French Book Week: From ON VOIT / THINGS SEEN by Philippe Jaccotet, translated by David Constantine

From ‘On Voit’ / ’Things seen’

Behind the window whose wood has been whitened

(against the flies, against the ghosts)

an old man is bowing his white head

over a letter or the local news.

Dark ivy grows against the wall.

Save him, ivy and whitewash, from the dawn wind,

from nights that last too long and from eternal night.


Derrière la fenêtre dont on a blanchi le cadre

(contre les mouches, contre les fantômes),

une tête chenue de vieil homme se penche

sur une lettre, ou les nouvelles du pays.

Le lierre sombre croît contre le mur.

Gardez-le, lierre et chaux, du vent de l’aube,

des nuits trop longues et de l’autre, éternelle.


Someone is weaving water (motifs of trees

as a watermark). But however I look

I never see the weaver

nor even her hands that we should like to touch.

When the workplace, the loom, the cloth itself

have all evaporated

we ought to discover footprints in the damp earth…


Quelqu’un tisse de l’eau (avec des motifs d’arbres

en filigrane). Mais j’ai beau regarder,

je ne vois pas la tisserande,

ni ses mains même, qu’on voudrait toucher.

Quand toute la chambre, le métier, la toile

se sont évaporés,

on devrait discerner des pas dans la terre humide…

By Philippe Jaccottet

Translated by David Constantine

Poems from Under Clouded Skies & Beauregard (Pensees sous les nuages / Beauregard), translated by Mark Treharne & David Constantine, dual language French-English edition (Bloodaxe Books, 1994).

Thank you to Bloodaxe Books for allowing us to publish those extracts.

Born in Switzerland in 1925, Philippe Jaccottet is one of the most prominent figures of the immediate post-war generation of French poets. He has lived in France since 1953, working as a translator and freelance writer. As well as poetry, he has published prose writings, notebooks and critical essays. He is particularly well-known as a translator from German (Musil, Rilke, Mann, Hölderlin) but has also translated Homer, Plato, Ungaretti, Montale, Gongora and Mandelstam. He has won many distinguished prizes for his work both in France and elsewhere. His Selected Poems, translated by Derek Mahon, was published by Penguin in 1988. Under Clouded Skies with Beauregard, a bilingual edition of two complete volumes translated by Mark Treharne and David Constantine (Bloodaxe Books, 1994), is a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation.

David Constantine was born in 1944 in Salford, Lancashire. He is a freelance writer and translator, a Fellow of the Queen’s College, Oxford, and was co-editor of Modern Poetry in Translation from 2004 to 2013. He lives in Oxford and on Scilly.

Category: TranslationsLiterally SwissLS ExtractsFrench Book Week


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