Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Manawydan’s Glass Door (d’apres David Jones, 1931) by Heather Dohollau

heather-dohollau This is a new poet to me and one I was happy to discover. Though born in Wales, she moved to France as a young woman and lived the rest of her life there, creating all of her works in French and even receiving the Legion d’honneur in 2000.While I am still learning about her poems,so far, this one is my favorite.

Ici rien ne se passe
Tout est dehors
Le temps se plie comme un vêtement
Dans un coin
La mer rentre par transparence
Par la porte de verre
L’eau de la lumière tremble
Sur les murs lisses
Prison ou sanctuaire
Fermé à double tour
Par le regard même
La paix de l’instant se boit
Dans une coupe sans bord
Là-bas un bateau gîte
Toutes voiles dehors
Et avec l’écume bleue
Je mouille la page

Here nothing happens
all’s on the other side
time folded like a coat
lies in a corner
the sea comes clearly in
through the glass door
and on the walls
the watery light is trembling
prison or sanctuary
so well locked up
in its own vision
that the instant’s peace
is drunk in a rimless cup
out there a ship is listing
under sail
and with the blue of the spray
I damp the page

Manawydan is a name connected with the Irish deity of water and is a main character is the Welsh sagas, where he experiences captivity and stopped time. David Jones was a poet, essayist and artist who participated in WW1. Some of his paintings remind me of Franz Marc, who died in that war.
I will confess that the vivid word pictures and feeling of colors–blue and aquamarine, is what attracts me to this poem. The image of “time folded like a coat” is intriguing, especially with further thought; it’s laying in a corner, not hung in a closet. So it’s waiting to be used, time will start moving again. The poem itself has no specific moment, it could be the modern era or in another century, elements such as the ship that is “listing under sail” and “a rimless cup” could be metaphors or actual sights of the narrator. The ship, I think, is representative of something going very wrong and the poem ends with tears on the page.
Dohollau lived in the town of St. Brieuc(named after a Welsh monk) along a bay in Brittany, France, so she was extremely familiar with the the sights and effects of water. The “watery light” on the walls is one of the most fleeting lines for me and makes me think of a room at dusk, when the “trembling” light would contrast most. But they are created from reflections, which could sum up the entire poem, the mood of a person reflecting on sad events. And is the glass room a place of comfort or a trap? At first, I imagined it as a sun room, a pleasant place, but it could also be a whole house on shore or a feeling of isolation, cut off from land.
Only now, as I come to the end of this review do I realize this poem fits my penchant for glass and water, themes in my favorite book, Oscar and Lucinda . That could be one of the reasons it appeals to me, but not the only one. I am definitely looking forward to reading more of Dohollau’s work.

This poem originally included in the collection “Pages aquarelles” published in 1989.

You can hear the author reading some of her poems at Qarrtsiluni , an online literary magazine, which is also where I found the poem and it’s translation.

Photo courtesy of Ouest France .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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