Carnac – Eugène Guillevic (1961)


“Hard by the rugged coast of Brittany, there among menhirs, those megaliths that have gone on standing through all our history, a man confronts the sea. Toi, ce creux et definitive, he says. (You, this void, this trough–definitive.) Moi, qui revais de faire equilibre. (I who dreamt to find some kind of balance.) And having lived through a book, this Carnac, with him, we understand that it’s not the mystery of the world he braces there but the smaller, consonant mystery of the gap stretching forever between us and that world, dividing us from it–the very gap we go on all our lives, with all our activities, science, history, the arts, trying to bridge. Guillevic is the poet of rural lanes lined with bushes, the poet of plain men taking home bread to wives, of cheap bureaus and sideboards, the poet of picnics, solitary walks, men in comforting cages of office and received wisdom, the poet of walls. He is a poet whose every line, with its simple diction and plain language, disavows all we imagine as poetic. He is the poet of a quiet and distinctive magic. Little known in English-speaking countries, Guillevic has long been a major influence on and a huge presence in European poetry. Not that many American poets enamored of him haven’t tried to share their fervor. … This is not, after all, terribly surprising. What is at the very heart of his work’s excellence–the simplicity of its diction, the unadorned language, its very modesty–renders it all but untranslatable. Even in French, Guillevic can be an elusive read. Slight, elliptical, gnomic, the poems vanish when looked at straight on. ‘Les mots / C’est pour savoir,’ he says. Words are for knowing. And by les mots he means, resolutely, French words. Because their mystery, their magic, is in the language itself, these poems do not easily give up their secrets, or travel well. They are their secrets. They crack open the dull rock of French and find crystal within. In English, all too often, only the dullness, the flatness, remains. In her introduction, to date the closest thing we have to an essay on Guillevic, Levertov compares the poet’s work to that of Antonio Machado, in whose unprepossessing poems the play of sound and of idiom is essential, and the translation of which leaves behind only a husk, an empty skin. …”
Guillevic: Carnac and Living in Poetry
W – Eugène Guillevic
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