Sunday, January 25, 2015

Homage To Life ~ Jules Supervielle


Jules Supervielle was a French poet, dramatist, and short-story writer, born on the 16th January 1884 in Uruguay. T.S. Eliot said of him and Saint-John Perse, "There are no two poets of their generations of whose permanence I feel more assured" and Rilke who greatly admired him stated that Supervielle was "a great builder of bridges into space".

Born in 1884 in Montevideo, to a father from Béarn and a Basque mother - this same year, he and his parents returned to France on a family visit. Whilst there a tragic accident occurs - his father and mother die brutally, either by drinking poisoned by tap water or as victims of cholera, leaving Jules to initially be raised by his grandmother.

In 1886, he returns to Uruguay, with his uncle Bernard and is raised by his aunt and uncle as if he was their own son.

1894 his uncle and his aunt settle in Paris, where Jules will receive all his secondary education, by 1889 he has discovered writers such as Musset, Hugo, Lamartine, Leconte de Lisle and Sully Prudhomme and he starts to write poems in secret. 1901 he publishes in account of author a plate of poems entitled Brumes du passé, although based in France he returns to Uruguay for his summer holidays. From 1902 to 1906, Jules continues his studies, from the baccalaureat to the licence of literature, he then completes his military service although his fragile health makes his experience of life in the barracks difficult.

Homage To Life

It’s good to have chosen 
A living home 
And housed time 
In a ceaseless heart 
And seen my hands 
Alight on the world, 
As on an apple 
In a little garden, 
To have loved the earth, 
The moon and the sun 
Like old friends 
Who have no equals, 
And to have committed 
The world to memory 
Like a bright horseman 
To his black steed, 
To have given a face 
To these words — woman, children, 
And to have been a shore 
For the wandering continents 
And to have come upon the soul 
With tiny strokes of the oars, 
For it is scared away 
By a brusque approach. 
It is beautiful to have known 
The shade under the leaves, 
And to have felt age 
Creep over the naked body, 
And have accompanied pain 
Of black blood in our veins, 
And gilded its silence 
With the star, Patience, 
And to have all these words 
Moving around in the head, 
To choose the least beautiful of them 
And let them have a ball, 
To have felt life, 
Hurried and ill loved, 
And locked it up 
In this poetry.

In 1907 He gets married to Pilar Saavedra,  between 1908 and 1929 they will have six children. After years spent travelling in 1912 he sets down roots in Paris where apart from visits to Uruguay he will remain the next two decades. During this period he will be conscripted using his linguistic abilities for the ministry of war, he will also publish his first important collection of poetry Débarcadères (1922) and his first novel L'Homme de la pampa (1923). By 1925 he is fully immersed in the literary Scene, associating with the likes of the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke and has also published what is considered one of the major collections of French-speaking poetry of the 20th century Gravitations, this is followed up in 1931 by the publication of his first important collection of fantastical short-stories: L'Enfant de la haute mer,  and his first major play, La Belle au bois.


One day the Earth will be

just a blind space turning,  

night confused with day.  

Under the vast Andean sky  

there’ll be no more mountains,  

not a rock or ravine.  

Only one balcony will remain  

of all the world’s buildings,  

and of the human mappa mundi,  

limitless sorrow.  

In place of the Atlantic Ocean,  

a little saltiness in the air,  

and a fish, flying and magical  

with no knowledge of the sea.  

In a car of the 1900s (no road  

for its wheels) three girls  

of that time, pressing onwards  

like ghosts in the fog.  

They’ll peer through the door  

thinking they’re nearing Paris  

when the odor of the sky  

grips them by the throat.  

Instead of a forest  

there’ll be one bird singing,  

which nobody will ever place,  

or prefer, or even hear.  

Except for God, who listening out,  

proclaims it a goldfinch.  

Translation: Moniza Alvi


With the outbreak of the 2nd World War, Jules Supervielle finds himself back in Uruguay in exile for seven years with some serious health issues (pulmonary and cardiac problems) and by 1940 bankrupt. Although this has little impact on his literary output with his plays being taken up by the top directors of this period & Jules devoting himself to translation (Guillen, Lorca, Shakespeare, etc.), he will also receive several literary prizes. In 1944 he makes a series of conferences at the University of Montevideo on contemporary French poetry and in 1946 returns to France, having been named cultural correspondent to the legation of Uruguay in Paris and publishes his first mythological tales under the title Orphée. He continues to write and publish his works now back in france, putting out a autobiographical account entitled Boire à la source in 1951 & also a poetry collection Naissances. During this period  he is suffering from the after effects of his earlier health issues and in 1959 publishes his last collection of verse Le Corps tragique, on the 17th May 1960 he dies and is buried in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, but not before being elected Prince des poètes ("Prince of poets") by his peers.


Rain and the Tyrants

I stand and watch the rain

Falling in pools which make

Our grave old planet shine;

The clear rain falling, just the same

As that which fell in Homer's time

And that which dropped in Villon's day

Falling on mother and on child

As on the passive backs of sheep;

Rain saying all it has to say

Again and yet again, and yet

Without the power to make less hard

The wooden heads of tyrants or

To soften their stone hearts,

And powerless to make them feel

Amazement as they ought;

A drizzling rain which falls

Across all Europe's map,

Wrapping all men alive

In the same moist envelope;

Despite the soldiers loading arms,

Despite the newspapers' alarms,

Despite all this, all that,

A shower of drizzling rain

Making the flags hang wet.

Translation: David Gascoyne

In October of the same year The New French Review (La Nouvelle Revue Française) prints a special number paying homage to him and From 1966 to 1987 there is publication at the editions Gallimard (collection "Poésie") of his principal poetic collections.

In 1990: The city of Oloron-Sainte-Marie creates the Jules-Supervielle prize; amongst the prize winners, you’ll find the names of  major contemporary poets, such as - Alain Bosquet, Eugène Guillevic, Henri Thomas, Jean Grosjean & Lionel Ray.

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.

Translation: Douglas Messerli


James said...

Thanks for introducing me yet again to a writer and poet with whom I am unfamiliar. I will add Supervielle to the list I began last year when I first encountered Max Jacob.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for this. I had never heard of Supervielle but I really like these works.

The effect of interspacing the poems with information on the poet works very well.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi James
the introduction thing is a 2 way street & my own lists groan with the weight of books suggested by bloggers such as yourself .

Hi Brian
yeah he's relatively new to me but like what I've found. Glad you liked the spacing it was merely to make the text less dense & heavy