21st December 1916 Lausanne - 15th January 2009 Martigny VS
I encountered Maurice Chappaz’s Le Valais au Gosier de Grive in a bookshop in Sion VS in the course of one of a number of journeys by train from Chamonix Mont-Blanc (past the Barrage de la Grande-Dixence, where M. Chappaz once toiled) to explore the contiguous Swiss canton. The poems struck me as strange: pregnant with meaning, difficult. My copy of this book is far removed. However, I offer here “Ten Poems” (or lines from poems), which appear on the website of LyrikLine (Berlin), where it is likewise a pleasure to hear them in the author’s own voice. (There is also a brief biography.) I reproduce Beate Thill’s translation into German. She is bilingual, so her versions proved invaluable when I attempted my own, into English.
All this work is wonderfully new to me. It is possible to hear echoes of The Wasteland in Nos. IV and VII. Nos. I and II (on death) are well balanced by Nos. VIII and IX (on love) – and the concision and metaphor deployed to describe both are exquisite. (Consider the image of a girl veiling her modesty before her lover’s gaze just as condensation on a chilled decanter obscures the water within from the Valaisan sun.) M. Chappaz conjures, in No. V, the darkness that consumed those less happy than Bruno Schönlank. No. X is taken from the collection that first caught my attention: its Valais quite apart from the commodification of his fatherland that M. Chappaz opposed, the voice of its womenfolk stark and unadorned... Although not so obviously an idyll of Swiss mountains as the work of Eugène Rambert and Pia Roshardt, there pervades these “Ten Poems” a sense of loss and the risk of loss, how lightly Man should tread if he does not wish to destroy, both himself and the world that has been vouchsafed him, which seems common to all three.
I am pleased to discover coincidences, i) between M. Chappaz and M. Rambert, in whose honour a literary prize was named (Le Prix Rambert), which M. Chappaz secured in 1953, and ii) between M. Chappaz and Frau Roshardt, who collaborated with his wife of many years, S. Corinna Bille, in their Florilège alpestre (Lausanne 1954).
RLH31st August 2021
"Dix poèmes"M. Chappaz
"Zehn Gedichte"übers. B. Thill
"Ten Poems"trans. R. L. Hewitt
Details of where the original French was first published, together with titles (where appropriate) of the longer poems from which these lines are drawn, may be found on the website of LyrikLine (Berlin).