on 7 February 2006
This Faber edition of Perse's masterpiece offers not only what is one of the most worthwhile pieces of poetry the 20th century has to offer to 21st century readers, but also a work that may serve as a standard to anyone looking to locate an example of a classic that survives the often deadly process of translation, for whom here we may thank T.S. Eliot, -- the edition prints the French language on the facing page, so that readers may trace what little poetic liberties the latter has taken in order to deliver across mountains and rivers, -- resembling the nomadic journey of St.-John Perse's epic, -- of language-scapes crossed . . . Mr. Eliot deserves our esteem for this feat if nothing else, to have retained that essence of "a great principle of violence", or rather that "essence" of the journey described in this book which is really not so much one of plot, character, or any emotional developement in the specific sense, but one of a progression of language . . . certainly the distinction is difficult to articulate.
I mean that distinction existing between the emotional evolution and the progression of language, FEELING, essence, -- but that is what is so worthwhile about this book, in fact fascinating, to me, because it describes exactly this very experience, -- in that it reads as a kind of separate history, it describes the essence of man in history apart from any historical reference, apart from any identification that makes what the book describes HUMAN at all . . . we see a man here that is not a man at all except anatomically, as we would in focusing on the ancient cultures of South and Central America (Chavin, Olmecs, etc.), Egypt, China, and so on, they are only men as we are men today by an anatomical relationship. Thus this book reveals to us a sense of being, as men, that is largely lost in our modern day, and in the form of purely pleasurable poetry . . . so many lines in this books seem to sum up the entire statement of the whole vision, as if they could easily exist alone in fragments, say when our own culture has long passed to the dust of a long time's ravaging, and say all that the book builds from those lines together.
I highly recommend this book, not so much for my own reasons, which are certainly a crock of my own reflection, but for the calm and nurture of your own soul...of your very innermost self. This is a book that speaks, there are few that do so, it is a book one can hear without reading. Mr. Eliot called it "as important as the later works of James Joyce" but this book, like Egyptian hieroglyphs, can be so much more. In terms of history, this is a book worth digging up.
Truly a revelation.....and of course a translator sans pareil.