The French dramatist Pierre Corneille is justly famous both for the way he treated important moral subjects and for the elegance of his verse. I made the happy discovery of a short poem he composed upon the Immaculate Conception at the beginning of an old French volume of meditations on the feasts of Our Lady. My translation does not do justice to the quality of the original, but I share it here as I believe this poem, which was possibly known to Fr. de Montfort, is well worth making accessible in English translation.
At first glance the poem is simply a comparison between the original Eve and Our Lady, the new Eve. However, by the end one realizes that it is also a carefully crafted argument for how fitting it is to proclaim Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.
Man, whoever you are, look at Eve and Mary;
And comparing your mother with that of the Savior,
See, which one is the most darling,
And from the eternal Father wins the most favor.
The one no sooner breathes and here is a rebel;
The other in obedience is without compare;
The one made us to be banished, and the other recalls us,
The one provides evil, the other, healing.
The one draws upon us the night and the storm
And the other brings the calm and the day to mortals;
The one surrenders to the serpent, the other shatters his head,
Puts down his empire and destroys his altars.
The one has all her race to the demon enslaved,
The other breaks the slavery which bound our ancestors;
By the one comes death, by the other comes life;
The one opens the hells, and the other opens the heavens.
This Eve, however, that commits us to the flames,
At the moment that she was formed, is without corruption;
And the Virgin blessed among all women
Would she be less pure in her Conception?
No, no! Do not believe it; and all, as many as we are,
Let us announce the contrary at all hours, in all places;
This good that God gives to the mother of men,
Let us not refuse it to the Mother of God.
- Pierre Corneille (1665)
Translated by Fr. Hugh Gillespie, SMM
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