Charles of the Desert: A Novel in Verse  -     By: William Woolfitt
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Charles of the Desert: A Novel in Verse

Paraclete Press / 2016 / Paperback

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Charles de Foucauld, desert hermit and writer of "The Prayer of Abandonment," was torn between his ambition to do great things and his desire for the hidden life. His story, told here in verse, accompanies him through North Africa and the Middle East as he becomes a cavalry officer, geographer, pilgrim, Trappist monk, priest, abolitionist, translator, fort-builder, and martyr. Pope Benedict beatified this French priest who was martyred in 1916 while living in Algeria.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 112
Vendor: Paraclete Press
Publication Date: 2016
Dimensions: 8.50 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 1612617646
ISBN-13: 9781612617640
Series: Paraclete Poetry

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Publisher's Description

Charles of the Desert is a novel-in-verse accompanying Charles de Foucauld, hermit and writer of "The Prayer of Abandonment," as he explores and adapts desert spirituality, monasticism, and contemplative prayer. Charles is an unusual and compelling figure and Charles of the Desert is unusual and compelling as well -- different from nonfiction books which focus on instructing in or explaining these subjects. It also explores Charles’ profound respect for Muslims, his pioneering efforts at interfaith dialogue, and his commitment to live among Muslims as a "universal brother" known for his compassion and solidarity.
 
Born in 1858 to a family of French aristocrats, Charles was torn between his ambition to do great things and his desire for the hidden life, between public service and private prayer. Charles of the Desert uses elements of fiction and poetry to follow him to Morocco, Syria, Israel, and Algeria, as he becomes a cavalry officer, explorer, geographer, pilgrim, Trappist monk, priest, abolitionist, translator, folklorist, hermit, fort-builder, and martyr. Throughout these travels and transformations, Charles searched for a vocation that would reflect his convictions and his experience of God. In his last fifteen years, he settled in a remote part of the Sahara, and focused on self-denial, contemplation, and charity. He claimed the nomadic Tuareg as his brothers, the desert as his earthly home.

Author Bio

William Woolfitt is author of the poetry collection Beauty Strip and the fiction chapbook The Boy with Fire in His Mouth. His poems and stories have appeared in Gettysburg Review, The Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Epoch, Blackbird, Image, and other journals. He is an assistant professor of English at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, and the recipient of the Howard Nemerov Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

Editorial Reviews

"Woolfitt’s Charles of the Desert is the ’ragged song’ of Charles de Foucault, attuned to the ’sweat beneath scratchy coverlets,’ ’the hoe and the rake,’ and to how a life can be ’all green wood’ that, in the work of years, leaps with the strange wildness of faith." K. A. Hays, author of Dear Apocalypse and Early Creatures, Native Gods
 

"Woolfitt’s ’pilgrim’s progress’ [offers] an achingly lovely canticle to God’s presence as it is both revealed and concealed in the harsh natural world of the North African desert.  Richly detailed, lovingly imagined, and exactingly thought through, [it] is a compelling work of art." Andrew Hudgins, author of A Clown at Midnight and Ecstatic in the Poison
 
 

"These poems—lush, accomplished lyrics gathered by a delicate narrative thread—present a profound and savory confusion.  Spoken in the voice of the book’s titular persona, Charles de Foucauld, the poems derive their particular life by the poet’s having ’made a version of Charles in [his] own image.’  Albeit fictive, they present genuine exultation, vertiginous truth." Scott Cairns, author of Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems

The Christian hermit and martyr Charles of the Desert (1858-1916) is a complex, puzzling character. William Kelley Woolfitt’s new book of poems Charles of the Desert develops a full portrait of this mystifying cleric from childhood in 1863 to his last day in Algeria’s Hoggar Mountains. The poems, written in first person, proceed on a timeline, zigzagging geographically from France to the Holy Land to Algeria.

For over a decade, Père Charles lived a stringent life in the Sahara, a life that would kill most of us. He lived and worked among the Tuaregs, who saw him at best as an eccentric, at worst as an enemy. In 1916, he was assassinated by rebels attempting to rob and kidnap him. He left to the world a four-volume dictionary of the Tuareg language, a new order—the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus—and a public fascination for his austere life among the Muslims, whom he hadn’t been able to convert.

How hard his life must have been. Yet by some firsthand accounts, he was "luminous," "peaceful," and "pure."

Woolfitt’s formal poems are intriguing for the ways they develop Charles and those around him...[and] are marked by a physicality of diction, the blunt words juddering next to the softer expressions. 

The poems also unveil the many iterations of Charles, as he searches for an authentic identity: Charles the profligate, the soldier, the injured child, the peasant. We also encounter Charles the escapee, the refugee, and the wanderer, before he finally becomes the devoted priest.

Woolfitt’s collection evokes our holy connection to the astonishing and sometimes terrifying forces around us and beyond us.
—Rebecca A. Spears, Image Journal

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