Now and then I take off the shelf Charles Péguy’s Mystery of the Holy Innocents, a book-length poem I first read as a newly minted Ph.D. in 1956, the year it was published. There is a peculiarity in capitalization in the book, as the translator notes: “I cannot explain [Péguy’s] use of capitals for Faith and Charity, while hope is generally without one.” The poem begins: “I AM, God says, Master of the Three Virtues. / Faith is a loyal wife. / Charity is a fervent mother. / But hope is a very little girl.”
The poet wrote in an incantatory style, as in the following lines, in which God is speaking: “my little hope . . . gets up every morning . . . my little hope. . . . Says good-day to us . . .” While “Faith is a great tree” and “Charity shelters all the distress of the world,” “my little hope is only that little promise of a bud.” Poor, bright, young, innocent, lower-case hope. What do we make of her?