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Remembering Philippe Jaccottet

The Swiss Francophone poet, writer and translator Philippe Jaccottet passed away on February 24, 2021 at the age of 95. Born in Moudon, Switzerland, he eventually moved to Lausanne and Paris, where he found inspiration for his prose works La Promenade sous les arbres (Mermod, 1957) and Paysages avec figures absentes (Gallimard, 1970). Le Monde describes these early works and others as capable of providing a universal emotional experience on account of their “fluidity, accuracy, [and] uncertainties.” In 2003, he won the Prix Goncourt de la poésie, and in 2010 he won the Grand Prix Schiller, the oldest Swiss literary prize, for his oeuvre. In 2014, he became the fifteenth person and third poet to be published in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade during his lifetime.

As a translator, Jaccottet was also prolific, translating complete work of Robert Musil (1880-1942), plus that of poets Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970), and Ossip Mandelstam (1891-1938). Dedicated to his craft, he was a polyglot, studying German, Italian and Russian for the aforementioned writers, and ancient Greek for his unique translation of the Odyssey into fourteen-syllable verses. In 1987, he won the Grand Prix national de Traduction. As a literary critic, he wrote for local reviews and in newspapers such as Nouvelle Revue de Lausanne and Gazette de Lausanne. His attention to the surrealist essayist Francis Ponge (1899-1988) especially stood out. His work as a translator informed his reviews, and his work as a literary critic inspired his poetry.

Paying tribute to Philippe Jaccottet, President Emmanuel Macron referred to him as "one of the greatest poets of the century, who sang of the beauty of the world and the fragility of words." In honor of the life and work of Jaccottet, we would like to recommend a selection of publications translated into English and leave you with a review of Tess Lewis’ translation of Seedtime (Vol. 3) by John Taylor, another translator of Jaccottet: “French writer Philippe Jaccottet’s ever-questioning poetic analyses of haunting ephemeral perceptions are carried on with such scruple and sincerity that, for his European peers, he has become the model of literary integrity.”