Jean Follain (Courtesy of French Cultural Services) Published by Salem Press, Inc.
In addition to his poetry, Jean Follain wrote several nonfiction works, notable among which are Collège (1973), an account of his secondary-school experiences in the years immediately following World War I, and a history of Peru, Pérou (1964).
Jean Follain was the recipient of several awards for his poetic achievements, including the Mallarmé (1939), the Blumenthal (1941), the Capri (1958), and the Grand Prix de Poésie of the French Academy (1970). He was also made a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor.
Two major and several minor structural patterns emerge. The first major structural pattern deals with emotion and can be presented as follows: emotional response, reversal of emotion, suppression of emotion. For example, in “L’Amirauté” (the admiralty), the first section presents a world which excludes the observer: The windows do not give light, the weather is bad, the town is alien, the building is seen from the exterior. The second section is a complete reversal of the darkness and pessimism of the first part: The building is a place of shelter; it is attractively furnished and comes to be associated with the heart. The second part, then, cancels the initial emotion, and the rest of the poem avoids further emotional reactions. The third section of the poem presages death. The emphasis, however, is on the time of passage into death and not on the physical or mental destruction of the person. The vocabulary is abstract, and there is no evocation of suffering. The fourth part of the poem moves to a totally intellectual level.
This pattern recurs in many other poems of this collection and in subsequent collections. For example, in “L’Amitié” (friendship), pride and human contact are replaced by the frustration of departure and then by detached observation of the external world. In “L’Enfant au tambour” (the child with the drum), the threat of death and the oppressiveness of the garden are succeeded by a contempt for war and by a return to the original scene from an intellectual perspective. In “L’Appel du chevalier” (the call of the chevalier), the boy’s tedious work...
These examples bear witness to the inadequacy of human attempts to live in harmony with the rest of humankind. Harmony or unity may be achieved in a variety of ways. They include love in “Des Hommes” (men); gentleness in “Le Pain” (the loaf); beauty in “La Pyramide” (“The Pyramid”); familiarity in “Parler seul” (“Speech Alone”); benevolence in “La Vie domestique” (“Domestic Life”); reciprocal influence in “L’Existence” (“Existence”); and a communion between nature and the senses in “La Bête” (“The Beast”). Other variations, however, may occur. At times, the reference to harmony is indirect. For example, in “L’Asie” (“Asia”), the man is eating soup.
At first glance, this does not seem to be a universal portrayal of harmony, but it must he noted that in Follain’s poetry, food and drink are synonymous with peaceful human interaction. In other cases, conflict and harmony may appear in the same poem—for example, the moans of passion and the soft sounds in “Les Jardins” (the gardens); the conflict between darkness and flames and the harmony which arises from the unity of friends in “Les Amis d’Austerlitz.” In still other cases, conflict and solitude are present in the same poem, such as in “Le Vin du soir,” as is partial harmony and total harmony (such as compassion and marriage) in “Les Devoirs” (duties), or the loyalty and cooperation between the father and the daughter and the union between the daughter and the leaf (in “Aux Choses lentes,” to slow things).
The essential is often represented by references to death (as in “Existence”), which is then linked to the world or universe (as in “Les Portraits,” “Le Vin du soir,” and “Ineffable de la fin,” ineffable to the end), or to religion (as in “Balances,” balances, and “Le Pas,” the step), or to eternity (as in “Natures mortes,” still lifes, and “Les Journaliers,” the day laborers), or to timelessness (as in “Le Secret,” “The Secret”). This structural pattern directly reflects Follain’s sensitivity to man’s need to integrate his earthly surroundings with the absolutes of death, religion, space, and time.
“La Brodeuse d’abeilles”
Again, there is a certain variation and flexibility among the elements of the pattern. For example, in the poem “La Brodeuse d’abeilles,” the introductory lines present the theme of physical love. The succeeding lines then place the theme of solitude alongside the theme of passion. Follain’s intention here is to show the multidimensional aspect of life, represented by people or objects. In this case, it is clearly communicated that the reader cannot perceive this person in a solely physical context. The poem appeals to his sensitivity and depth of perception and comprehension as well as his ability to integrate the deeper meanings of the relationship between two opposing concepts. In this poem, the ability to shift the perspective of the relationship leads to a...
Gavronsky, Serge, ed. Poems and Texts: An Anthology of French Poems. New York: October House, 1969. Translations of selected poems and interviews with Ponge, Follain, Guillevic, Frénaud, Bonnefoy, DuBouchet, Roche, and Pleynet.
Guillevic, Eugène, with Lucie Albertini. Avec Jean Follain. Paris: PAP, 1993. A brief recollection and commentary on Follain by fellow poet Guillevic. In French.
Marks, Elaine. French Poetry from Baudelaire to the Present. New York: Dell, 1962. Provides a historical background to Follain’s work. Includes bibliographic references.
Thomas, Jean-Jacques. Poeticized Language: The Foundations of Contemporary French Poetry. University...