Occitan poetry  980-2008

by Joan-Frederic Brun


 Joan-Maria Petit (1941)


Jean-Marie Petit was born in 1941 in a family of winemakers at Quarante, near Béziers, in the heart of the vineyards of Languedoc. Actually his parents were rather atypical winegrowers, as he himself points out, since his father was a  pilot of planes in the Aéropostale (Air mail) before he returned to the vines, and  used to grow flowers in the middle of his vineyard. This childhood in a radical socialist anticlerical family did not prepare at all Jean-Marie to the one of the major events of his life: the discovery of  Christian faith. As a scholar, he became a University professor in the Faculty of Letters of Montpellier, where he studied and teached  spoken Occitan under all its various forms: dialectology (he took part in the Linguistic Atlas du Languedoc), ethnography,  lexicography. His research on popular occitan poetry leaded him to publish in 1971  a "Romancero occitan", ie, a collection of 47 popular texts of songs telling mysterious and fascinating stories, such as the Spanish Romancero. He admits to have been fascinated by  these short forms of popular poetry as well as proverbs and tales, which surely had a strong influence on his own poetry. 

First influenced by Boudou and Yves Rouquette, he gradually developped an original style, condensing the emotions of his life into short and limpid texts written in a simple and genuine  occitan language full of life and taste : Respondi de... (1965), Poèmas per carrièras (1970), Ni per vendre ni per crompar (1971), Lo Pan, poma e lo cotèl (1972), Non aver èsser o (1975). Occitan singers (Patric, Daumas, Breish of Le Mans, Martí, Josina Vincenzutto) have drawn a lot in his poems during the seventies. 

"Bestiari, aubres e vinhas" (1978) closed this period of his literary production. This book was very appreciated by Max Rouquette who later planned to publish several Bestiaris.  

After this latter collection, Jean-Marie stopped publishing poems for almost 20 years, due to a personal drama in his life. However, young poets, and especially Aurelia Lassaque, knowing he still wrote poems while remaining alone and forgotten by Occitan readers, convinced him to return to publishing new texts. 

Since 2005, a new series of troubling and fascinating "bursts of life" appeared: Nòstra Dòna dels Espotits (2005),  Petaçon(2006), Patarinas (2007), D'aquesta man del jorn (2008).

These recent collections reach a kind of perfection in the limpidity and emotional strength of texts that become shorter and shorter, making him again one of the most popular Occitan poets at thistime. 

Medieval poetry: the kingdom of love
XVI-XVIII century: tasty baroque antiliteratures
XIX th century: toward a renaissance
XIX th century (1854-1914):  spreading and sclerosis of the Provençal miracle
XX th century (1920-1965): the anguish of no future
XX th century (1965-1981): "un país que vòl viure" (a country that just wants to live)
XX th century (1981-2000): postoccitanisme
XXI th century: just a living literature among many other ones? 


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Maidens love oaks
and store the milk
of their barkless breast 
Look when they kiss them
at the top of their hands
their nails are becoming leaves
They also love bitterness
of each blow of the axe
where the tree wrists the sun
And then they mourn and mourn
and suddenly they come old

Illusion del sorelh
m'apasturi de monstres
e de rosal
e mon amor es un verin
que dormís sus un fial
arrapat al nonrés.


Illusion of sun
I 'm feeded with monsters
and dew
and my love  is a venom
that sleeps on a silk
hanged to the nought.


D'aquesta man del jorn (From this side of the day, 2008).


A l'aritmetica del temps opausava la geometria de sas ancas. Se riscava nusa dins la glòria del vèspre. Balava ambe las ròsas sens espinhas tota doçor confonduda. Demòra encara dins mos dets dolents la flaira de las flors e la del velors prim sus mos pòts endormits.


She confronted the geometry of her hips to the arithmetics of time.  She ventured to go naked in the glory of the evening. She danced with thornless roses, mixing all into sweetness. And the fragrance of the flowers still remains on my painful fingers, as that of the fine velvet over my sleepy lips. 

D'aquesta man del jorn (From this side of the day, 2008).

Parpèla de barbarós
Dins l'ivèrn enromegat
Espèra de nèu e de feuse.



robin's eyelid 
in the bushy winter 
wait for snow and fern 



D'aquesta man del jorn (From this side of the day, 2008).


Anava bombet dubèrt
Al rendetz-vos de la tronada
Una luseta sus lo còr.
She went with her corsage open
to the appointment of the thunderstorm 
with a firefly over her heart 


D'aquesta man del jorn (From this side of the day, 2008).

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