contains an annotated bibliography of his works and important critical studies on his writings.

Savard, John. “The Pedagogy of Péguy.” The Chesterton Review 19, no. 3 (August, 1993): 357-379. An essay which compares masterful uses of paradox by Péguy and the English Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton. Savard argues that through paradoxical arguments both writers lead their readers to deal with complex moral issues.

Schmitt, Hans A. Charles Péguy: The Decline of an Idealist. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967. A biography of Péguy by an accomplished historian of modern Europe. Includes bibliographic references.