I wrote this appreciation back in 1967, in my final year at University, where as part of my degree in French and Drama I studied French Canadian Literature. Some of Grandbois’ poetry can be found in the collection “Classiques Canadiens”, as chosen and presented by Jacques Brault.
In much of his poetry, Alain Grandbois appears condemned to a restless journey through night, rain, endless streets marked by the impotent illumination of street lamps, exclusion from the existence of fellow men, and the gradual disintegration of contact with a loved woman – to a “périple” of perpetual solitude. In this nightmare, place succeeding place in a filmic progression, as he makes a desperate, misunderstood, unanswered cry for contact – with another, or with an ideal that will justify the chaos:
“Une colonne d’allégresse”
– he is obsessed with the evanescence of life, and the ugly manifestations of death among the living, and of decay among the dead:
“…ces trop beaux visages détruits”.
But among the disgust that is abruptly shown to underlie an image of beauty or peace, is the sudden intrusion of an unexpected experience of joy, of the positive and redeeming pulse of life:
“Soudan, soudan les jardins bleus de l’enfance.”
In the conviction of futility, a memory of his mother or of a moment of beauty, even painful beauty:
“Mais une fois j’ai vu les trois cyprès parfaits,
Devant la blancheur du logis,
J’ai vu, et je me tais,
Et ma détresse est sans égale.”
– refutes that futility, or provokes a renewed search for meaning. Thus the poems contain a constantly shifting movement between absurd delight and absurd disillusionment.
Inextricably allied to the lyricism of life and death is an erotic expose of the damage effected by the passage of time, where beauty and truth are violently described in the terms of their eventual destruction. Whether they have decayed with age, been lost in memory, or become hollow with habit, they are nonetheless profoundly desired; life is clung to in spite of the emptiness of its rooms and the apocalypse which follows after “volupté”, because it offers the pursuit,
De toutes les frontières vraisemblables
Parmi l’effrayante cosmographie des mondes”
– of an elusive, indefinable ideal,
Du silence de sa nuit”.
This pursuit of the ideal, even if never completed, or even if, once achieved, it remains insufficient to prevent man’s forever wanting “Le dur œil juste de dieu”, will at least have made a stand against the emptiness of death. And for Alain Grandbois, the darkness of death is all too easily unfolding:
“Roulant doucement sur les pointes de la nuit”
– but must never be allowed to compensate for the withholding of the dawn.
As will appear from this commentary, there is a cyclical quality to these poems – we keep re-encountering the same themes, the same euphoria and the same malaise – but the cyclic movement of Grandbois’ poetry is closer to the spiral than to the true circle; as we read him we are continually brought to view the landscape of his soul from new angles, re-entering it from different planes. It is for this reason that his poems, though strongly reminiscent of each other, are by no means uniform; rather they bear the unequivocal stamp of an individual vision of the world.