The simple and bucolic art of Francis Jammes has grown to maturity in the solitude of the little town of Orthez at the foot of the Pyrenees, far from the clamor and complexities of literary Paris. In the preface to an early work of his he has given the key of his artistic faith: “My God, You have called me among men. Behold I am here. I suffer and I love. I have spoken with the voice which you have given me. I have written with the words which You have taught my mother and my father and which they transmitted to me. I am passing along the road like a laden ass of which the children make mock and which lowers the head. I shall go where You wish, when You wish.”
And this is the way he has gone without faltering or ever turning aside to become identified with this school or that. It is this simple faith which has given to Francis Jammes his distinction and uniqueness among the poets of contemporary France, and won for him the admiration of all classes. There is probably no other French poet who can evoke so perfectly the spirit of the landscape of rural France. He delights to commune with the wild flowers, the crystal spring, and the friendly fire. Through his eyes we see the country of the singing harvest where the poplars sway beside the ditches and the fall of the looms of the weavers fills the silence. The poet apprehends in things a soul which others cannot perceive.
His gift of sympathy with the poor and the simple is infinite. He is full of pity and tenderness and enfolds in his heart and in his poetry, saint and sinner, man and beast, all that which is animate and inanimate. He is passionately religious with a profound and humble faith, but it has nothing in common with the sumptuous and decorative neo-catholicism of men like Huysmans or Paul Claudel. Rather one must seek his origins in the child-like faith of Saint Francis of Assisi and the lyrical metaphysics of Pascal.
Those of a higher sophistication and a greater worldliness may smile at the artlessness, and, if one will, naivete of a man like Jammes. It is true that his art is limited, and that if one reads too much at one time there is a note of monotony and a certain paucity of phrase, but who is the writer of whom this is not equally true? The quality of beauty, sincerity, and a large serenity are in his work, and how grateful are these permanencies amid the shrilling noises of the countless conflicting creeds and dogmas, and amid the poses and vanities which so fill the world of contemporary literature and art!
As far as the record goes the outward life of Francis Jammes has been uneventful. In a remarkable poem, “A Francis Jammes,” his friend and fellow-poet, Charles Guerin, has drawn an unforgetable picture of this Christian Virgil in his village home. The ivy clings about his house like a beard, and before it is a shadowy fire, ever young and fresh, like the poet’s heart, in spite of wind and winters and sorrows. The low walls of the court are gilded with moss. From the window one sees the cottages and fields, the horizon and the snows.