Biography of Paul Claudel (1868-1955)

Poet, playwright, essayist and French diplomat, born in Villeneuve-sur-Fère-in-Tardenoise (in the Department of Aisne) on August 6, 1868, and died in Paris on February 23, 1955. Author of a splendid poetic production that turns him into one of the great masters of contemporary French poetry, and a no less brilliant theatrical production in which it is clear his preference by the symbol, excelled mainly in his time for his ardent profession of Catholic faith that boasts in his work.


Born in a country belonging to the wealthy middle-class family, he was educated from childhood in the doctrine of Catholicism, but without any special fervor than what was common in other families of their environment, because their parents were rather indifferent in religious matters. His father, Louis Prosper Claudel, was a senior official of the State administration exerted in Villeneuve-sur-Fère as curator of mortgages; his mother, Louise Cerveux, was the daughter of peasants and to the small Paul instilled his love for the land, so the future writer entertained in his infancy working on a voluntary basis in agricultural operations.

He received his primary education in a school of the nuns of his hometown, and then went to the Lyceum of Bar-le-Duc (in the Department of Meuse), which came in 1881, when he moved with his family to Paris, where her older sister Camille (1864-1943) studied sculpture under the supervision of the great artist Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). At thirteen years of age, the young Paul Claudel resumed its newly initiated secondary studies at the renowned Institute Louis-le-Grand, where happened, once retrieved the Bachelor's degree, the school of political science. Already at that time I had experienced the need to devote itself to the cultivation of literary creation, activity which had an early start while he attended his secondary education, when, at the age of fifteen, he composed his first theatrical text (L'Endormie). This early literary vocation led him, in those years, to become an avid reader devouring many works fell into his hands, which in turn allowed him to discover, in the summer of 1886, the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), which caused a profound sadness and helped him to emerge not only its aesthetic intuitions, but also their spiritual concerns.

Indeed, reading of the illuminations of the famous "cursed poet" - newly published by Verlaine (1844-1896) that same year of 1886 - awakened spiritual consciousness of a young Paul Claudel which, at eighteen years of age, living radically away from religious faith who instilled him in his childhood. The verses of Rimbaud, with his strong mystical and symbolic, discovered you the coldness of positivism and the mechanism that dominated the culture, art, thought and, in general, all the plots of life in late 19th century Europe, and pushed him to search in the plane of the spirit the great revelations which not was in the methodical laws of science and reason. But his real return to Catholicism took place a few months later, on Christmas day of that year, when, in what the poet himself called an exercise in "dilettantism", he entered the Cathedral of Notre Dame to attend a religious ceremony with the intention of finding some elements of inspiration has on the spirit of decadent artist. To listen the "Magnificat", sung by the choir of the Parisian Cathedral, occurred in his consciousness an unexpected reaction that the own Claudel defined with these words:

"In an instant, my heart was touched and I thought. I thought with such strength, such delivery of all my being, with a powerful conviction, with a certainty that not gave rise to no doubt; and then, all books, all the reasonings, all the hazards of a hectic life have not been able to break my faith, nor touch it... really! God exists, he is here - I said-; It is someone. It is a very personal as I myself being! "."

Four years after this sudden recovery of faith, Paul Claudel approved tests that allowed him to enter the diplomatic career, which would devote themselves professionally for the rest of his life. He was appointed, in principle, to the Department of Commerce the management, in Paris (1890-1892), where went on to occupy the post of Vice-Consul of France in New York (1893). The following year, with identical diplomatic mission, he was sent to Shanghai, and during the last decade of the 19th century and the first years of the new century he worked at other consulates Asian Hankao, Beijing and Tien-Tsin (1899-1906).

In 1906, Claudel took one of his trips to his native France to join in marriage with Reine-Saint-Marie Perrin, which was to have five children (Marie, Pierre, Henri, Reine and Renee). Shortly after their marital bond, returned to China in the company of his wife, now with a responsible diplomatic of higher rank, because he had been appointed first Secretary of the French Embassy. Remained in the Asian country other two and a half years, and in 1909 finally got that will bring him to Europe, first to the Legation of his country in Prague, then to the Frankfurt (1911), and after another two years, to the Hamburg (1913). His brilliant career in the diplomatic career was always ascending; and so, in 1916 he was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary of France in Rio de Janeiro, where he remained for five years, as in 1921, now with the rank of Ambassador, he was assigned to the Japan. His interest in Eastern cultures allowed him to get into the literary and theatrical environments of Tokyo, where quickly reached great prestige and popularity, since adapted to traditional forms of theatre not some of the most famous pieces of French dramatic literature, adaptations that harvested large applause among critics and the public. Its success led to some of these versions were represented even in the Imperial Theatre, and that Claudel was known in Japan as "embajador-dramaturgo".

After this five years of fruitful cultural osmosis in Japanese territory, in 1926 he left again to the far East in to move to the United States of America, as it had been appointed Ambassador of France in Washington, where he stayed between 1927 and 1932. Later, already with a long and brilliant diplomatic record behind him, he asked to be transferred to any nearest country - both geographically and culturally - to his native land, and got the post of Ambassador in Brussels, where he lived until in 1936, put an end to his long career in the service of his country's diplomacy. Already at that time was one of the most read and respected French playwrights and poets, and perhaps the intellectual of his nation more committed to the defense of some ideal Catholics who were certainly not very much in vogue among most of the artists and intellectuals of the interwar France. In his old age, he continued to write and was the subject of numerous honors and awards that came to underline the importance of his work, among which mention his election as a member of the Académie Française, on April 4, 1946 (although not joined officially the learned institution until March 13, 1947).


Among the major achievements of the literary production of Paul Claudel, the main perhaps his reconciliation of two genres that, like poetry and theater, seemed doomed to continue its particular evolution along divergent paths. But the writer of Villeneuve-sur-Fère was able to guide the plot lines of his dramatic pieces to a few thematic nuclei perfectly defined and reduced to its minimum expression, in such a way that the purely theatrical intrigues are debugged to end up converging on the central message of his work (and, of course, his thinking and his attitude in any facet of existence): religious faith as a joyful proposal for resolving clashes between the natural and the supernatural, between the things of the world and those belonging to the sphere of divinity the contradictions of the man and God's omniscience. Why in his theatre the internal conflicts of the characters are isolated from the purely dramaturgical, and conceived rather as lyrical effusions, enriched by this inherited Symbolist vision of Rimbaud, go beyond rigid schemes of the classic drama for shaking hands with the poetic creation (through hybrid forms of gender, as the anthem(, singing, etc.). In the same way, his poetry breaks with the formal models of the tradition (especially in regard to rhyme and metric) to adopt, as the expressive vehicle and - ultimately - real hallmark, a long, calm and rhythmic verse that is very similar to the biblical verse (i.e. a discursive tone in which, in spite of that breaks are marked more by lyrical intuitions that logical and grammatical reasons)There also is plenty of scenic or theatrical Declamation).


The simplicity of the plot - as noted in the previous paragraph - is a constant in the dramatic pieces of Paul Claudel, all of them carry a crucial message that is the common denominator of his thought and all his literary work: contemporary civilization walks towards chaos and destruction by committing the unforgivable destroy collective religiosity and surrender erroon the other hand, to the dictates of the hedonistic individual which characterized this era. After this general purpose, which is fulfilled in all its dramas, then in each of them there is a slight plot story that develops a specific idea, but without delving into an intrigue purely dramatic, but rather from the lyricism of the symbol and the poetic image (is not surprising, in this regard, that own French writer catalogara its theatrical pieces such as "musical prose poems)with symbolic significance").

His first foray into the realms of Talia titled tête d'Or (Golden, 1891 head), the work certainly early - aside already from previous and anecdotal tastings teenagers-that, written when he was only twenty-three years of age, he revealed as one of the most innovative and unique late 19th century French Symbolist theatre. In the same aesthetic line - marked by the influence not only of Rimbaud, but also of Mallarmé (1842-1898) - it should be placed following two deliveries, La Ville (city, 1890) and La Jeune Fille Violaine, the second of which was reworked a few years later by the writer of Villeneuve-sur-Fère, who ended up transforming it into his masterpiece, now released under the title of L'annonce faite à Marie (the Annunciation of María1912).

The Annunciation of María(1912)

It's a drama composed of four acts preceded by a prologue, whose action takes place in a medieval times set by the literary conventions. It tells the tragic, poetic and spiritual vicissitudes of the sweet Violaine, daughter of the powerful Lord of Combernon, which departs towards a crusade after having approved the marriage of the young woman with her beloved Jacques Hury. But Mara, sister Violaine, is also in love with this, and intends to do anything to snatch it. Its ignoble purpose is favored by the arrival of Pierre de Craon, a builder of cathedrals that, long ago, had intended to Violaine, and affected by leprosy, now lives surrounded by agitated mystical effusions. Violaine, listening to the sad end that awaits you, at mouth of Pierre de Craon accessed, in a gesture of Supreme, piety and charity to give a farewell Kiss, regardless of the ravages of the terrible disease. Mara surprised this spontaneous generosity and sacrifice of his sister Act and, disguising it as a sign of infidelity and lust, is as much to Jacques Hury, who repudiates his fiancée and just marrying Mara.

Meanwhile, Violaine, who has contracted leprosy through the kiss that was the source of her misery, has been rejected also by his family, so it has decided to withdraw from the world and live alone in a forest, only consecrated to God. Soon the fame of his Holiness has spread across the entire region and reach ears of Mara, who has just lost a newborn daughter, fruit of her marriage to Jacques. Devastated by this loss, he goes to his sister with the body of the girl, convinced that Violaine can work the miracle of giving life. In the heat of the bosom of the leprous, which begins to sprout milk, the dead girl, indeed, raises; but Mara is now jealous of the sanctity of her sister and buries it in life. Soon after, Pierre de Craon, who has miraculously healed of leprosy, passes through the crime scene and is dying to Violaine, who finally gets to Jacques Hury accept his statement of innocence. Finally, Violaine death occurs and the return of the Lord of Combernon, who placed abreast of everything that happened, interprets the actions of her daughter as fruits of his "divine sanity", while an invisible hand makes that they sound the chords of the Angelus, to remember that the Annunciation of the angel to María is the first mystery of Christian dogma.

During the first half of the 1990s, during his stay in the United States of America and much before writing this final version of what initially was La Jeune Fille Violaine, Paul Claudel wrote L' échange (the Exchange, 1893), a theatrical piece, conceived as a proclamation of the rank of "divine law" which the French author attributed to the marriage. Then, already based in China, concluded a new work entitled Le repos du Septième jour (the rest of the seventh day, 1896), which was followed by Partage de midi (cast for noon, 1906), a theatrical text published in a very limited edition, which was not taken to the scene until 1948, when forty years had passed since its passage by the printing press. It's another splendid piece of Paul Claudel, good exponent of the importance attached by the French playwright to the symbolic aspects. The work begins with the presentation onstage of a boat in which they travel, heading to China, the protagonists table - which is "on the noon of life"-, "tender eyes" Ciz Provençal and his wife during. On board is repeated, between these three characters, the old medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde and rey Marcos, giving rise to a triangle that is suddenly broken by the emergence of a fourth character: Amalric, a strong, powerful man that Yse, which is in need of protection and amparo feels irresistibly attracted. Once in China, table and Yse meet again and the woman, desperate for the lack of attention from her husband, committeth adultery with the protagonist, lo that ultimately pushes both to rid themselves of Ciz (in one clear demonstration of one of the principles that govern the thinking of Claudel: sin leads to the crime). But a new emergence of Amalric, who embodies the symbolic value of the life force, his figure will start to Yse of arms of table and will lead to a tragic end for both lovers.

While Marie (the Annunciation of María, 1912), Paul Claudel completed the final version of L'annonce faite à it rushed, now inspired by the classical theatre of Aeschylus (524-456 B.c.), an ambitious dramatic project consisting of a trilogy that, ultimately, it was composed of L'otage (hostage, 1911), Le pain dur (hard bread, 1914) and Le Père humilié (father humiliated1916). This set of three works conceived in order to demonstrate the need to maintain bonds of union between all human beings (be friends or enemies, known or unknown, and even children from the most varied places and generations), perhaps the most outstanding is the first hostage, staging for the first time in the Comédie Française in 1934. It is the story of Sygne of Coufontaine, owner of a castle which has been destroyed by the revolution, and now resident in the Abbey which, centuries ago, their ancestors built. The protagonist is the fiancée of Georges, his cousin and supporter wishful thinking of the monarchic regime, whom the revolution has taken to his parents, who have been executed. In his defense of the fan of the old regime, Georges also shows as a convinced Catholic, but requires the Pope to speak clearly in favour of his camp and his political ideas. Before the doubts of the Supreme Pontiff, kidnaps him during the campaign of Napoleon in Russia, and held in the Abbey where he lives Sygne, which falls under the jurisdiction of Toussalnt Turelure, the prefect of the Department, a mediocre man elevated to a privileged position not on its own merits, but by the grace of the revolution and shortly after, the Napoleonic administration.

Turelure, who had tried unsuccessfully to marry Coufontaine Sygne, leverages the power that now has about Georges, the Pope and the woman herself to again demand his hand. The young man, placed in the dilemma to save his pride, or the life of his cousin and the Pope, opts to abide by the demands of a blackmailer Turelure, that is, in addition, who caused the death of their parents in the guillotine. Thus, Toussalnt Turelure and Coufontaine Sygne marry and have a son who will be baptized in the presence of a Minister Plenipotentiary of the royalist side, as the Machiavellian prefect, aware of the progressive loss of power that is experiencing napoleon, has gone by tilting to place next to Luis XVIII future political landscape. The day of the christening, requires George to renounce his succession rights in favour of the newborn; But Georges, dam of indignation, shoot at it and actually hurts Sygne. Shortly after, with the death of Georges, the entry into Paris of Luis 18th and delivery to Turelure, by the new monarch, the title of nobility which secretly aspired for many years, is symbolically staged on the tables the extinction of the ancient world.

Satin shoe(1929)

The vicissitudes of the Coufontaine, developed in the other two works that complete the trilogy, was added, in the already rich theatrical production of Paul Claudel, Le soulier de satin (shoe satin, 1929), regarded by critics as his second masterpiece after the Annunciation of María. Set in the Spain and America from the 16th century, is an evocation of the Catholic Apostolate from the perspective of the Jesuits (and in particular) from purely Ignatian thought, on a universal level which has been in a relationship with the perfect knowledge of the most remote places in the world that came to acquire Claudel fruitful diplomatic career.

Conceived as an intense dramatic poem focused on the universal themes of life and death, satin shoe consists of four days divided into fifty-two scenes, in which these two great universal arcana are presented by Claudel as secrets belonging to the wisdom of God. The protagonist is Rodrigo, a spirited conqueror of the Renaissance which itself embodies the strength and vigor of Catholicism in one of his moments of greatest splendour, when finally spread over around the globe the evangelical mission entrusted by Christ; Once exalted and glorified by the own Claudel with these burning words: "the Gospel ended his conquests in space and time: [...]" Vasco da Gama is the Asia [...], Cristóbal Colón ve arise a new world for him to the bosom of the waters [...], Copernicus opens the Bible in the sky [...], don Juan de Austria rejects Islam [...], Protestantism is arrested at the White Mountain and Miguel Angel raises the Crown of San Pedro".

Examples include, finally, within this section devoted to new and remarkable theatrical production of Paul Claudel, his piece entitled Jeanne au bucher (Joan at the stake, 1939), who provided musical accompaniment A. Honneger.


The poetic corpus of Paul Claudel, composed of those long and rhythmic verses that reference above has already been made, is not only the reflection of his own conception of the world seen from his Catholic perspective, which aims to have a harmonious and overall knowledge of everything created by the Supreme being. Thus, according to the writer of Villeneuve-sur-Fère mission of the poet in the world in which he lives is studying harmony and investigate its mysteries to uncover the hidden meanings which lead, in the end, always up to God, all things are related together through his constant dependency on Supreme maker. Similarly, there are between living beings and the things that surround them with a harmonious correspondence reflecting the permanent relationship between God and his creation.

Of all these ideas — embodied with astonishing eloquence and inspiration in poetry books as beautiful as Connaissance de l'Est (Eastern knowledge, 1900), l'art poétique (poetic art, 1907), five great odes (five great Odes, 1910), Cantate à trois voix (Cantata for three voices, 1913) and saints (santos, 1952 sheets) Feuilles - detaches a kind of Pantheism or Christian pananimismo that nothing exists for itself or for its own purpose, but to maintain and ensure their relationship with the whole and strengthen the harmonious balance of a universe that is not quiescent or fossilized, they joyfully renew at every moment.

In what refers to the formal aspects of his poetry, it is worth emphasizing the use of a verse long, leisurely and lacking any rate that makes remember the sound of the traditional lyric; rather, his poetry flows into moulds near biblical verse, and tries to merge with human nature itself adapting its rhythm to the rhythm of the breath (which is described in his verses as one of the Supreme acts of being alive, since by means of respiration - according to the own Claudel - man takes and restores life to every step(, in another example of that joyful to the whole communion). It is not surprising, therefore, that her vocabulary employed by the poet of Villeneuve-sur-Fère also rehuya constantly artifice and the pretentiousness, to try to merge with vivid, natural and everyday language of the human being.

Other works.

Besides the books already mentioned in previous lines, Paul Claudel gave to press other titles such as poèmes de guerre (war poems) to villes travers in flammes (through cities in flames), La nuit de Noël (Christmas Eve), Vers d'exil (verses of exile), a coup d'oeil sur l' âme japonaise (a look at the Japanese soul) and Christophe Colomb (Cristóbal Colón), - the latter - opera premiered in Berlin in 1931, although written when serving as Minister Plenipotentiary to Brazil, where he was one the composer Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), then Secretary of the French Embassy. In addition, was author of the essays titled Introduction to the hollandaise (introduction to Dutch painting) and Positions peinture et prepositions (positions and prepositions), as well as some brilliant translations into French of works by authors as Chesterton (1874-1936), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and Coventry Patmore (1823-1896) English-speaking.


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BOISDEFREE, Pierre. La Poésie française de Baudelaire a US jours (Paris: Perrin, 1966).

DUBRUCA GALIN, Danielle. Contemporary French literature (Palma de Mallorca: University Press, 1988).

ORTEGA ÁLVAREZ, M. contemporary French poetry (1915-1965). Bilingual Anthology (Madrid: Akal, 1983), 2 vols.