Saint-John Perse

THE LAUREATE: Saint-John Perse was born as Alexis Leger in Guadalupe to a family of plantation-owning transplanted Frenchmen. When the first native Guadalupan president took office, the Leger family moved back to France because they could see the writing on the wall. Alexis studied law at Bourdeaux and entered the diplomatic service. He wrote his first extended poem, Anabase, while he was in China, got it published in 1924, then promptly stopped publishing anything until he retired. He was present at the conference where Czechoslovakia was ceded to Germany, and when the Nazis took France, he was exiled immediately because he was anti-Nazi. Good for him! Most of Perse’s work was written in the U.S., where he was given a sinecure at the Library of Congress until he could start drawing retirement pay from France. He was awarded the Nobel in 1960 and died in 1974


WHAT ARE YOU READING?: Anabasis, or I guess Anabase.

REVIEW:Anabasis is one of those silly prose poems; it is formatted in prose, but the content reads like poetry. It’s very impressionistic. I approve. The broad outline is that some unnamed conqueror builds a town, establishes it, gets bored, gathers up his army, marches out into the desert, conquers another town, rebuilds it and ends by thinking about how great it would be to get on a boat.

RECOMMENDED?: Yes. I mean, if nothing else, T. S.Eliot translated it. I’d like to see some more of his work later, though.

WHAT’S NEXT: Joseph Brodsky.


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