Skip to content

A stubble like stars.

(after Jaccottet)


I had been reading Philippe Jaccottet in French and English for many years, so was particularly moved to come across his last published poems (La Clarté Notre-Dame) in the version translated by John Taylor. I wondered whether I could work with these texts in their English form in some way and also add to it material from the poet’s earlier work. So, I have produced some re-versions drawn from translations by Ian Brinton, John Taylor and Mark Treharne.

Jaccottet himself was suspicious of any over-elaboration (despite his own wonderful ear), so there could be something rather arrogant implied in my recompositions, but I hope that as well as being a tribute, this derived writing can be an intimate form of dialogue, even if at two removes. My title comes from his phrase ‘avec un grésillement dans les éteules / comme d’étoiles à ras de terre (Last Book of Madrigals, p. 52)

—Peter Larkin

for Denis Boyles
in memoriam


Empty fields with no haste, an
ample almost colourless sign of life

Prevail a distrust over the too weary,
as a weightless avails the fragile

If the light was an absent designation,
no question of faking that shadow,
the lessened in its darkness

In zest of a kind of prelude,
tinkling of a message defied,
an appeal fully applied

No grace of herds or troughs,
given this altitude of effort

More than merely agreeing with
this cold anchor, so few noises
possible to my heart

Chestnut woods sheltering, small
(tall) stone constrictions pose there
as long in time, nest
of a slope, wing of a transform

The bristle of crown arisen far above
threat, like the pleats of tense foliage

A detour of telling the walk,
old age engraves my doubts on capable
surprises, captures of want

Small herds or even a pen
of trees, rounded limbs, written veins

Without any exclusion still a
non-immersion, the prolonged sanction
(sanctum) of remorse at peace.

Preference of the attentive,
exempt comparison

A mark (ray) of the breach
filters out the frail absurd

A slide of things illuminating the cradle,
this non-imitation of it settling
under a misted sun

Incredibly sheltered as little fashioned,
how ferocious for anything valid,
any prime marvel?

Busy caverns within an unscathed enclave, not admiring its own shadows    a few clouds ever-changing and so non-voluntary, scarce travellings of the goodness on the outer side of the window      collapse by chance of escaping unharmed, how fallen twigs build up a surface, minute ramparts of a renewed expanse         a sufficient but handless version aggravates the risk, these evasive undoubtfuls a remote pre-spring     scattered dawn of an announcement in the midst of very brief swarms, almond and apricot the expected gust, a reverie of no further hostility

Out of tune hope, quivering the
final rest, disquieting footsteps, whence
flying by the snow of it

Thinnest threads the silver branches are
snowing, knowing the unbearable,
its many coats

The ever-ordinary chapel, belated
sacredness, scourings of prayer, modest
free residue: its pre-resumé of
the initial crypt

To be too really dead to face the non-
voice of the fright neither wave
nor stutter, or whatever
will help heaven

A quince orchard, in open
concentration of the infinite,
unthinkable crossing of ‘and yet’



They would fall silent, not evade
the matter, the way they were spaced,
as if new to the species almond

Swarm, spume, snow, bare white mist suspended above an earth still grassless, scarcely getting lost, the trees disarm the thought, provoke communion in their glimpse of bare soil        a brief murmuring alighting there, no grudge against greenery     utterly ordinary, or to seek too far from our paths       a life different from ours because it unfolds a spiralling, from bare branches to blossom        the fleeting fruit stain before it can be effaced,   the orchard retracts any image, is behind us now, travels the only ground scarcely, what it floats is its own standstill

I stand on my guard further and
further afield but drawn back to
no other possession, dreaming
the less of it

Crossing a threshold unimpeded,
carried away onto the dearth of it,
not stemming a profusion
of caresses

An unweighable under the auspices
of so many scales, changes of level
behind the trees, the blemish of
being compelled to approach

A feeble vestige of non-
indifference, a familiar spirit
meandering the intuition

Like infinity trading some invisible
dimension of the ritual, sole
plumage, face of an orchard

A first greenery graining the ground from its dust above, faint shadows of trees, the stare of it binding and agile, like the sport of a curtain      externalising the play of effacement        a fragile obstacle (plant) sown against a wall, all those closed ties in the soil      a certain obscurity conciliated, not prescribed       the resisting secret of the sacred stumbles the imaginary, reproaches its shadow, of which the blossom is not so paltry

Luminous spurts, the unknown,
remote nurture awaiting the unborn

To plough possibility for its field,
provisional without spurning, a porous
fulfilment thrown from destruction

In a dust (soot) of words, beneath a
particular sky, remote and afflicted
(affiliated) in what is seen across
a marvel glimpsed

The eye of some analogy scans the sky,
liable to a slightest thing, how branches
confuse snow with lingering blossom

Renounce a rate of obvious meaning,
blossom become that cloud of snow
over an overcast sky, nothing
in waiting

some sort of outcome conceded to
the frontier of it, splinters alive
at an irritation of some
other dimension



The errant left so little, losing space
to present earth’s distances

Death unseen amid winter’s surviving
grass, hidden and patient threading
throughout a day (open field)
to be settled

Growing clarity but indistinct beneath
glass, a shimmer disdains hanging there,
on the cusp of a promise, dawn’s
memory of a tear

Transferred alongside the green wood,
earth so easily scared of winter’s ending,
a smoke (not a tomb) of the soul

Here where the earth draws its nearest merge
to a close (God between fantasy and stone):
the snow’s fleeting light

Hanging in the branches a unique
belt, winter light on tree-bark,
love widening the dawn past its flash of axe:
without trespass a glimpse of God

Spiked above us now the heaving mountain     we can only watch and pray        freezing the stabbing, a blade buries stars in living flesh, birdsong merges with a dared scarce pity          rending and ripping more than knotted in air, dissolution is a heavier lash, at last the crash mountain-like in its airy thinness

     a single grass seed, a mote travelling a knot in air, dusk and dawn leave no trace of the sound, a voice unspilled but slicing its single moment of pure day      already no longer a spindle but shuttling the darkening of the day, reserving links (chinks) of space which peer beyond my eyes

A quantity of being our knowing
nothing, which clings like paddock
and prairie, hovers the grave (grass)
over our silent invitation



Born of dirt but no dull verging, flimsy
but hidden, violets break up the last snows of winter,
an upright liturgy a little more eternal
than this shift of shadow:  don’t speak loudly
of what sprouts from the earth

Detours efface mistakes, light fragile shots
from shadowy non-destructions at
the end of winter, violets
the capable tender tips

Nothing else yet something very different,
lowly things were needed to go further:
opening a way dark and cold, not too frail
to heed the replacement, a relay
of pathbreakers

Rechristen these flowers, my eyes
saw them removed into the network
of the world

An airy nave’s array (tall oak) calms
any steps across its threshold    white spots
waver an unfloating mass of grass, unlikely
forms of life too nearly human   surge them
from the far reaches

Less bright constellations sort these
sparse umbels, less fixed once the day’s
veil (beautiful) has withdrawn from
the trees’ overhead response

Fragile galaxies (wild carrot) float across
a threshold of grass sky, a milk-white
within arm’s reach, no sharp single stars
snagged on gorse

Whispering umbels, distinct or
linked to another hatching?    glimmer of
strange language hovering over the commons,
dawn chirping, shade and grave

A few umbels networking the shade of
tall greens, the restive forever-way
of the world’s home

Bird unbound, a relic jewel close to
these relative half-heard words
left to the reeds and willows

Speak the pale blue and orange fragments of a world, a gaze’s kingfisher slighted by its tender concern at the very last time          a lucky day in November, second life seeing the import of a fire vanish in the willows      once would suffice but do not aim for it: feathers flash singly among the reeds

Unite heart and wing in feathers
mocking the flash     what suffices is that it
led you out, as sun and sleep remember

Sources by Philippe Jaccottet.
La Clarté Notre-Dame’ and ‘The Last Book of Madrigals, trans. John Taylor (Seagull Books, 2022).
Prospice: Through an Orchard, translated, with an essay, by Mark Treharne (1978).
Jaccottet, trans. Ian Brinton (Oystercatcher Press, 2016).
And, Nonetheless: Selected Prose & Poetry, 1990–2009, trans. John Taylor (Chelsea Editions, 2011).

PETER LARKIN contributed to The Ground Aslant: an Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry, ed. Harriet Tarlo (2011). A symposium on his work was held at Warwick U (UK) in 2018, the proceedings of which appeared in the Journal of British & Irish Innovative Poetry. Among recent collections are Trees Before Abstinent Ground  (2019) and Encroach to Resume (2021). A set of one hundred two-to-three-line poems, Sounds Between Trees appeared in 2022 from Guillemot Press. His newest collection is If Trees Allay an Earth Retrialling (Shearsman, 2023) .

Image credit:
Sterrenhemel boven het kerkhof (James Ensor, 1888); collection: Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent


Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *