‘La Clarté Notre-Dame’ and ‘The Last Book of the Madrigals’
The last works of the last great classic European poet now available in English.
In his 96th and final year, and with the help of the poet José-Flore Tappy, celebrated Swiss poet Philippe Jaccottet finished two manuscripts-in-progress, one in prose and one in poetry, both of which are presented in this volume in John Taylor’s sensitive translation.
The first work, ‘La Clarté Notre-Dame’, takes off from the ‘pure, weightless, fragile, yet crystal-clear tinkling’ of a monastery bell heard during a walk with friends. With this thought-provoking sound as a leitmotiv, Jaccottet looks back on a life of writing, reading, and scrutinizing humankind’s existential and spiritual aspirations. He sets these concerns against his equally lifelong preoccupation with ‘the rise of evil in today’s world’, notably in Syria. Composed in a baroque style, the verse poems collected in ‘The Last Book of Madrigals’ explore love. Jaccottet returns in spirit to Italy, the country which for him symbolizes happiness and sensuality. As he evokes amorous attraction, he conjures up Monteverdi’s madrigals, one of Dante’s little-known rhymes, and Giuseppe Ungaretti’s last poem. Reinventing and commenting on these works, Jaccottet meditates on old age, approaching death, despair, and the persistence of love.
Together, both works grapple with devastating darkness, but as Tappy observes in her afterword, however, Jaccottet’s ‘greatest force’ was ‘his perpetually renewed desire, during the most terrifying night, to head for the light’.
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