Selected Prose and Poetry 19902009
Translated and introduced by John Taylor
Paperback, 422 pages
Author Biography | Reviews | Read Selection
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Born in Switzerland and a longtime resident of France, PHILIPPE JACCOTTET (b. 1925) is one of the essential European poets. His most recent collections of poems and poetic prose texts include the four volumes from which this selection has been made: Cahier de verdure (Notebook of Greenery, 1990), Après beaucoup d'années (After Many Years, 1994), Et, néanmoins (And, Nonetheless, 2001) and Ce peu de bruits (These Slight Noises, 2008). He has translated numerous German, Italian and Spanish poets into French. He is also the author of several volumes of literary criticism, and has written Le bol du pèlerin (The Pilgrim's Bowl, 2001), a perspicacious study of the art of Giorgio Morandi. His collected writings are soon to be published as a volume in Gallimard's "Pléiade" series, a rare honor for a living author. He has been awarded several European literary prizes, including the Petrarch Prize and the Schiller Prize, Switzerland's highest literary distinction.
JOHN TAYLOR is the author of the three-volume Paths to Contemporary French Literature and Into the Heart of European Poetryall four books published by Transaction. He has also written five books of stories, short prose and poetry, including The Apocalypse Tapestries (Xenos Books, 2004). He received a grant from the Sonia Raiziss Charitable Foundation to translate these recent writings of Philippe Jaccottet and from the National Endowment for the Arts to translate Georges Perros's Papiers collés. He has also translated books by Pierre-Albert Jourdan, Jacques Dupin, Laurence Werner David, and several modern Greek writers. He lives in France.
"Jaccottets poetry is ecstatic flight, the beat of the lyric pulse that enchants both reader and the poet himself into reverie. His cosmic dreams are simultaneously of the spirit and the Big Bang, whether hes observing a cherry tree or a quince flower. [His] aim is to generate enchantment, to translate glimpses of fragmented sparkle into exaltation. [Yet his] reverie, his lyric impulse, is constantly held in check (the painstaking scrutiny noted by Taylor). He is not content with flight alone, nor with the lazy sway of the easy answer, allowing for neither superfluity nor luxuriating in his own brief ecstasy. [. . .] Jaccottet also upbraids himself constantly throughout his poems. This is his saving grace, his ability to follow the lyric impulse, to run with it, but then to pull himself up and check exactly how far he has gone and why. [. . .]"
~ Keith Payne, The Arts Fuse, 9 November 2015.
"By what absence of path should one try to progress, all the same? By starting from uncertainy, destitution, the weakness engendered by doubt, says Philippe Jaccottet." ~ Pierre-Albert Jourdan
"The Swiss-born poet Philippe Jaccottet, who has translated the likes of Homer, Goethe, and Rilke into French in addition to producing his own work, is a translator in more ways than one. Understanding writing as an attempt to translate the inexpressible into words, he muses: 'I even wonder if what we instinctively sense as the most beautiful thing is not what is closest to the secret of the world, what most faithfully translates the message sometimes seemingly tossed through the air all the way to us.' Through careful observations of nature, Jaccottet uses writing to get to the bottom of things, to tease out this 'secret' and perhaps discover some of the truth hidden in the natural world." ~ Liza Katz, The Arts Fuse (August 17, 2011)
"Always, if he were writing in the air. As if he were tracing circles in the air while looking down from above, with a hawk's or a buzzard's eye. While keeping himself from embracing too vast a territory, while focusing the beam on the response of the catch and the heart of the question. Walking through the grass, the undergrowth, the streets of a stone village in a countryside that he has chosen. Moving forward by means of concise, highly sharpened sentences that are precisely and miraculously aimed. Mastering word and image. Especially mastering their propensity to drift away, to brim over, to avoid the scales that weigh them, that measure their accuracy. Circles traced and incorporated, like a path burning itself up and evaporating as it plunges ever deeper into the live, lively, open sensations of reality at hand and its enlightened plentitude."
~ Jacques Dupin
"I had forgotten Philippe Jaccottet was still alive, not because he is old-Jaccottet, born in 1925, is nearing his nineties, but so are many living masters-but because he is so good he is the kind of writer one assumes passed into immortality long ago. Yet this large book is full of very recent work, of the past two decades, all composed after the writer's sixty-fifth birthday. John Taylor, the consummate scholar of contemporary French poetry, translates Jaccottet here, as well as offering a brief and percipient introduction that elucidates how Jaccottet links 'style to the frailties and fluctuations of sensibility,' which brings him 'to the brink of the ineffable.' Wandering somewhere between the precision of a Peter Huchel, the spirituality of a St. John Perse, and the linguistic brio of an Edmond Jabès, Jaccottet probes the folds and crevices of experience without seeking either palpable reality or numinous revelation. The subtitle indicates 'prose and poetry,' but these generic divisions cannot constrain Jaccottet's work, even what in other hands would be diary or commonplace-book entries becoming, in his, poetic meditation. Yet in writing about nature Jaccottet departs from customary lyric perspective. Violets may be 'verging on dullness' but connote 'an hour in which you cannot speak loudly.' Remarkable here is not the exaltation of the humble-a common romantic device-but the recognition of the dull. Similarly, in 'As Kingfishers Catch Fire,' which takes its title from Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 'seemingly unbound bird' draws attention because 'no one has ever been required to venerate it.' These reality-effects make Jaccottet's musings into parables of life and knowledge, suffused with their persistent subtleties."
~ Nicholas Birns, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, Fall 2011.
"At his best, Jaccottet's prose, sometimes interspersed with verse, is, as Taylor puts it, an instrument of "quest"a cautious questing to define the sense of epiphany that sometimes overwhelms the poet even as he seeks to raise against it all the apparent banality of circumstance. [. . .] The nature on which he so meticulously reports is mostly to be found around Grignan, his home in the Rhône-Alpes area near Mont Ventoux: mountain scenery, fast-moving water, and the contrast between the snow and dark of winter and the first fragile signs of spring. The meditations are always indirect, quickly turning to similes that are weighed and found wanting, but nevertheless acquire their own life and momentum, diversifying as they go, then abandoned for a further attempt at approach, elucidation. The succession of his thoughts is like watching a tree grow; simile adds symbol to symbol and as the paragraphs invent and discard their parallels, we find ourselves among the great mythical events nevertheless focused through the original incident-a cherry in flower, the sight of a kingfisher or a quince tree." ~ Chris Miller, The Warwick Review, Volume 5, No. 4, December 2011.
". . .to our great good fortune, the publisher Chelsea Editions now offers us two beautifully designed, bilingual books editions of two major twentieth-century Francophone poets, translated magnificently by John Taylor. And, Nonetheless by Jaccottet and The Straw Sandals by Jourdan were published in 2011 and include selected prose and poetry, with introductions by the translator. Born in 1925 in Switzerland, Jaccottet is better known than Jourdan. Among the formers influences are the poets he has translated from ancient Greek, Italian, German, and Spanish; Oriental philosophies; and his Protestant upbringing. A similarity to French poet Yves Bonnefoys vision is also noticeable, particularly in Jaccottets sensitivity to what in philosophical language is called la présencethe presence here and now of some kind of a transcendence. Therefore, we could talk of a strong spirituality in Jaccottets writings, if this word werent so deeply compromised by so many seekers of fast-food enlightenment. Jaccottets spirituality is accompaniedor offsetby an equally strong skepticism and doubt, which often translate stylistically into a more prosaic writing. His writing oscillates between, at one end, a haiku-like quality, and at the other, a convoluted, deliberately prosaic style." ~ Daniela Hurezanu, The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 28, Summer 2012
Poet Philippe Jaccottet
From Cahier de verdure (Notebook of Greenery, 1990)
Alors, bien sûr, il y a l'invisible, ou le dérobé. Rien, surtout, qui ressemble de près ou de loin aux esprits toujours plus ou moins troubles ou dérisoires qu'invoquent les occultismes, aus fantômes, aus démons. Pas de culte, pas de rite, mêmes s'ils peuvanet, s'ils ont pu aider, autrement. Ni acèse, ni transe, ni extase. L'étrangeté la plus grande, sans trace d'étrangeté.
Of course the invisible, or the hidden, does exist. However, nothing of it closely or even remotely resembles ghosts, demons, and the always more or less shapeless or ludicrous spirits invoked by occult beliefs. No cult, no rite, either, even if they provide or provided help in other ways. No ascetic regimen, no trance, no ecstacy. The greatest strangeness, without a trace of strangeness.
Celui qui douterait que le monde soit, qui douterait, lui-même, d'être, se guérit, ici, de ce qui n'est plus que maladie, ou faiblesse, ou lâcheté. Cette terrasse aux dalles disjointes, envahies par l'herbe couleur de paille, est aussi réelle, sous cette lumière-ci, que las plus vive douleur.
He who could doubt that the world exists, who would doubt that he himself exists, is healed here of what is now mere sickeness, weakness, or cowardice. In this light, this terrace with its loose flagstones invaded by straw-colored grass is as real as the sharpest pain.
From Et, néanmoins (And, Nonetheless, 2001)
"As Kingfishers Catch Fire..."
Chasseur, ne vise pas: cet oiseau n'est pas un gibier.
Regard, ne vise pas, recueille seulement l'éclair des plumes entre roseau et saules. Alliant dans se plumes soleil et sommeil.
Hunter, do not aim: this bird is not wild game.
Look, do not aim: gather only the flash of feathers among the reeds and willows.
Uniting sun and sleep in its feathers.
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