Tuesday, December 10, 2013

another feature poem from defunct blog

THE RETURN (after Follain: from Merwin/Romer)  

The sun has washed with white the farm that waits
in ways for the stranger who's late to come,
but he whose force was never sure of home
may not even pause when faced with its gates.

Clothed wholly in the mendicant's threadbare,
his headwear the tin lid of a trashcan,
he will know to announce himself as man
the prodigal: Hey guys it's me!  But where

the mule gnaws roots and the mare's coat burrs dark
and the pig guards the last milk it laps at,—
where the dog has a starred brow and the cat
can augur storms, they have formed their own ark.

Unyielding the response to him must be;
the same it has been since edenity.

I worked from the Stephen Romer and W. S. Merwin translations of Jean Follain's original.

This is one of the "transversions" from my book Homages.

In the case of this poem "by" Jean Follain, I worked from translations by Merwin and Romer (they are appended below).   Reading them, you can see what I've changed or added; in particular how I've "put back in" references to the biblical characters Adam and Noah, which Follain carefully left out.

It may seem odd that I've taken a poem which I assume is not rhymed in the original French version (I don't have the Follain text, but based on every poem of his I've ever seen I'm confident this one is similarly not end-rhymed)—why have I taken a vers libre and done this to it.  

But his poems are often sort of sonnety in their way.  Stephen Romer writes: 

"[Follain's] poems, very rarely more than fifteen lines or so in length, are vignettes . . . "  This is from the Introduction to 20th-Century French Poems (Faber, 2002) edited by Romer (see below for more Romer-on-Follain).  

That "fifteen lines" phrase struck me, and I suddenly wondered if quite a few of Follain's poems could be read as sonnets in subterfuge, and if so why not try doing a transversion in that mode  . . .

W. S. Merwin:


On the farm in its full color
it is on a day of bright sunlight
that one awaits the stranger.
Dressed in fine black fabric
and wearing a top hat
he will push the gate open
saying friends here I am.
The donkey nibbling the blue thistle
the mare in her dark gown
the pig drinking sour milk
the dog with the starred forehead
the cat who can sense a storm
before him will be the same
as in hard Antiquity.


by Stephen Romer:


In the freshly whitewashed farm
it is a sunny day
to be waiting for the stranger.
Clad in thin black cloth
and wearing a top hat
he will push the gate
and say friends here I am.
The donkey grazing on blue thistle
the mare with a dark coat
the pig drinking thin milk
the dog with the starred forehead
the cat sensitive to storms
will be the same before him
as in hard Antiquity.

Here's Stephen Romer on Follain:

Follain catches the instant and preserves it in aspic, or behind glass that is absolutely transparent: the speaker casts no shadow on his poems, which are rigourously impersonal in presentation—not once does Follain use the personal pronoun 'je', preferring always the neutral 'on'. . . . Perhaps no other poet of the century can suggest, with equal economy, such vertiginous and often desolating temporal perspectives.  Follain is also a crucial figure in providing a viable alternative to Surrealism, which he claimed to 'admire' but knew to be inimical to his own genius. . . . By reasserting the possibility of a poetry anchored in the world, and by inventing a new type of lyric poem, scoured of sentimentality and subjectivity, Jean Follain may prove, indeed, to be the major influence on the best [French] poets of the latter part of the century. . . .

(quoted from pages xxxiii/xxxiv of Romer's introduction to 20th-Century French Poems)


No comments:

Post a Comment