'But why this urge to speak things, rather than make do with observing them? Where does it come from, this compulsion writers have to turn into words everything that touches them or holds their attention? Would it not be more sensible to prune and look after those trees, before describing them? But both the one and the other are necessary. Once men thought that uttering the true name of a god conferred full power over him: the priests were accordingly careful to keep it to themselves. There was a profound truth in this belief. Whoever seizes a landscape, a moment, a light, with suitable words, cures them - provisionally, at least - of this malady where everything dissolves, disappears, escapes us. Where do they go, all these moments, these lives, and our life? A beautiful poem, a well-wrought phrase keeps them, encloses them, gives shape to what is no more than vapour and cannot be grasped. In that way a person, without being entirely mistaken, perhaps, can believe he is somewhat less alien in the world, somewhat less helpless in the face of time's brilliant stratagems.'
That's a quote from a prose-poem I was reading earlier today, by Phillipe Jaccottet, translated by Jennie Feldman and Stephen Romer. It's from a great Anvil Press anthology, Into The Deep Street, Seven Modern French Poets. My favourite phrase there is even better in French, due to the wonder of the reflexive verb, 'sans se tromper completement, peut-etre'.