Transparence of the World

Jean Follain, W.S. Merwin, trans.

In this bilingual edition, celebrated poet W.S. Merwin selects and translates the best poetry from nine books by French poet Jean Follain. Follain’s poems are “miniatures” that reveal a sense of the monumental pressures of history encountered in a moment. Through these incandescent translations, his sparse portraits are powerful revelations of mortality as glimpsed in a passing glance.

ISBN: 9781556591907

Format: Paperback

Speech Alone

It happens that one pronounces
a few words just for oneself
alone on this strange earth
then the small white flower
the pebble like all those that went before
the sprig of stubble
find themselves re-united
at the foot of the gate
which one opens slowly
to enter the house of clay
while chairs, table, cupboard
blaze in a sun of glory

About the Author

Jean Follain (1903–1971) was born in Canisy, in Normandy, studied law at the Faculté de Caen, and eventually became a judge. As a poet he associated with a group that included Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, and Léon-Paul Fargue, and his poems were published in several literary reviews. His first substantial book of poems, La Main chaude, was published in 1933. He published eight subsequent volumes of poetry, as well as prose pieces.

Read more

About the Translator

W.S. Merwin was born in New York City in 1927 and was United States Poet Laureate in 2010. He graduated from Princeton University in 1948, where he studied with John Berryman and R.P. Blackmur. From 1949 to 1951 he worked as a tutor in France, Mallorca, and Portugal; for several years afterward he made the greater part of his living by translating from French, Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese. His first book of poetry, A Mask for Janus (1952) was selected …

Read more


“Sometimes, the watchful poet’s mood matches that of the moment. And, when it does, something resonant occurs… Jean Follain [is] a French poet whose work—written between the World Wars—speaks to the current historical situation with an almost aching relevance.” —Los Angeles Times

“From El Cid to Euripides, Chanson de Roland to Jean Follain, Latin to Russian to Japanese, translator [W.S. Merwin]’s oeuvre suggests an intrepid quality as well as a scrutinizing sympathy.” —Boston Review

“W.S. Merwin ranks as one of the world’s premier translators, bringing a refined sense of imagery, diction and music to the texts of poets as diverse as Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda and the lesser-known Frenchman Jean Follain.” —Wichita Eagle

“W.S. Merwin’s translation of selected poems of French poet Jean Follain navigates these difficult waters in renderings that tastefully balance Follain’s unique imagistic language with elegant expressiveness… Follain’s intimate, almost hermetic landscapes are rendered by Merwin like precise Vermeers imbued with the somnolent power of De Chirico.” —Rain Taxi

“[Transparence of the World] is subtle, spare, oddly specific, and deepens with rereading.” —Bloomsbury Review

“[Merwin’s translation] can be praised for bringing—so fluently—such beautiful and enigmatic poems into our language… Follain’s poetry still has much to say to our troubled times.” —Chelsea 75

“[Transparence of the World] is an aesthetic pleasure.” —Vigilance