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Homesick for the Earth: Selected Poems

Homesick for the Earth: Selected Poems

By Jules Supervielle

Translated by Moniza Alvi

Bloodaxe Books Paperback, 119pp, £9.95, ISBN 978-1-85224-920-5

Moniza Alvi describes how a vague project to produce ‘half a dozen poems after Supervielle’ has culminated in a collection of over forty ‘hybrid poems with … a great deal of him, as well as some of me.’

Review by Ali Thurm

In her introduction, Moniza Alvi describes how a vague project to produce ‘half a dozen poems after Supervielle’ has culminated in a collection of over forty ‘hybrid poems with … a great deal of him, as well as some of me.’ Jules Supervielle (1884–1960), born in Uruguay to French parents and orphaned before he was a year old, grew up in Paris and in Montevideo and over his lifetime published ten volumes of poetry written in French; though he was perhaps more typically Spanish in evoking a cosmic brotherhood coupled with nostalgia for the rich landscape of South America. T.S. Eliot regarded him as a major French poet of his generation yet, until these versions, Supervielle has not been widely translated into English. 

These poems echo contemporary issues, both personal and environmental; and with their grounding in vivid imagery, unlike other more cerebral French poetry, will appeal to an English reader. In ‘Prophecy’ the poet imagines a future where
One day the Earth will be
just a blind space turning,
night confused with day.
Under the vast Andean sky
there’ll be no more mountains,
not a rock or ravine.

This is poetry to read and reread; many of his dream-like images of the sea, forests, the warming sun or horses stay in the mind. Here, for example, from ‘The Inn’: ‘grey felt horses / with stilled nostrils / their hoof beats soundless / beneath the shell of myself’. 

Admittedly, a melancholy underpins Supervielle’s work. A short sequence of poems confronts the despair of occupied France during the Second World War; but the sense of loss mainly finds expression in dreams of searching for the mother/beloved. 

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