Treize Lunes: Now in Abenaki
By Juliana L’Heureux
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Franco-Americans and others interested in the history of the French Jesuits will want to check out a newly updated collector's quality limited edition book of poems, "Thirteen Moons". The poetry was written by the martyred Father Sebastian Rasle, s.j. (1652-1724), and recently published in three languages, including Abenaki, by Maine writer Robert Chute. Some readers are familiar with Chute's previous book of Rasle's poetry, also titled "Treize Lunes" (Thirteen Moons). In the new edition, Chute expands on Rasle's creative verse by presenting every poem on a triptych style fold out page. Each of the page's three sections has the English; the French and the Abenaki translation of Rasle's original poetry printed one version per page. Also, the revised edition includes some of Rasle's letters translated in French, English and Abenaki. Only 250 numbered copies of Chute's new book are in print. Too bad, the limited number will restrict availability because the inclusion of the Abenaki translations makes this an exceptional publication.
Chute's expanded publication of his 1976 version of "Treize Lunes" is just in time for the anniversary of the Jesuit martyr's brutal murder in Norridgewock, Maine (near Waterville on the Kennebec River), on August 24th, 1724. Every August, the towns of Norridgewock and Madison commemorate the anniversary of Rasle's fierce murder by a surprise British attack on the Abenaki village where he preached and wrote. Rasle's life is chronicled in the Maine biography, "Black Robe on the Kennebec", by Mary Calvert.
Some of Father Rasle's prolific writing is archived at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. Scholars use a French-Abenaki dictionary written by Rasle to understand the Passamaquoddy Native American cultures.
Requests from the Native American Abenaki's, who Rasle was a primary missionary for, motivated Chute to finally (after a difficult time with the book's typeset and layout) republish his first wonderful translation to include the Abenaki versions of the powerfully beautiful poems.
Chute believes Rasle wrote much of his poetry with prayer in the forefront. Often, Rasle writes in a prophetic manner, foretelling the fate of his Abenaki family who the British attackers killed along with him. "Les Anglais sont entre nous et la mer. Leurs forts s'elevent pour nous cachet le soleil.", ("The English stand between us and the sea. Their forts rise to block us from the Sun."), writes Rasle in August 1723, one year before his death.
"Thirteen Moons" is the book's title poem. Rasle writes how he marks his years of service to the Abenaki, by " counting months as moons", or in French "de compter les mois en lunes", and the Abenaki translation "Elokimur Kisuhsok nipawsecki".
Rasle was born on January 4, 1652, in France. He became a Jesuit priest on September 24, 1675. On July 23, 1689, he left France to work as a missionary in the frontiers of New France. In 1694, he became a missionary in Norrigewock where he was murdered in 1724. "Thirteen Moons", transcends the hardship and brutality experienced by Rasle during his lifetime as a missionary. By the elegance of his language and poetic imagery, Rasle left behind a legacy now communicated in three languages by Chute.
An anniversary Mass is celebrated near the site of Father Rasle's murder in Norridgewock on August 24th, at St. Sebastian Church in Madison.
Copies of "Thirteen Moons" can be ordered from Cider Press,
85 Echo Cove Lane, Poland, ME 04274; or e-mail Chute at Vrchute@aol.com.
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Copyright 2003, Juliana L'Heureux