Saturday, March 28, 2009


Philippe Jaccottet is described by Roger Cardinal in the Oxford Companion to Literature in French as follows. 'Swiss by birth, Jaccottet settled in a French village in the Drôme, a region of wooded hills and mountainous prospects from which he derives a landscape poetry of non-specific and universal resonance. ... Trees and birds, rain and snow, moon and stars are the archetypal features of a world dense with intimations of harmony and transfiguration. Inspired by Hölderlin, Rilke and Ungaretti, each of whom he has translated, Jaccottet celebrates those rare moments of participatory insight when contingent phenomena, lyrically voiced, accede to the status of metaphor or metaphysical symbol.'

Beauregard (1981) is a set of five prose pieces, the first of which was inspired by the poet's chance discovery of a remote, 'insignificant' village, in the Drôme called Beauregard. I read it in the Bloodaxe translation by Mark Treharne, who describes Beauregard as a collection of 'landscapes in prose', 'place reassembled as text.' Jaccottet writes of both the physical setting and his own interior landscape, something Treharne sees as inevitable - 'endemic in the whole business of inscribing landscape in the referential system of words'. However, the approach is something particularly associated with certain poets: Eugenio Montale for example (whose writing on the Cinque Terra I have described here before). Jaccottet cites Montale's poem Tempi di Bellosguardo in his own poem - they both contain 'the same word'.

I found Mark Treharne's general introduction to Jaccottet interesting, touching as it does on some of the difficulties of dealing with landscape in the arts today. Here are some of the points made in it:
  • Jaccottet elected to live in the Drôme to avoid distractions, not to write regional verse or nature poetry. The landscape provides 'a point of focus for sensory, affective and meditative response.'
  • His poetry represents attentiveness pushed to its limits. But 'scrutiny should not be too intense, too keen for the capture, or it will kill its object.'
  • The eyes, according to Jaccottet, drink in the world and 'contribute to its metamorphosis into immaterial images.' In his poetry, 'objects become images and ultimately figures of language.'
  • But landscape is not just a static image, it changes constantly and Jaccottet reflects this (particularly the play of light and seasonal change).
  • One of Jaccottet's prose works is called Paysages avec figures absentes, which sounds like a collection of landscape paintings that have lost their 'figures' (in connection with this, see my earlier post on artworks entitled 'Landscape with...') In this, he describes intense encounters with a landscape that sound like epiphanies, but is reluctant to make too much of them. 'Occasionally, as if our movements had crossed - like the encounter of two glances that can create a flash of illumination and open up another world - I have thought I had glimpsed what I should have to call the still centre of the moving world. Too much said? Better to move on...'
  • As a modern landscape poet, Jaccottet finds it important to stress the distance between nature and human cycles: 'landscape can appear ordinary and familiar, but also alien, full of uneasy distances, a foreign language.'
  • Finally, the introduction to the Bloodaxe translation begins with discussion of a brief poem that contemplates the sight of snow on a mountain. It is from Airs: poèms 1961-64, a collection inspired by haiku. The poem is an 'enigmatic verbal landscape' - its lack of detail leaves the reader unsure how specific or real it is. For Treharne, 'the laconic style provokes an involvement with the poem that a more explicit formulation would not have done.'


rob miller said...

An excellent site if I may say so and much close to my wanderings.

Rob Miller said...

. I do like your blog, I have been a great fan of Jaccottet for years as an aide to inspiration. I have added it as a link on my blog. I hope thats okay. best wishes Rob Miller

PS How strange two Rob Millers in one day

Plinius said...

Thanks for your comments. I wonder how many more Rob Millers are out there...