October 8, 2011

Francis Jammes

Francis Jammes [France]

Born on December 2, 1868 in Tournay, in the High Pyrénées, Francis Jammes spent most of his life in Béarn and the Basque Country in which he was born. His parents were from an ancient family, but had no wealth, his father dying young and forcing the young poet to work as a lawyer's clerk to support his mother.
     Although he attended school for a while in Bordeaux, he was evidently a poor student and failed his baccalauréat.

     His poems began to be read in Paris in the late 1890s, appreciated for their symbolist tendencies and their fresh and immediate language. For a while Jammes became close friends with figures such as Stéphane Mallarmé, Henri de Régnier, and André Gide, with whom he traveled to Algeria in 1896. His earliest works, published in 1891 were sonnets, followed by several volumes titled Verse (1892, 1893, and 1894). Perhaps his most well known volume of poems appeared in from Mercure de France in 1897, De l'angélus de l'aube à l'angélus du soir (From morning Angelus to evening Angelus). Indeed much of his early poetry and almost all of his later works were devoted to a praise of God and all things religious.

     Although beloved by many of the poets of Parisian society, Jammes' work belonged to no literary schools, and was characterized by a singular voice. Seen as a provincial author, his poems never truly became fashionable until his death.

     Although Jammes spent most of his days in his native region, he loved to travel and hunt, visiting Northern Africa several times. He was also a strong animal conservationist.

     Besides numerous volumes of poetry, Jammes also wrote numerous works of prose and books on poetry.

     The poet died on November 1, 1938, but editions of his books continued to appear until the mid-1940s.


Six Sonnets (1891); Vers (1892, 1893, and 1894); Un jour (1895); La Naissance du poète (1897); Quatorze prières (1898); De l'Angélus de l'aube à l'Angélus du soir (Paris: Mercure de France, 1898); Le Poète et l'oiseau (1899); La Jeune Fille nue (1899); Le Triomphe de la vie (1900-1901); Le Deuuil des primevères (1901); Clairières dans de Ciel (1902-1906); Tristesses (1905); Clairières dans le Ciel (1906); L'Eglise habillée de feuilles (1906); Le Triomphe de la vie (1906); Poèmes mesurés (1907); Rayons de miel (Paris: Bibliothèque de L'Occident, 1908); Le Géorgiques chrétiennes (3 volumes) (Paris: Mercure de France, 1911-1912); Feuilles dans le vent (1913); Cinq prières pour le temps de la guerre (Paris: Librairie de l'Art catholique, 1916); La Vierge et les sonnes (Paris: Mercure de France, 1919); Épitaphes (Paris: Librairie de l'Art catholique, 1921); Le Tombeau de Jean de la Fontaine (Paris: Mercure de France); Livres des quatrains (1922, 1923, 1924, and 1925); Brindilles pour rallumer la foi (Paris: Éditions Spes, 1925); Ma France poétique (Paris: Mercure de France, 1926); Diane (1928); L'Arc-en-ciel des amours (Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1931); Alouette (1935); De tout temps à jamais (Paris: Gallimard, 1935); Sources (Paris: Le Divan, 1936); Elégies et poésies diverse (1943); La Grâce (1946); Choix de poésies chrétiennes (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1946); Oeuvre poétique complète (Paris: J & D Éditions, 1995)


The Naked Girl: A Poem/Play (Berkeley, California: Workingmans Press, 1977); Selected Poems of Francis Jammes, trans. by Barry Gifford and Bettina Dickie (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1976)

Twelfth Elegy
to Madame M. M. Moreno-Schwob

On high wind that fills the sails of ships
and lifts the anemones at the forest's brink;
wind that swelled the soul of the great René,
as he shouted bitter words at the swollen seas;
wind that made Virginia's hut shake,
and that ravages the autumn courtyards of the Sacré-Coeur;
wind that comes to my humble table to chat:
I have always loved you, that you winnow the sand,
or make the rain drive crossways from right to left.

 Cradle me softly. Be to my poor heart
the soulful thing you were when I was a child.
I remember an attic room where I used to go
to listen to you blow beneath the doors and through the cracks.
Then I would mount a big box. From there,
I would gaze at the blue snow on the mountain.
My heart would leap. I wore a small white apron.
Cry? Dear God... I no longer know how... I was four.
Oh! The land of my birth... How perfect it seemed...

 Oh wind, do you want me, the shepherd,
seated like a poet among the ferns,
to give you kiss to my little flute?
Would you have all the young girls' mouths
lean towards me like roses?
Where are you leading my dream? Where?
In the dawn snow, mules went by
carrying deeply colored winds, tobacco, and young girls.


 Oh wind in which the morning bells fade to nothing,
and the flowering apple tress in the orchard come undone;
that blows the grass in waves and turns it silver;
that makes the pine trees sing and crumples the arbutus;
that swells the cloud and pushes it along. O wind,
when I hear you from the depths of my little room
you make my soul feel even lonelier.
your voice was always with me in laughter and in tears.
Reading Rousseau, it was as though you made
the trees sway in the old engravings.
I let my soul go free. I said to myself: it is meditation
to feel my thoughts die away as I listen to you speak.

 It's you who carried my grandfather over the greenish
ocean on his way to the flowering Antilles.
you blew up a storm as he sailed away from France.
Rain and hailstones bounced off and battered
the porthole. The bulkheads creaked. Everyone was afraid.
But as they came near the blessed Antilles
your muffled voice went still and you burst out laughing
at the sight of both seagulls and our creole cousins
anxiously waiting on the breakwater wall.

 Oh, if only I could recapture that day from another life.
My God, tell me, I beg you, was I really there?
Yes, I can see my grandfather again, followed by his cousins,
walking up the main street of St-Pierre-de-Martinique.
Wind, you ruffled the lively corollas
of the tobacco plants, and raised the soft muslin dresses
which our cousins sported like calyxes.

 For that reason alone, whistling wind, you are my friend.
I know what you know. I love you like a brother.
I salute the pleasure you take in wandering among the elms.
I know that the birds are like a thousand hearts for you.
I know that I understand the meaning of your words.
I know that the kisses of our creole cousins
went along with you to the garden roses,
amidst the pink and blue dew of that morning.

 Translated from the French by Bruce Whiteman

English language translation copyright ©2011 by Bruce Whiteman

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