Monday, August 9, 2010

Vous not Tu: The Song of Bernadette

And now for the first time there sounded in the ear of Bernadette a voice, a voice almost too maternally deep in view of the lady’s youthful and girlish grace: “Will you render me the grace”, the lady said, “of coming here each day for fifteen days?”

She did not speak those words in good French, but in the dialect of the provinces of Bearn and Bigorre as Bernadette and her people spoke it. Accurately translated, she did not say kindness, boutentat, but grace, grazia. “Would you grace me by coming...” –such were her words.

And after a long silence, she added in a much softer voice: “I cannot promise to make you happy in this world, only in the next...”

When after this decisive colloquy, Bernadette issued from the grotto, the little crowd gathered about Madame Mille and her candle. There were the Nicolaus—mother and son—Marie, Jeanne Abadie, Madeleine Hillot, and, above all, a few peasants and their wives from the valley of Batsugere, where the rumor of visions at Massabielle had aroused much attention. More and more country people joined these, for this was Thursday and they were taking their farm products to market in Lourdes.

“Did she tell her name?” Payret called out to Bernadette.

“Oh, no, she didn’t do that...”

“Did you even ask her?”

“I did as you asked me to do, Mademoiselle...”

“Aren’t you making fools of us? I watched you closely. You didn’t so much as open your mouth.”

“When I speak with the lady,” Benadette replied, “I speak here...” At the word “here” she laid a finger on her heart.

“Aha” , smirked the inquisitor. “And does the lady also speak ‘here’ to you?”

“No, today the lady really spoke to me.”

“So, she even has a voice”

“Yes, and her voice is the way she is herself...” And Bernadette gave an exact account of everything.

That convinced Antoinette that she had trapped the girl. “You’re trying to tell sensible people,” she jeered, “that a lady, a soul from beyond, perhaps even a blessed angel, use the polite, grown-up form to a silly brat like you, and says ‘Voudriez-vous me faire la bonte’ or, if you like, ‘la grace?’, eh?

Bernadette’s face brightened with astonishment and rapturous delight. “Yes, it is comical that the lady said vous and not tu.”

From the Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel

(I just recently read this novel, based on real events and the basis of the film of the same name. It’s a really well written work. Forget about what you do or do not believe, in terms of story telling, structure and characterization, it’s a fine read. One of the best novels I read all year.)

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