(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Jean Follain has been hailed as one of the great secret voices of the twentieth century. He addressed humanity’s search for a total union between the known surroundings of a fleeting earthly life and the unknown, absolute finalities of death, space, and time. He succeeded in integrating a world of directly observable facts with the complexities of experiences and powers beyond human control. His ability to communicate this message by choosing the proper words and by realizing their full semantic value and power in their proper placement in a sentence constitutes his greatest poetic achievement. Three major collections of Follain’s poetry, La Main chaude (the hot hand), Chants terrestres (terrestrial songs), and Exister (to exist), each introduce a theme or a stylistic component essential to the understanding of Follain’s art and repeated in later works.

La Main chaude introduced Follain’s concept of poetry as a continuum of incongruous events, the role of memory, and the ever-present village of Normandy where he spent his youth. Chants terrestres presents Follain’s preoccupation with words: word choice, syntax, the play of sound, and the power of evocation. Exister introduces stylistic patterns that were established for the first time in Follain’s poetry and that persisted in later volumes.

La Main chaude

La Main chaude is composed of poems whose titles are rather surprising and completely unrelated to one another. They include “Poème glorieux” (glorious poem), “L’Épicier” (the grocer), “Mets” (food), “La Digestion aux cannons” (the digestion of cannons), “La Place publique en été” (the public square in summer), “Ode à l’amour juvenile” (ode to young love), “À la dame du temps de Borgia” (to the lady of Borgia’s time), “Milords” (milords), “Les Belles noyées” (the beautiful drowned ones), “Combat singulier de seigneurs dans la campagne” (the singular combat of lords in the country), and “Appel aux soldats roux” (“Appeal to the Red-haired Soldiers”). At first glance each poem seems to be a disparate fragment sharing no unity of leitmotif or style with the other poems.

The objective of this collection is to conjure the sense of specific recollections of places, occasions, and objects. Although the poems refer to simple evocations, the familiar is suddenly juxtaposed to unexpected or incongruous words or happenings which shatter known and assumed relationships. The harmony of the...

(The entire section is 1047 words.)