Homage to Life (Jules Supervielle)

September 22, 2008

It’s good to have chosen
A living home
And housed time
In a ceaseless heart
And seen my hands
Alight on the world,
As on an apple
In a little garden,
To have loved the earth,
The moon and the sun
Like old friends
Who have no equals,
And to have committed
The world to memory
Like a bright horseman
To his black steed,
To have given a face
To these words — woman, children,
And to have been a shore
For the wandering continents
And to have come upon the soul
With tiny strokes of the oars,
For it is scared away
By a brusque approach.
It is beautiful to have known
The shade under the leaves,
And to have felt age
Creep over the naked body,
And have accompanied pain
Of black blood in our veins,
And gilded its silence
With the star, Patience,
And to have all these words
Moving around in the head,
To choose the least beautiful of them
And let them have a ball,
To have felt life,
Hurried and ill loved,
And locked it up
In this poetry.

*

I first discovered Supervielle at the tail-end of college working security for an oversized benefits firm in Chicago. A seminarian and fellow guard named Brian Dean handed me photocopies of some of Supervielle’s poems, which were mesmerizing. I typed them up and sent them off to another friend, Oscar Amaya, with whom I kept a rigorous correspondence for a few years. Oscar, too, found them extraordinary, and we spent many months writing poems inspired by Supervielle’s surrealist language and energy, his use of myth and fantasy alongside everyday language.

I love the lines “And to have come upon the soul/ With tiny strokes of the oars,/ For it is scared away/ By a brusque approach,” which reminds me of the soul’s (or anything beyond the body) delicacy. Like deer, such things too easily fly from us if we approach without great care and humility.

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