Patches of Sunlight, or of Shadow
Philippe Jaccottet’s newest work follows in some ways the approach of Seedtime, his recent two-volume collection of notebooks. Similarly comprising on-the-spot jottings, philosophical reflections, literary commentary, dream narratives and sundry ‘notes’, this book nonetheless differs from the preceding volumes in that the Swiss poet includes more personal material than ever before. Drawing on unpublished notebooks from the years 1952–2005, Jaccottet offers here passages about his family, the death of his father-in-law and of his mother, his encounters with other major poets—such as René Char, Francis Ponge, Jean Tardieu, and his friends Yves Bonnefoy and André du Bouchet—and his trips abroad, as well as, characteristically, his walks in the countryside around the village of Grignan, in the south of France, where he has lived since 1953. For a poet who has been notoriously discreet about his life, this book offers unexpected glimpses of the private man. Above all, the entries in Patches of Sunlight, or of Shadow show how one of the greatest European poets grapples with the discouraging elements of existence, counterbalancing them by recording fleeting perceptions in which ‘something else’, almost like a threshold, seems present.
‘Two of Jaccottet’s best-known sequences of poems, Leçons (Lessons, 1969) and Chants d’en bas (Songs from Below, 1974), were composed in response to the respective deaths of his father-in-law and his mother; the detailed notes from the period that are reproduced in Patches of Sunlight, or of Shadow find him keeping an unflinching vigil during their final days, in language that makes no attempt to strive for poetic effect but that lays the groundwork for the elegies to come . . . John Taylor has given us another reminder of the beauty of Philippe Jaccottet’s own work, which is never less than an incitement to inhabit the earth a bit more fully.’—Samuel Martin, Reading in Translation
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