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Poems from Prière (1924)

By Pierre Jean Jouve.

Translated by Will Stone.



The wind of afternoon on the highest day
of the year
breath, coldness and warm impetuosity.
The snows cannot loosen their dark noose,
the pink mountain in peace
reveals its rocks, makes known its immensity,
informs all of its immortal death.
The sky is forbidden and the light
wings from zone to zone, leaving behind it
a wound.
The heat of the deeps, of the valleys,
the aroma of love
from these clumps of hair, intermediary forests,
murmur of wild shacks, cries driven
through throats. Iron clang of the last step
have vanished in the winds pure turmoil
that ill grace
and that highest barbarity.
Oh my splendour!
I’ve mislaid my own name in your folds, I moan
to have left my sufferings upon your roads,
to have been laid bare by you, by the cruel blows
of your light on your stony slopes.
I am afraid, so pure is your beam, so inhuman
is your blue horizon.
Oh my splendour, don’t forget that the one who
bears you is insane.
But the splendour gives no reply, and wounds
strip away.

The Swan

Between mountain and springtime
moves the swan
wearily appearing in the always black
waters of winter;
between youth and death, from lake and ocean,
between peace and war, the swan in imagination.
But there where the water timidly turns blue, bearer
of butterflies,
he drifts on with modesty, he who is neither joyous
nor sorrowful,
only white, to little by little push back the world.
Ah, let go!
My swan, leave us, leave the clear water itself
and neck under wing, leave the grace that formed you,
lose the unity that senses, depart for deeper beatitude!

The Gorner Glacier

The Gorner,
is this immobile path that descends
like some vast milk
nourished by five other paths of milk
more vaporous
and all spawned from the breast of snow!
For a millennium
the ice beneath that milky way has advanced a step
crushing with care the chunks of defenceless
dragging the debris
in these far-reaching trails of desolation
along its edge.
Oh, labour. Far reaching!
Oh eternity, fortitude.
Follow, necessity without a weakness, whilst
the formidable seracs
are no more than dancers of snow, fantasies
seen from the heights on an afternoon
of blue, green and rose.

Alpine Choughs

Alpine choughs,
Oh silent
falling blue tufts.
From everywhere on the deeply red earth,
on a scattering of slopes sewn by the sky.
They are reborn, their malicious wings on the banks
are only stretched, turned back in every way
seized by the wind, playing with day;
they fall again, blue spirals,
fading away,
settle there.

Rapacious predators and of precious stone
settled on the first naked ground relieved of snow,
Because of hunger!
But no, it’s not for hunger they settle
they roam
without ever knowing, over the great spectacle’s
shimmering greenness,
where the power ever unnerved by them
frightfully plays,
strange spot, for strange struggles they alone
Oh, blue creatures whose glance did not dive down
only to reflect the arolla pine,
accustomed to the keenest height, — like
making them prisoners up there famished
upon the snows,
for all life is a prison that moves.

A Horizon

A horizon of hammered sufferings,
of dreadful lights,
the six shooting pains that the world
conceived on the same day
six of the highest mountains, rival and painful
to esteem one another across the same sky of upheaval
pink and grey,
six things condemned to a lofty sterility
slowly forced up from the earth that loses them
from view,
— And yet joy!
A joy to be relentlessly assaulted by the vast sky
and treacherously kissed by clouds,
a joy without a confidant and which cannot
be declared in all eternity.
— And am I not thus, ah, am I not thus,
have you not placed me here for all eternity?


WILL STONE is a poet, essayist and literary translator who divides his time between East Suffolk, Exmoor and the continent. His first poetry collection Glaciation (Salt, 2007), won an international award for Poetry in 2008. Subsequent collections Drawing in Ash (Salt, 2011), The Sleepwalkers (Shearsman, 2016) and The Slowing Ride (Shearsman 2020) have been critically appraised. A fifth collection Immortal Wreckage will be published in 2024. Will’s published translations from French and German include works by Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Georg Trakl, Rainer Maria Rilke, Gérard de Nerval, Georg Simmel, Maurice Betz, Emile Verhaeren and Georges Rodenbach. Will’s latest published translations published were Nietzsche in Italy by Guy de Pourtalès (Pushkin Press, 2022) and Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach (Wakefield Press, 2022). Letters around a Garden, a collection of Rilke’s letters in French will appear with Seagull Books in 2024 and Conversations with Rilke by Maurice Betz will be published by Pushkin in January 2025. Will has contributed reviews, essays, poems and translations to a number of literary publications including the Times Literary Supplement, the London Magazine, the Spectator, Apollo Magazine, the White Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Agenda, Irish Pages and Poetry Review.

PIERRE JEAN JOUVE (11 October 1887 – 8 January 1976) was a French writer, novelist and poet. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature five times and was awarded the Grand Prix de Poésie by the French Academy in 1966. The poems selected here are from Prière (Librairie Stock, 1924). Much of Jouve’s considerable output is still untranslated, particularly his brilliant essays, and the true scope of his talent remains unknown to an anglophone readership. Jouve’s crucial champion was the poet David Gascoyne (1916–2001), who had befriended Jouve and his wife, the psychiatrist Blanche Reverchon, during his time in Paris during the late 1930s. Gascoyne’s collection Hölderlin’s Madness (1938) is permeated by his discovery of Jouve’s poetry. Gascoyne considered Jouve the greatest living French poet and he went on to translate Jouve’s poems and keep his flame alive in English translation. The collection Despair Has Wings published by Enitharmon in 2007 was the culmination of his admiration for and fidelity to the French poet.


Image credit: Adolphe Braun (1812–1877), Alpine Landscape, Three Hikers on a Glacier (1860–69), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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