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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 107, Volume 22 Number 3, January - February 1996.

'JE RIME, DONC JE VIS' TRISTAN CORBIÉRE, These Jaundiced Loves, translated by Christopher Pilling (Peterloo Poets) £14.95

Tristan Corbiére, who died in 1875 aged only twenty-nine, remains underrated. During his lifetime, his sole volume Les Amours jaunes, 1873, published at his father's expense, brought no recognition; posthumously, it was publicized by Verlaine. Later admirers included Laforgue, Pound, Eliot (whose work he significantly influenced), Randall Jarrell (in the handful of poems undertaken and albeit unrhyming, Corbiére's best translator) and Berryman.

Corbiére's work is remarkable for both intensity and range. Severely afflicted by rheumatism from his youth, he harnessed a passionate bitterness to sketch the hardships of the peasants and sailors of his native Brittany and the prostitutes and bohemian artists he lived among for two years in Paris; his irony encompassed the psychology of 'Le poéte contumace' and the wistful yet feline evocations of children touched by death of 'Rondels pour aprés'.

Perhaps an aspiration to echo Corbiére's anarchic jokiness, together with the dearth of biographical information and the pseudo-intimacy of any translator, produced a certain jokiness in the editorial presentation of Christopher Pilling's welcome complete translation of Les Amours jaunes. (This is not Corbiere's complete oeuvre since the miscellaneous poems and short stories are omitted.

Corbiére called himself 'Tristan'. In his 'Postface masquerading as a preface', Pilling argues for Corbiére's close identification with Tristan of Lyonesse ('To appropriate Tristan's name was to take on the idea of his attributes…'), reflected in Les Amours jaunes. But this 'Breton bretonnant' didn't know the Breton language and took no part in the contemporary ...


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