Selections from While Percival Was Falling

Selections from While Percival Was Falling | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

"Sun and Clouds" by Winslow Homer. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution/National Museum of Asian Art.

Selections from While Percival Was Falling

Reading by translator Jessica Cuello. (Scroll down to view and listen to the original poem.)


Percival’s song
is an unruly beast
a howling story
I am a defiant


I’ve gone too far
will you sail to the sea
with me
recover the drowned
like last Sunday
when this story
came to ruin us


today they recovered
your body
from the Ouse
stiff like the stones
in your coat pockets
a river opened
in the channel
it was March
while Percival fell
you crossed the fields of Rodmell on foot


Translator’s Note

Pendant que Perceval tombait occurs in a single day and encompasses both the day of Woolf’s suicide and the death of the character Percival from Woolf’s novel The Waves. Pendant que Perceval tombait draws from overlapping sources: literary fiction, literary biography, and a third voice which enters subtly, a voice I believe to be the poet. Woolf said of The Waves that the voices were not meant to be separate characters at all. So too, the voices in Pendant que Perceval tombait intersect without clear demarcation. Pendant que Perceval tombait restructures time and accesses the pleasurable dreaminess where literature and “real” life converge. In The Waves, Woolf indicates the passage of time with a third person description of the sun passing over the sea. These poems know that time does not reach us in a linear way, especially time that concerns grief and despair. Lines recur; they move forward, they pull back like the sea. They do not fully arrive. Yes, we are aware of two dramatic events, Woolf’s suicide and Perceval’s death, yet we remain suspended in recurring image. We are held in image, released, then held again.  In an interview with “L’Actualite” in October 2021, Langlais calls the book “un arrêt sur image” and explains that she does not write to give sense but “to soothe the obstinate, sad voice that accompanies her.” This work feels distinctly feminine in its cycling of grief and in the tesserae of its construction. It possesses the narrative detail to move time forward, but it is not narrative that counts here, nor is it explanation; no, we are entranced by repetition as if by the sea.  The book exists as a single poem so I’ve gathered together a selection.


sélections de Pendant que Perceval tombait

Reading by Tania Langlais.


le chant de Perceval
est une bête difficile
une histoire qui hurle
je suis une bête


je dépasse les bornes
prendras-tu la mer
avec moi
retrouver les noyés
comme dimanche dernier
quand cette histoire
venait de nous détruire


aujourd’hui ils ont repêché
ton corps
entré dans l’Ouse
résolu comme les pierres
aux poches de ton manteau
un fleuve s’ouvrait
dans la Manche
c’était en mars
pendant que Perceval tombait
tu traversais les champs de Rodmell à pied

Tania Langlais is the author of Douze bêtes aux chemises de l’homme. Pendant que Perceval tombait is her fourth book and was awarded the Governor General’s Award of Canada and Le Prix Alain-Grandbois de l’Académie des lettres du Québec.

Jessica Cuello is a poetry editor at Tahoma Literary Review and the author of Liar, selected by Dorianne Laux for the 2020 Barrow Street Book Prize. Her manuscript Yours, Creature is forthcoming from JackLeg Press in spring of 2023.
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