Claude Vigée, a poetics of life

“To be a poet so that men can live”, says the title of a collection of essays by Claude Vigée, whose poetic work was accompanied by reflection on a literary and spiritual dimension. His creation was “An alliance in the present” and to life, he said. Far from fiction or theater, which for him sounded false: poetry to express in vividness the life of men, to inscribe in the present their awkward, fragile quest for themselves and for God, and to offer him “A springboard for tomorrow”.

→ READ. Death of Claude Vigée, poet of joy

Born Claude-André Strauss in 1921, in Alsace, the poet took for name Claude Vigée (“life I have”), in Toulouse where, taking refuge in 1940, he helped found the Jewish Action movement. From this first departure to flee the Nazi occupation, he will say that he was a “Tearing”.

Doubly Jewish, doubly Alsatian

Alsace, where his family had been established for six hundred years, was for him an emblematic place where the Jews perhaps lived more than others in the acute awareness of a tug of war between two cultures. “The fate of Jerusalem underlies this and prepares it from all eternity”, he confided to André Bourin in the show The substance and the form on the ORTF in 1972. “It is ultimately that of all men. To be born Jewish and Alsatian is to be born doubly Jewish and doubly Alsatian. “

Raised in the Alsatian dialect as some of his co-religionists were in Yiddish, Claude Vigée will first see in the teaching of French a contempt for his mother tongue, and thereby for the humble world to which his childhood is attached. He will tell it in A basket of hops or in The House of the Living. He will also pay homage to this land and to this past in his “Requiem in Alsatian”, the bilingual collection Black Nettles (1984).

His work is the patient composition of the links between trials, their temporalities and their recurrences. In the myth of Icarus and the biblical episode of the struggle of Jacob with the angel, Claude Vigée will come to draw, if not the consolation, at least the identification and the accompaniment of the sufferings of the present, after more than half of his family disappeared in the Nazi persecutions.

A passing man

At the ORTF again, he relied on the etymology: “The Hebrew is the man of passage, the one who goes from one bank to the other. I was launched at 18 towards this eternal passage. I understood through the Hebrew destiny the destiny of all human life, and in the destiny of Israel that of humanity. Poetry is the word of the passage, it is the boat in which I pass. The poems did not accompany my life but carried my life. “

→ READ. Claude Vigée’s meeting with Michel Kubler, Claude Vigée, watchtower of life

“Poetry is not a state of mind; it is an action of the embodied soul with all the means that it can find at its disposal, in the first place, the words, from those of infancy ”, he also explained in 2008 in the review Temporal.

The first exile was followed by that to the United States, in 1943, where he joined his cousin Évelyne, whom he married in 1947 and with whom he had two children, then the one to Jerusalem, in 1960. A life of university teaching and of Important friendships were forged in these places, from René Girard to Martin Buber or Gershom Scholem.

The choice of life

Of the past forty Israeli years “ on the top floor of an old building with a terraced roof, from the top of which we can see, through the skylight open all summer long to the stars, the red and gray city which soars from hill to hill », Will be born among others The skylight to the stars, where the poet’s daily life is combined with biblical history, and his travels in Israel with the wanderings of his elders. Finally, the couple moved to Paris in 2001, where Évy died in 2007.

On the horizon of suffering, and without ignoring wounds: the possible resurrection. It is the motive and motor of the work, the poet drawing on models: besides Jacob, his son Joseph, sold by his brothers before being born to another destiny. Moses too, turning to life rather than death, after God commanded him to to choose.

The events “Call me, rather, push me to a word that is not of description or observation, but of joy”, confided Claude Vigée in 2009 in The cross. « Only in poetry do the dark paths of my long life meet and light up, to perhaps clear the way for them (a voice), towards what unthinkable dawn? But the wait remains divine … »


Of exile and wandering

1921. Born in Bischwiller (Bas-Rhin).

1940. Evacuation in Toulouse. Studies of medicine and Resistance.

1943. Exile in the United States. Doctorate in Romance Languages ​​and Literatures.

1950. First collection, The Struggle with the Angel.

1960. Installation in Israel. Teaches at the Hebrew University until 1983.

1970. The Winter Moon, autobiographical texts in prose.

1972. The Sun under the Sea, poems.

1992. In the silence of the Aleph. Scripture and revelation.

1996. Grand Prize for poetry of the French Academy.

2001. Installation in Paris.

2006. “Hope”, Lent conference at Notre-Dame de Paris in dialogue with Father Henry de Villefranche.

2007. Death of his wife Évy.

2008. Complete works: My hour on earth (Galaade). Goncourt of poetry.


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