Jules Supervielle (born Uruguay / France)
Jules Supervielle was born into a French-Basque family living in Uruguay. Orphaned, he was raised by his uncle, spending his childhood on the pampas, a subject of much of early poetry. At ten he was sent to Paris for his education, and there he attended the Sorbonne for college.
For a while Supervielle served in the French army, but he developed a heart condition that lasted for the rest of his life. Except for frequent visits to his home city of Montevideo, he remained in France throughout the rest of his life, except for the period during World War II, which he spent in Uruguay.
Supervielle is known primarily for his personal and imagistically-rich poetry, beginning with his 1925 volume, Gravitations and continuing through his later volumes including Le Forçat innocent, Les Amis inconnus, La Fable du Monde, Oublieuse Mémoire, Naissances and other books of poetry.
Supervielle was also the author of several works of fiction, Le voleur d'enfants (1926, The Man Who Stole Children) being the most noted of them. He also wrote a pantomime for Jean-Louis Barrault, and scripted nine plays, among which Bolivar formed the basis of the Darius Milhaud opera.
He died in Paris on May 17, 1960.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Brumes du Passé (no publisher listed, 1901); Comme des Voiliers (Collection de la Poétique, 1910); Les Poèmes de l'Humour Triste (Paris: A la Belle Edition, 1919); Poèmes (Paris: Figuière, 1919); Débarcadères (Paris: Aux Editions de la Revue de L'Amérique Latine, 1922); Gravitations (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1925; revised in 1932); Oloron-Sainte-Marie (Marseille: Cahiers du Sud, 1927); Saisir (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1928); Le Forçat innocent (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1930); Les Amis inconnus (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1934); La Fable du Monde (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1938); Poèmes de la France Malheureuse (Buenos Aires: Editions Amis de Letrres Françaises Sur, 1941); Choix de Poèmes (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1944); 1939-1945. Poèmes (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1946); Choix de Poèmes (Paris: Gallimard, 1947); A la Nuit (Neuchâtel, France: Cahiers du Rhône, 1947); Oublieuse mémoire (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1949); Naissances (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1951); L'Escalier: Poèmes nouveaux (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1956); Le Corps tragique (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1959).
ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS
Supervielle, trans. by Teo Savory (Santa Barbara, California: Unicorn Press, 1967); Jules Supervielle: Selected Writings, trans. by James Kirkup, Denise Levertov, and Kenneth Rexroth (New York: New Directions, 1967); Selected Poems and Reflections on the Art of Poetry, trans. by George Bogin (New York: Sun, 1985).
For a reading in French of "Quartre heures," click here:
to Ramón Gómez de la Serna
The whole sky is stained with ink like the fingers of a child.
Where is the school and the schoolbag?
Hide this hand─it, too, has black stains─
Under the wood of this table.
The faces of forty children share my solitude.
What have I done with the ocean,
In what aerial desert did the flying fish die?
I'm sixteen all over the world and on the high mountains,
I'm sixteen on the rivers and around Notre Dame
And in the classroom at Janson-de-Sailly
Where I see time pass on the dial of my palms.
The noise of my heart prevents me from listening to the teacher.
I'm already afraid of life with its hobnailed shoes
And my fear makes me so ashamed that my glance wanders
Into a distance where remorse can't appear.
The walk of the horses on the asphalt shines in my damp soul
And is reflected upside down intertwined with rays.
A fly disappears in the sands of the ceiling,
The Latin around us squats and shows us its leprosy─
I don't dare touch another thing on the black wooden table.
When I lift my eyes to the Orient of the teacher's desk
I see a young girl facing us like beauty itself,
Facing us like pain, like necessity.
A young girl sits there, she makes her heart sparkle
Like a jewel full of fever to distant precious stones.
A cloud of boys is gliding toward her lips
Without ever seeming to get closer.
We glimpse her garter, she lives far from pleasures
And her half-naked leg, uneasy, swings back and forth.
Her bosom is so alone in the world that we tremble that she might be cold,
(Is it my voice which is asking if the windows can be shut?)
She would love to love all the boys in the class,
This young girl who has appeared among us
But knowing that she'll die if the teacher discovers her
She begs us to be discreet so she can live for a moment
And be a pretty girl in the midst of adolescents.
The sea in a corner of the globe counts and recounts its waves
And pretends to have more of them than there are stars in the sky.
─Translated from the French by George Bogin
(from Gravitations, 1925)
Whisper in Agony
Don't be shocked,
Close your eyes
Until they turn
Truly to stone.
Leave your heart alone
Even if it stops.
It beats solely for itself
from a secret inclination of its own.
Your hands will spread out
from the frozen block
and your brow will be bare
as a great square between
two occupied armies.
─Translated from the French by Douglas Messerli
(from Le Forçat innocent, 1930)
Beautiful Monster of the Night
"Beautiful monster of the night, palpitating gloom
You display a wet snout from outer space
You approach, give me your paw
And pull it back as if seized with doubt.
I am a friend of your dark gestures, nonetheless,
My eyes plumb the depths of your impenetrable coat.
Can't you see me as a brother of the dark
In this world living like ordinary folk, but of the next,
My purest song kept to myself.
Go, I also know silence's torment
With a hasty heart, by patience wornout,
Knocking without an answer on death's doors.
─But every once in a while death replies
When your heart is so scared it beats against its walls,
And you're from a world where they're afraid to die."
Eye to eye, with little steps in retreat,
The monster withdrew into rash shade,
And the sky, as always, studded itself with stars.
─Translated from the French by Douglas Messerli
(from La Fable du Monde, 1938)
English language translation copyright (c) George Bogin. Reprinted by permission of George Bogin.
"Whisper in Agony" and "Beautiful Monster of the Night"
English language copyright ©2003 by Douglas Messerli. Reprinted by permission of Douglas Messerli.