Jean Follain

from Canisy
July 25, 2016 Follain Jean

from Canisy

*translated by Louise Guiney


Whenever we lined up to march into class, the assistant at my grandfather’s school always had us sing the kind of civic-minded song in which words like peace, justice, and blood are intermingled. These songs in no way arrested the attention of my paternal grandmother as she slowly crossed the courtyard to get grain, or coal.

I often cried in the assistant’s class and then he would send me into my grandfather’s class where behind his schoolmaster’s desk, up on his raised chair, my grandfather sat with his scarlet, black polka-dotted handkerchief sticking out of his pocket, ready to welcome me as if nothing had happened and let me climb the steps to his chair, sit right under his desk, and tuck myself in as best as I could between his legs. In that shadowy realm I smelled chalk dust and heard slates squeaking and the map of the world snapping as it unfolded. Sometimes a gnat would pay me a visit. After a succession of long quarters of an hour my grandfather and I would abandon the room where now only the boy whose turn it was to sweep remained, and who hurried so s to finish before the deep red death of the sun.

Sometimes I stayed for supper and the night with my paternal grandparents. Often, after the soup, there would be a knock at the door and at the words “come in” someone would cross the threshold. A woman with a favor to ask, making as little noise as possible with her wooden shoes as she stepped forward, or else a mailman leaving messages people had given him on his rounds. Day laborers, a little drunk, their eyes blank, come to sign up for the next day, or it might be a young seamstress, hair swept up in a chignon, leaving again a little anxiously, sewing machine slung over her shoulder, to set out towards the stagnant darkness of the hamlets.

A world of care, peace, Christianity, lightly governed by the ancient fear.


Canisy is an English translation of Jean Follain’s publication of the same title. Editions Gallimard, 1942

Jean Follain (1903–1971) was born in Canisy, in Normandy His first book poems, La Main chaude was published in 1933. He published eight subsequent volumes of poetry, as well as prose work.