En voyant des drapeaux ce matin je ne me suis pas dit

Into the early twentieth century today, with a poem in French by Guillaume Apollinaire, seen at the time as a modernist poet, part of the ferment of one hundred years ago which saw the emergence of Picasso, electricity, automobiles, powered flight, and experimentation in many domains.

This poem was written for, and read at, the wedding of Apollinaire’s friend, Andre Salmon, on July 13 1909, the day before Bastille Day, the French national holiday. So the streets are adorned with flags, the bands are playing, the people are joyful – and the poet claims that this public celebration has nothing to do with France, but it is because his friend is getting married.

Here is the poem…
Poème lu au mariage d’André Salmon
Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 – 1918)

Le 13 juillet 1909.

En voyant des drapeaux ce matin je ne me suis pas dit
Voilà les riches vêtements des pauvres
Ni la pudeur démocratique veut me voiler sa douleur
Ni la liberté en honneur fait qu’on imite maintenant
Les feuilles ô liberté végétale ô seule liberté terreste
Ni les maisons flambent parce qu’on partira pour ne plus revenir
Ni ces mains agitées travailleront demain pour nous tous
Ni même on a pendu ceux qui ne savaient pas profiter de la vie
Ni même on renouvelle le monde en reprenant la Bastille
Je sais que seul le renouvellent ceux qui sont fondés en poésie
On a pavoisé Paris parce que mon ami André Salmon s’y marie

Nous nous sommes rencontrés dans un caveau maudit
Au temps de notre jeunesse
Fumant tous deux et mal vêtus attendant l’aube
Épris épris des même paroles dont il faudra changer le sens
Trompés trompés pauvres petits et ne sachant pas encore rire
La table et les deux verres devinrent un mourant qui nous jeta le dernier regard d’Orphée
Les verres tombèrent se brisèrent
Et nous apprîmes à rire
Nous partîmes alors pèlerins de la perdition
A travers les rues à travers les contrées à travers la raison
Je le revis au bord du fleuve sur lequel flottait Ophélie
Qui blanche flotte encore entre les nénuphars
Il s’en allait au milieu des Hamlets blafards
Sur la flûte jouant les airs de la folie
Je le revis près d’un moujik mourant compter les béatitudes
Je le revis faisant ceci ou cela en l’honneur des mêmes paroles
Qui changent la face des enfants et je dis toutes ces choses
Souvenir et Avenir parce que mon ami André Salmon se marie

Réjouissons-nous non pas parce que notre amitié a été le fleuve qui nous a fertilisés
Terrains riverains dont l’abondance est la nourriture que tous espèrent
Ni parce que nos verres nous jettent encore une fois le regard d’Orphée mourant
Ni parce que nous avons tant grandi que beaucoup pourraient confondre nos yeux et les étoiles
Ni parce que les drapeaux claquent aux fenêtre des citoyens qui sont contents depuis cent ans d’avoir la vie et de menues choses à défendre
Ni parce que fondés en poésie nous avons des droits sur les paroles qui forment et défont l’Univers
Ni parce que nous pouvons pleurer sans ridicule et que nous savons rire
Ni parce que nous fumons et buvons comme autrefois
Réjouissons-nous parce que directeur du feu et des poètes
L’amour qui emplit ainsi que la lumière
Tout le solide espace entre les étoiles et les planètes
L’amour veut qu’aujourd’hui mon ami André Salmon se marie

From <http://poemasenfrances.blogspot.com/2006/05/guillaume-apollinaire-pome-lu-au.html&gt;

This is an exuberant, joyful poem, as it should be. It takes some traditional themes of a conventional best man’s speech, recalling the youth and indiscretions of his friend, the bridegroom, and each stanza leads up to a climatic final two lines proclaiming the marriage of his friend, Andre Salmon. With the accumulation of words, images and climatic endings, this reminds me of a song by Jacques Brel, and I can quite imagine the great Belgian singer singing or reciting this poem, bringing out the joy and exaltation of the occasion.

Also, I imagine the thrill of the married couple and their guests when the great poet stands up and recites the poem, composed just for them. When I got married (also in Paris) many years ago, a friend who was a singer and songwriter performed a song written specially for the occasion, making a fabulous moment and a lifelong memory. (Alas, no YouTube in those days to keep the moment).

Two lines that especially stand out for me in the poem – “Ni meme on renouvelle le monde en reprenant la Bastille, Je sais que seuls le renouvellent ceux qui sont fondes en poesie”

Lets bring poetry into our lives, in the example of this poem and make it part of our everyday experience.


The Poetry Dude


Awake! For morning in the bowl of night…

Edward Fitzgerald’s 19th century loose translation of the Persian classic poem, the Rubai’yat of Omar Khayam is a true work of art in itself. It has been derided by some as not being a faithful translation. However, I have read translations which set out to be faithful to the original and they are flat and uninspiring compared to Fitzgerald’s version.

For this blog post, I set out the first 12 stanzas of the poem – future posts will surely cover later sections in several instalments until the 75 stanzas of the whole work are completed. So here is the subject of this post. Read and enjoy…
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
“Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
“Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry.”
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted–“Open then the Door!
“You know how little while we have to stay,
“And, once departed, may return no more.”
Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the WHITE HAND OF MOSES on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.
Iram indeed is gone with all its Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a Garden by the Water blows.
And David’s Lips are lock’t; but in divine
High piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
“Red Wine!”—the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek of hers to incarnadine.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly—and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
And look—a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke—and a thousand scatter’d into Clay:
And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.
But come with old Khayyam, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobad and Kaikhosru forgot!
Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hatim Tai cry Supper—heed them not.
With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan scarce is known,
And pity Sultan Mahmud on his Throne.
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
“How sweet is mortal Sovranty!”—think some:
Others—“How blest the Paradise to come!”
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!

From <https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/okhym.htm&gt;

Thus has one of the most striking opens to a poem that I know, beautifully reinforced by the following lines of the stanza to evoke the dawning of a new day in the world of the Near East.

The poem’s theme is carpe diem, enjoy life while you can. Put aside life’s cares and enjoy the moment, life is transient so we shouldn’t waste it on vain ambition or thoughts of power. Stanza 10 says “Pity Sultan Mahmud on his throne”, and we could put the name of any political or business leader worn down by the cares of high office. For the poet, the rewards would not be worth it. In Stanza 11, all that the poet needs to be happy are a loaf of bread, a flask of wine, a book of verse and a lover by his side. This would create a paradise even in the midst of wilderness. An appealing prospect indeed…

I can come back to this poem again and again, its a real pleasure, as the poet would have wished.

The Poetry Dude

Que descansada vida

Staying in the 16th century, with the great Spanish lyrical poet, Fray Luis de Leon, who wrote this poem in praise of the simple life, renouncing such things as money, ambition, worldly status, the opinion of others. It is almost a Buddhist concept of fulfilment through renunciation and the extinguishing of desire.

This poem is one of my all time favourites, and perhaps one of the very few where I can always remember and quote the first stanza. Here it is. Enjoy.


¡Qué descansada vida
la del que huye del mundanal ruïdo,
y sigue la escondida
senda, por donde han ido
los pocos sabios que en el mundo han sido;

Que no le enturbia el pecho
de los soberbios grandes el estado,
ni del dorado techo
se admira, fabricado
del sabio Moro, en jaspe sustentado!

No cura si la fama
canta con voz su nombre pregonera,
ni cura si encarama
la lengua lisonjera
lo que condena la verdad sincera.

¿Qué presta a mi contento
si soy del vano dedo señalado;
si, en busca deste viento,
ando desalentado
con ansias vivas, con mortal cuidado?

¡Oh monte, oh fuente, oh río,!
¡Oh secreto seguro, deleitoso!
Roto casi el navío,
a vuestro almo reposo
huyo de aqueste mar tempestuoso.

Un no rompido sueño,
un día puro, alegre, libre quiero;
no quiero ver el ceño
vanamente severo
de a quien la sangre ensalza o el dinero.

Despiértenme las aves
con su cantar sabroso no aprendido;
no los cuidados graves
de que es siempre seguido
el que al ajeno arbitrio está atenido.

Vivir quiero conmigo,
gozar quiero del bien que debo al cielo,
a solas, sin testigo,
libre de amor, de celo,
de odio, de esperanzas, de recelo.

Del monte en la ladera,
por mi mano plantado tengo un huerto,
que con la primavera
de bella flor cubierto
ya muestra en esperanza el fruto cierto.

Y como codiciosa
por ver y acrecentar su hermosura,
desde la cumbre airosa
una fontana pura
hasta llegar corriendo se apresura.

Y luego, sosegada,
el paso entre los árboles torciendo,
el suelo de pasada
de verdura vistiendo
y con diversas flores va esparciendo.

El aire del huerto orea
y ofrece mil olores al sentido;
los árboles menea
con un manso ruïdo
que del oro y del cetro pone olvido.

Téngase su tesoro
los que de un falso leño se confían;
no es mío ver el lloro
de los que desconfían
cuando el cierzo y el ábrego porfían.

La combatida antena
cruje, y en ciega noche el claro día
se torna, al cielo suena
confusa vocería,
y la mar enriquecen a porfía.

A mí una pobrecilla
mesa de amable paz bien abastada
me basta, y la vajilla,
de fino oro labrada
sea de quien la mar no teme airada.

Y mientras miserable-
mente se están los otros abrazando
con sed insacïable
del peligroso mando,
tendido yo a la sombra esté cantando.

A la sombra tendido,
de hiedra y lauro eterno coronado,
puesto el atento oído
al son dulce, acordado,
del plectro sabiamente meneado.

From <http://www.los-poetas.com/f/frayluis1.htm&gt;

The theme is that happiness or contentment can only come from indifference to worldly concerns of money, ambition, reputation, fame etc. Happiness can only come from being content with what you have and being untouched by worldly concerns.

I love the description of the garden on the mountainside in stanzas 9 to 12. It is a garden planted by the poet, with a stream running through it – a place where the poet can find peace and contentment. I have similar feelings about my own garden and feel good just by being in it and working it with my own hands.

The poem is interesting through the inventive, sometimes tortuous use of syntax, particularly in the first three stanzas, which makes the reader really need to focus on the words and the patterns of connection which make sense. At first this is annoying but then you recognize that it signals that time and attention is needed to bring out full appreciation of the poem’s content.

A great poem, one of my favourites. Stanza 8, beginning ” Vivir quiero conmigo..” is a great reflection of my own actual or desired outlook on life.

The Poetry Dude

Let me confess that we two must be twain

Yes, its Shakespeare – sonnet number 36 in fact. What better place to kick off this blog than the master of the English language himself. It’s a pity that more people know the plays than the poetry, as most of the poems, particularly the sonnets, are short, accessible at any time, but just as rich in language and ideas as those famous speeches from Hamlet or Macbeth or Othello.
Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
   But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
   As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

From <http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/sonnet/36&gt;

So the poem appeals to me by going beyond notions of romantic love being some idyllic state of perfection; instead, it is about love tempered by experience. Shakespeare reminds us that, even in a loving relationship, we are essentially alone and must be totally responsible for our own qualities and defects, behaviour and reputation. Otherwise we would be tainted by the other’s blots or faults. This is the real world, not some idealised utopia. However, at the end of the poem there is a reaffirmation that love is possible and can be strong.

The language is focussed, every word is telling. The first half of the sonnet cleverly opposes the notions of two and one. The second half homes in on the one before coming back to the two at the end. As in the play “A Winters Tale” despair can mutate into resolution and optimism, made stronger by self-awareness.

This poem can connect to anyone’s life who is in a long-term relationship. Remember, Shakespeare said it first (and most likely better)

The Poetry Dude

Getting Started – About this blog

The other day I was looking over my bookshelves – I have been an avid reader all my life and have both classic and modern literature, history, memoirs, travel books, economics and business strategy books and quite a few volumes of poetry. I also write, but it is what I would call professional, utilitarian writing – analytical studies of commodity market behaviours and investment trends and that sort of thing. When I write, I try to be careful about my choice of words and the structure of what I want to say. I aspire to good, clear, elegant writing. So it is just as important to me to recognise and appreciate great writing when I read.


I believe poetry is the form where this art is pushed to its limits. Every word has to count in many ways – for its meaning, for its sound, for its length, for its associations, for its ambiguities. And then all the words have to work together – to create lines, verses, sequences which enrich the whole work. When reading a poem it is immediately obvious if a word is out of place or ill-chosen. Reading a poem forces you to think about every word and then how they all add up to the impact of the whole poem.


So for this blog, I decided to open up some of those neglected volumes of poetry on my bookshelves and revisit old favourites, while perhaps discovering new ones. I have poems in English, French and Spanish from pretty much all times over the past thousand years. I have poems which move me for their content and their connection with my life; I have poems which move me for their form and structure; I have poems which move me for their language. Each blog will talk about one poem, why I like it, how it connects with my experience and what are my favourite lines. They will appear in random order, as I rediscover them, so they will jump between historical periods, languages and cultures. It will be fun to discover what poetical themes keep coming up and how they are expressed by poets from different ages.

I think we will start with a sonnet from Shakespeare. Watch this space for the first commentary.

Enjoy – and then rediscover the poems which move and inspire you…

The Poetry Dude