Jesper Svenbro

Jesper Svenbro

Jesper Svenbro, born 1944 in Sweden. Studies in Classics at the University of Lund and, with Eric Havelock, at Yale. First volume of poetry published in 1966. PhD in Greek from Lund in 1976 with a thesis on the origins of Greek poetics. From 1977, research fellow at the CNRS in Paris (working with Jean-Pierre Vernant, Marcel Detienne and Pierre Vidal-Naquet).

His book Phrasikleia. An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece was originally published in 1988. A selection of his poetry appeared in 2003 under the title Three-Toed Gull. Member of the Swedish Academy since 2006.

The Swedish Academy: Chair No. 8 – Jesper Svenbro

La Mer

Once in a while our table conversation might
concern the perception of the sea in Charles Trénet’s “La Mer”
which was recorded in the mid-forties.
I myself had grown up by an entirely different sea
but seemed to share
a sea which was not mine but yours:
I suggested that our perception
was determined by “a certain way of filming the sea”
which we associate with the forties –
black-and-white, of course, but above all
with slow, almost dawdling reflections of the sun,
single, slowly twinkling silver flashes
in the sea shot looking south,
in the sea at noon.
Black shadows in the foreground –
they make the soundless play of the sun
seem even more dazzling out at sea.
It is as if these dawdling reflections had given me access
to a world which was not mine –
for a moment I really believe
that communication is possible,
that the images have an inner life to convey,
see you on the Mediterranean beach:
the periphery is blurred but in the middle of the picture
the definition is so strong
that I see the glitter in the little girl’s eyes
where she stands in the glittering waves,
where she is overcome by the sea today,
by merely existing near a summer sea,
where without a doubt she hears voices shouting
though she cannot make out what they are saying in the surge
– while the clouds imperceptibly have come to a halt
in the depth of the clearest of bays.

Jesper Svenbro
© Translation by John Matthias & Lars-Håkan Svensson

Published with the permission of Jesper Svenbro