March 19, 2013

Jacques Prévert

Jacques Prévert (France)

 Born at Neuilly-sur-Seine on February 4, 1900, Jacques Prévert grew up in Paris. After receiving his primary education, he left school to work at the major French department store, Le Bon Marché. In 1918 he was drafted into the French military, and, after the war, was sent to the Near East to defend French interests.
     Prévert was, at first, connected with the French Surrealists, but later moved away from then, joining with Raymond Queneau, Marcel Duchamp and others with the Rue du Château group and later with the agitprop Groupe Octobre.
     Before turning to poetry, Prévert had already become a major force in the French film industry, working as a writer with director Marcel Carné on works that have since become classics of early 20th century film-making, including Drôle de drame (Bizarre, Bizarre, 1937), Quai des brumes (Port of Shadows, 1938), Le Jour se lève (Daybreak, 1939), Les Visiteurs du soir (Night Visitors, 1942), and, most importantly, Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise, 1945), the last one of the most noted films of the 20th century.
     Yet, beginning with his first volume, Paroles (Words) of 1946, Prévert also became a beloved poet, many of his lyrics, including “Les Feuilles mortes” (Autumn Leaves), “La grasse matinée (Sleeping In), “Les bruits de la nuit (The Sounds of the Night), and “Chasse à l’enfant” (The Hunt for the Child) being set to music and sung by major French vocalists, including Marianne Oswald, Yves Montand, and Edith Piaf as well as US singers such as Joan Baez and Nat King Cole. Others have since interpreted his lyrics.
     Prévert also wrote fictions and children’s writings, often producing books with photographs and artwork by figures such as Roman Urhausen, Izis Bidermanas and Marc Chagall.
     He died in Omonville-la-Petite in April 1977, while working on the animated film, Le Roi et l’oiseau (The King and the Mockingbird).


Paroles (Paris: Éditions du Point du jour, 1946); Histoires; 30 poèmes de Jacques Prévert, 30 poèmes d'André Verdet, 31 dessins de Mayo (Paris: Éditions du Pré aux clercs, 1946);  Spectacle (Paris: Gallimard, 1951); La Pluie et le beau temps (Paris: Le Point du jour, 1955); Histoires et  d’autres histories (Paris: Le Point de jour, 1963); Fatras (Paris: Gallimard, 1966); Choses et autres (Paris: Gallimard, 1972); Grand Bal du Printemps (Paris: Gallimard, 1972); Œuvres completes (Paris: Gallimard, 1992) 


Selections from Paroles (San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1958/reprinted by Harmondworth, England: Penguin Books, 1965); Words for All Seasons (Greensboro, North Carolina: Unicorn Press, 1979); Selected Poems of Jacques Prévert (Fredonia, New York: White Pine Press, 1987); Blood and Feathers: Selected Poems of Jacques Prévert (Wakefield, Rhode Island: Asphodel Press, 1993)

The Last Supper

They are at the table
They are not eating
They are not cleaning their plates
For their plates stand upright
Vertically behind their heads

—Translated from the French by Carol Poster

(from Paroles, 1946)

At the Florists’s

A man walks into a florist’s
And chooses some flowers
The florist wraps the flowers
The man puts his hand in his pocket
Looking for some money
Money to pay for the flowers
He puts his hand on his heart
And falls

As the man falls
The money rolls on the ground
And the flowers fall
With the man
And the money
The florist stands there
With the rolling money
The damaged flowers
The dead man
This is really very sad
And she must do something
But she doesn’t know how to set about it
She doesn’t know
Which end to start with

There are so many things to do
With this dead man
These damaged flowers
And this money
This rolling money
Which keeps on rolling

—Translated from the French by Carol Poster

(from Paroles, 1946)

The Lizard

The lizard of love
Has vanished again
And left his tail
Within my had
That was
Well done
I’d wanted to keep it.

—Translated from the French by Carol Poster

(from Histoires, 1963)

English language translation copyright ©1987 by Carol Poster, reprinted from Selected Poems by Jacques Prévert (Fredonia, New York:  White Pine Press, 1987).

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