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July 18, 2016


Il s’agit de voir
Tellement plus clair,

De faire avec choses
Comme la lumiere.


It’s a question of seeing
so much clearer

of doing to things
what light does to them.

Eugene Guillevic 1942, Tr. Denise Levertov 1969

COMMETARY: This is the first poem in Guillevic’s Selected Poems, translated by Denise Levertov. Though Guillevic is relatively unknown in the Anglophone world, he is well known in France for his pruned, spare often haikulike poems, many of which, despite their brevity, convey expansive emotional effects.

In her introduction to her translations, Levertov insists that her goal was to translate literally “never embroidering on Guillevic’s themes.” In an age of “dynamic equivalent” imitations, this humility is admirable. Nonetheless, a some of the music and one interesting double meaning is lost in her translation. In the French there is the repetition of voire, claire, faire, and lumiere: a fourfold near rhyme gives the poem an almost instantly memorable singsong quality. There is also an interesting ambiguity in the last line. “De faire avec les choses/ comme la lumiere” can mean, as Levertov translates, “doing to things what light does” or, as is impossible to convey simultaneously in English, “using things as the light.” This double edged suggestion encapsulates what Guillevic saw as the poet’s dual calling: both giving and receiving illumination. The poet shines a light on the things of the world but he also uses those things as sources of light.
One Comment
  1. The difference between doing “to” things and doing “with” things? How’d you like “enlightening things” as a dynamic equivalent?

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