Francis Jammes 1868-1938
French poet and novelist.
Francis Jammes was a French poet whose early work exemplified nineteenth century romanticism's fascination with the natural world. At their best, his poems and novels, which included Le Roman du liévre (The Romance of the Rabbit) exhibited a spontaneity and unself-conscious joyousness which brought Jammes friends and admirers among such noted literary figures as André Gide and Stephane Mallarmé. However, the work that followed his 1905 conversion to Catholicism tended toward self-consciousness and a didactic quality that diminished his legacy among succeeding generations.
Jammes spent most of his life in the Pyrenees foothills, where his father held several successive government posts. His father died when Jammes was 20, and Jammes continued living with his mother for many years afterward. Always a lackluster student, he studied law briefly and worked for a time as a notary's assistant, but generally he spent his time in peaceful and pastoral pursuits, taking long walks and observing the natural world in a precise detail which he translated into his later poetry and prose poems. His first poems appeared in 1891, when he arranged to print 50 copies of Six Sonnets. A second volume attracted the attention of Mallarmé, Gide, and others, and Jammes began a series of interactions with leading literary figures that included a lengthy correspondence with Gide. Thereafter he published various poems, books, and articles. His friendship with another leading poet, Paul Claudel, led to his conversion to Catholicism in 1905. In 1906, when he was 38 and still living with his mother, Jammes married and eventually fathered seven children. He continued to write during the three remaining decades of his life, but commentators have maintained that his best work lay behind him. He died in 1938.
Jammes first established himself with such poetic works as those collected in Six Sonnets and Vers. Within a few years, he was moving into narrative with Un jour, which depicted a day in the life of a poet. There was not much activity in Un jour, though in the companion pieces La Naissance du poéte (The Birth of the Poet) and La Mort du poéte (The Death of the Poet), he dramatized stages of the poet's life. In 1897 he published a short manifesto in the literary journal Mercure de France, wherein he sketched a model for a poetic style that incorporated naturalistic and sensual elements. His best-regarded poetry appears in the collection De l'Angelus de l'aube ál'Angelus du soir, published in 1898, wherein he explored a variety of themes, always according to the rubric of naturalism—or "Jammism," as his style would come to be called. Around the turn of the century, he entered the last fruitful phase of his career with the publication of several novels depicting young girls in often tragic circumstances. The title character of Clara d' Ellébeuse, for instance, is obsessed with a mystery surrounding a deceased woman named Laura who had become pregnant by her uncle. Ultimately Clara, swept up in the drama of people she has never met, finds herself succumbing to a possible seducer of her own, the poet Roger. She poisons herself and dies on Laura's grave. The most famous of Jammes's novels is the more lighthearted The Romance of the Rabbit. In it, the Hare goes through numerous adventures on earth and winds up in heaven, where he finds that he misses the dangers of his earthbound existence. The quantity of Jammes's output in the next decades was high, but his writings were not well-regarded. His only other noteworthy works were his three-volume Mémoires, published from 1921 to 1923.
Six Sonnets (poetry) 1891
Vers (poetry) 1892
Un jour [A Day] (poetry) 1895
La Naissance du poéte [The Birth of the Poet] (poetry) 1897
La Mort du poéte [The Death of the Poet] (poetry) 1898
De l'Angelus de l'aube ál'Angelus du soir (poetry) 1898
Clara d' Ellébeuse; ou, L'Histoire d'une ancienne jeune fille (novel) 1899
Almaïde d'Etremont; ou, L'Histoire d'une jeune fille passionée (novel) 1901
Le Roman du liévre [Romance of the Rabbit] (prose poem) 1903
De l' âge divin á l' âge ingrat (memoirs) 1921
L'Amour, les muses et la chasse (memoirs) 1922
Les Caprices du poéte (memoirs) 1923
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SOURCE: "The Renascence of Catholic Lyricism," in The Constructive Quarterly, Vol. 2, June, 1914, pp. 384-402.
[In the following essay, Vallery-Radot includes Jammes in a discussion of French-Catholic poetry.]
While politicians are persisting in serving up to the masses, in the name of the laïc spirit and of Progress, the pernicious puerilities of the Encyclopédie now superannuated, while certain professors of the Sorbonne are madly bent upon ruining our worldwide reputation for straight thinking and clear speaking, while the fashionable stage and fashionable fiction are rehashing in senile fashion their tiresome physiologies, while the reviews are leading opinion astray upon fictitious glories, and the magazines are exalting stage-players, mountebanks, dancers and courtesans, it is good to turn aside for a moment from all this din and grimacing and, entering into the silence that is within, to give ear to the new and mysterious sounds which are awakening from out of the very depths of the French soul.
It is indeed true that the atmosphere in the intellectual regions of our country is becoming purer and lighter; literature, in particular, seems to be shaking off the stifling yoke of naturalism, and aspiring to some sort of heroic state, which is transfiguring it. We must go back to romanticism to find such an effervescence, principally in lyrics, such an ebullition of restless,...
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SOURCE: "Francis Jammes," in Twentieth Century French Writers, W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1919, pp. 98-114.
[In the following essay, Duclaux discusses Jammes 's conversion to Catholicism and its influence on his writing.]
Francis Jammes is a Faun who has turned Franciscan Friar. As we read his early poems, his delicious rustic prose, we seem to see him sitting prick-eared, in some green circle of the Pyrenees, with brown hands holding to his mouth a boxwood flute, from which he draws a brief, sweet music, as pure as the long-drawn note of the musical frog, as shrill as the plaintive cry of some mountain bird who feels above its nest the shadow of the falcon.
And then he met Paul Claudel and was converted.
After all, little was changed, for his innocent paganism had been tinged with natural piety, and in his religion he might say, like the Almighty, in the Roman de Lièvre,—
J'aime la terre d'un profond amour. J'aime la terre des hommes, des bêtes, des plantes et des pierres.
Only henceforth we see him, in our imagination, like Saint Francis, with a monk's hood drawn over his brow, sandals on his feet, his brown gown cinctured with a knotted cord, a couple of doves hovering over his shoulders, and, at his side, fawning and faithful, a converted wolf.…
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SOURCE: "Francis Jammes, Primitive," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, April, 1920, pp. 172-85.
[In the following essay, Beach and Van Roosbroeck discuss Jammes's use of pastoral imagery.]
Francis Jammes is the poet of Orthez, as closely associated with that little village in the mountains as Wordsworth with Grasmere or Robert Frost with his "North-of-Boston". He has always in his view the cold peaks of the Pyrenees, yellow and threatening on the approach of winter, and in the rainy spring showing their blue veins, which make them more luminous than glass. Every year, in the season of love, he may witness the departure of "the great severe shepherds" for their cabins by the lakes of Barèges, where they shall see the jonquils, the prairies,—"where the water silvers, froths, and leaps, and laughs." Along the slopes are the woods where he hunts the wild duck; lower down is the mountain stream, the "gave", overflowing its banks in spring; "between the shining woods and the racing stream are the wheat, the corn, and the twisted vines." And here are "the black door-sills where the blue smoke hovers." Orthez, "humble village, of rude and sibilant sound", is so characterized by the poet, Charles Guérin, in his account of a visit to the home of his friend; and he goes on to describe the house in which Francis Jammes was living with his mother, a one-story, cedar-shaded, ivy-grown farmhouse,...
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SOURCE: "Francis Jammes," in Contemporary European Writers, The John Day Company, 1928, pp. 243-51.
[In the following essay, Drake praises Jammes's early works, but laments a decline in his later writing.]
When one speaks of a poet as "well loved" or as a "favorite bard of simple things and homely virtues," one is not always seeking to condone a particular type of mediocrity which happens to appeal to him. Despite the thriving, if modest, school of Robert Frost, we have somewhat lost sight, in this day of neurotic exacerbations, of the proved truth that verse does not have to be tormented to be beautiful. The idyllic scenes of Whittier have in them more of pure loveliness than many of the most rapturous clamors of the sadistic school of English poetry; and there are also the classic examples of Hesiod's Works and Days and the Georgics of Vergil, which contain more essential poetry than the Æ neid or the Eclogues. So we have no need to apologize for Francis Jammes when we say that, in our discordant age, there is no voice as sweet and tender, as utterly homely as his has been.
"Let us give to men, to be their judges, Irony and Pity," says Anatole France, in Le Lys Rouge. These are the judges that Jammes gives, not to men alone, but to all the creatures of the earth—to the infinite advantage of the latter. He loves the skies and the waters, the asses...
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SOURCE: "To Frances Jammes - An Obituary Tribute," in Poet Lore, Vol. XLIV, No. 4, 1938, pp.
[In the following essay, Mauriac eulogizes Jammes.]
Those of us who do not believe that the affairs of men are governed by pure chance, rejoice at the honor which Our Almighty Father has bestowed upon his faithful poet in welcoming him with solemn acclaim into the glorious and eternal Company of His Saints.
The end came while Jammes was listening to the Services appropriate to that day, namely, to that part of the Gospel which we term the "Beatitudes," of which all are intrinsically applicable to him, but especially that one which promises that the meek shall inherit the earth. For, apart from occasional and purely superficial outbursts of violence, Jammes was meek; his was that inner meekness given only to those who truly love the poor, and to whom Poverty is the Godhead incarnate. As his reward, it was vouchsafed him to pass on to others in his poems the spirit of all the breezes and of all the floating clouds of the provinces of Bearn and of Biscaye; and his verses are redolent of the sweet fragrance of peasant gardens when the sun shines through the last drops of a passing shower.
There are those—happily only a few—who feel that he overestimated himself. After all, is not the reason easily defined? All great poets fail of recognition during their lives: even the...
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SOURCE: "Chapter IX: Frances Jammes," in Catholic Literary France: from Verlaine to the Present Time, Books for Libraries Press, 1969, pp. 123-38.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1938, Keeler provides an overview of Jammes's major works.]
The year 1935 saw the publication of De tout temps à jamais, by a poet who had been for a time silent. Though Francis Jammes is an old man now, we find in this latest volume of poems all the charming freshness and artless beauty of his early work. He ever remains the simple, humble poet of country life, who lives and writes far from Paris, in his beloved country of the Hautes-Pyrénées. He belongs to an old Creole family and many of the traits of his ancestors appear in his books which emit a perfume of exoticism, a fragrance of bygone days.
In his three volumes of memoirs, he tells us the story of his life up to his thirty-eighth year. Ma Fille Bernadette and Le Testament de l'auteur, also contain autobiographical material. In fact, all of Jammes' works reveal much about himself, external and internal. He was born on December 2, 1868, at Tournay, where his father was receiver of records, and he lived there six years and six months. His mother, nee Anna Bellot, was from the Basses-Alpes of a family of merchants and nobles. His only sister, Marguerite, three years his elder, went to live at...
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SOURCE: "Letter to Frances Jammes," in Second Thoughts: Reflections on Literature and on Life, The World Publishing Company, 1961, pp. 128-31.
[In the following essay, presented as a letter to Jammes, Mauriac praises Jammes's poetry and sensibilities.]
Dear Jammes: I have followed a shaft of moonlight down through the black arbors to this terrace from which I look out toward you. We are separated only by the vineyards, heavy now with grapes, and by a thirty-league accumulation of fields and pine groves, of simple churches where God keeps watch, and sleeping farms. This is what you called in one of your elegies an océan de bonté, but it is really you, your heart and your love that break at my feet like a wave in the darkness.
You have given us this world, this murmurous night that surrounds the bed on which you lie stretched out in pain. The suffering poet, man's one benefactor, his one friend! A little while ago, before I came to join you out here on the terrace, the Radio Journal de France was thundering like the voice of destiny through the house, stilling even the laughter of children. The boys stared at the floor as they listened. I watched the bowed heads of my sons and the face of their friend, which was like a sorrowing angel's. Suddenly the invisible voice uttered the terrible words announcing the hecatomb: "Liberty, Law, Justice.… " When it paused, one of the...
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Aldington, Richard. "Recent French Poetry." Poetry, Vol. XV, No. 1 (October 1919): 42-48.
A comparative review of Jammes's La Vierge et les Sonnets and works of other French poets published after the end of World War I, all of which the reviewer finds lacking in originality and energy.
Caws, Mary Ann. "Correspondance de Francis Jammes et de Francis Vielé-Grijfin (1893-1937) ." L'Espirit Créateur Vol. IX, No. 1 (Spring 1969): 58-59.
An unfavorable review of the collected correspondence, in French, of Jammes and his friend Francis Vielé-Griffin.
O'Brien, Justin. "Gide and Antigide." In Contemporary French Literature, edited by Leon S. Roudiez, pp. 229-32. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1971.
O'Brien surveys letters exchanged between Jammes and Gide.
Redman, Ben Ray. "Weaker Wings." The Nation, Vol. 115, No. 2986 (September 27, 1922): 311-12.
A comparative review of works by several European writers, including Jammes's Romance of the Rabbit, all of which the reviewer treats unfavorably.
Symons, Arthur. "A Pastoral Poet." Saturday Review, Vol. 86, No. 2242 (October 15, 1898): 510.
A review of De l'Angelus de l'aube à l'Angelus du soir which is favorable with much qualification,...
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