Jean Follain 1903-1971


Jean Follain was born in Canisy, in the province of la Manche. Although he studied and practiced law in Paris, eventually to become a judge and take up permanent residence there, his poems revisit the provinces of a personal - and cultural - history ("as if representing ... without wishing to betray it ... all of humanity"). The moments he records, by virtue of their singularity and not their generality, amount to everything. The poems are sometimes described as "minatures", but they are not without a sense of the monumental. Indeed, it is the pressure of history upon the moment, of mortality upon the man and woman, of the unspoken (even the unspeakable) upon the poem, that makes these sparse portraits so powerful.

selected works in translation

Transparence of the World translated by W.S. Merwin (Atheneum, 1968)

D'Après Tout translated by Heather McHugh (Princeton University Press, 1981)

selected poems in The Random House Book of Twentieth Century French Poetry edited by Paul Auster (Vintage, 1982)


the black insect

On the black stone
says an Arab proverb
God sees the black insect move
which even going its way on white
is lost to the eye
of the man with a bleeding heart
who contemplates
the lines in his hands
but when his eyes
settle on the road
he no longer recognizes
the woman who loved him
as she walks by.


At the edge of the table
the man who is toying with
the magnet and the filings
no longer hears the ocean
beating the rocks.
From the ceiling
beans are hung to dry
the whitewashed walls
let insects come and go
people passing each other by
would like to get back
in the habit of loving.


A mannequin immersed in shadow
a nail on the ground
an emporer's blank gaze
in the midst of the leaves
near the huts of thatch and mud
sheens catch on the workingman's shirt
on the skirts of a woman who dreams
there is no handrail on the stairs
in the alley.
The desk top is stained
beyond all sound
the sun is already high in the sky.

return to the library
return to kicking giants