Yves Tanguy and Eugene Guillevic have often been described as ‘Druids’ in the 20th century worlds of painting and poetry.
As a youth in Locronan, Yves Tanguy would often watch a local painter named Toche at work, whose aim it was to capture the atmospheric qualities of the Breton landscape in a kind of half light. Eugene Guillevic was also influenced early on, first by the German poet Rilke and later by the French poet Trakl.
Yves Tanguy was born in 1900 on the Place de la Concorde in Paris and many childhood vacations were spent in his family home at Locronan in Finistere, Brittany where thousands of menhirs and dolmens have been scattered across the landscape since prehistoric times.
Tanguy was drafted into the Army in 1918 and returned to Paris at the end of his service in 1922. It was during this time period that he met two fellow artists, Jacques Prevert and Giorgio de Chirico. It was through these contacts that Tanguy became associated with Andre Breton and the Surrealist Group, from 1924 to 1938. Prior to World War II, he met and married the American artist Kay Sage and moved to New York and later established a studio in Woodberry, Connecticut. Tanguy died in Connecticut in 1955.
Eugene Guillevic was born in Carnac, Morbihan, Brittany in 1907. He began writing poetry as a child, inspired primarily by the Fables of La Fontaine. Upon passing his baccalaureate in 1926 he was assigned a series of governmental positions including as Inspecteur d’Economie National from 1946 to 1963.
His work developed through the Surrealist period and into a more personal simplicity and maturity later in his life. He received Le Grand Prix de Poesie from the French Academy in 1976 and Le Grand Prix National de Poesie in 1984. Guillevic died in 1997.
In her book of translations of selected Guillevic poems, the poet Denise Levertov observed that: “The great ritual places of the Celts . . . the places where the great and small stones or menhirs, are gathered in powerful and enigmatic testimony to forgotten certainties, are landscapes of a profound austerity.”[i]
“The rocks won’t know
one speaks about them.
And always to sustain them, they’ll have
only grandeur. . . .”
“They don’t burn sulphur
in the darkness
for they have never known
the fear of death. . . .”
“And then the joy
of knowing the menace
While at their edges
bits of stone flake off
which wind and wave had scraped at
while they were dozing.”
“. . . They don’t have to go about
With faces you can read like books.”
“They did not want to be the temple
in which to delight. . . .”
comes to them out of themselves alone. . . .”
“It happens that a block of stone
detaches itself and falls,
falls so that one misses a breath,
into the wet sea. . . .”
“. . . To be the memory of a rock, of being
promontory, out and towards the wave.”[ii]
[i] Guillevic, Eugene; Translated by Denise Levertov; Guillevic: Selected Poems; New Directions Publishig Corporation; New York, New York; 1969; p. vii.
[ii] Guillevic, Eugene; Translated by Denise Levertov; Guillevic: Selected Poems; pp. 76-83.