Sunday, August 5, 2012

Saint-John Perse

Saint-John Perse (first Saint-Leger Leger, pseudonyms of Alexis Leger) (1887 – 1975) was a French poet, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960 "for the soaring flight and evocative imagery of his poetry." He was also a major French diplomat from 1914 to 1940, after which he lived primarily in the USA until 1967.
The Vichy government dismissed him from the Légion d'honneur order and revoked his French citizenship (it was reinstated after the war.) He was in some financial difficulty as an exile in Washington until Archibald MacLeish, Director of the Library of Congress and himself a poet, raised sufficient private donations to enable the Library to employ Perse until his official retirement from the French civil service in 1947. Perse declined a teaching position at Harvard University.
During his American exile, Perse wrote his long poems Exil, Vents, Pluies, Neiges, Amers, and Chroniques. He remained in the USA long after the end of the Second World War ended, traveling extensively, observing nature, and enjoying the friendship of, among others, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Attorney General Francis Biddle and his spouse, author Katherine Garrison Chapin. Leger was on good terms with the UN Secretary General and author Dag Hammarskjöld. In 1957, American friends gave him a villa at Giens in Provence, and from that time on, he split his time between France and the United States. In 1958, he married the American Dorothy Milburn Russell.
In 1960, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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