Nox Oculis

Philip Levine (1928- )

Philip Levine est né à Detroit, dans le Michigan, en 1928. Il étudia dans des écoles locales et à la Wayne University. Il vit présentement à New York et à Fresno, en Californie, où il enseigne la littérature anglaise à l'Université de New York et à l'Université de Californie. Il a vécu périodiquement en Espagne, un pays dont le peuple, le paysage et l'histoire, ont beaucoup influencés ses poèmes.

Sa poésie est caractérisée par un lyrisme intense, un sens intériorisé du monde naturel (fréquemment invoqué à des fins symboliques), ainsi qu'une forte identification aux valeurs de la classe ouvrière et des communautés ethniques. On retrouve dans certains poèmes un ton de rage et de défi envers l'injustice.

Any Night

    Look, the eucalyptus, the Atlas pine,
    the yellowing ash, all the trees
    are gone, and I was older than
    all of them. I am older than the moon,
    than the stars that fill my plate,
    than the unseen planets that huddle
    together here at the end of a year
    no one wanted. A year more than a year,
    in which the sparrows learned
    to fly backwards into eternity.
    Their brothers and sisters saw this
    and refuse to build nests. Before
    the week is over they will all
    have gone, and the chorus of love
    that filled my yard and spilled
    into my kitchen each evening
    will be gone. I will have to learn
    to sing in the voices of pure joy
    and pure pain. I will have to forget
    my name, my childhood, the years
    under the cold dominion of the clock
    so that this voice, torn and cracked,
    can reach the low hills that shielded
    the orange trees once. I will stand
    on the back porch as the cold
    drifts in, and sing, not for joy,
    not for love, not even to be heard.
    I will sing so that the darkness
    can take hold and whatever
    is left, the fallen fruit, the last
    leaf, the puzzled squirrel, the child
    far from home, lost, will believe
    this could be any night. That boy,
    walking alone, thinking of nothing
    or reciting his favorite names
    to the moon and stars, let him
    find the home he left this morning,
    let him hear a prayer out
    of the raging mouth of the wind.
    Let him repeat that prayer,
    the prayer that night follows day,
    that life follows death, that in time
    we find our lives. Don't let him see
    all that has gone. Let him love
    the darkness. Look, he's running
    and singing too. He could be happy.

    Philip Levine, 1971, tiré de Ashes : Poems New and Old (1979)


    My father stands in the warm evening
    on the porch of my first house.
    I am four years old and growing tired.
    I see his head among the stars,
    the glow of his cigarette, redder
    than the summer moon riding
    low over the old neighborhood. We
    are alone, and he asks me if I am happy.
    "Are you happy?" I cannot answer.
    I do not really understand the word,
    and the voice, my father's voice, is not
    his voice, but somehow thick and choked,
    a voice I have not heard before, but
    heard often since. He bends and passes
    a thumb beneath each of my eyes.
    The cigarette is gone, but I can smell
    the tiredness than hangs on his breath.
    He has found nothing, and he smiles
    and holds my head with both his hands.
    Then he lifts me to his shoulder,
    and now I too am among the stars,
    as tall as he. Are you happy? I say.
    He nods in answer, Yes ! oh yes ! oh yes !
    And in that new voice he says nothing,
    holding my head tight against his head,
    his eyes clsoed up against the starlight,
    as though those tiny blinking eyes
    of light might find a tall, gaunt child
    holding his child against the promises
    of autumn, until the boy slept
    never to waken in that world again.

    Philip Levine, tiré de New Selected Poems (1991)

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