Plus de fleurs mais d’etranges signes

We have already sampled First World War poetry with the work by Siegfried Sassoon, posted here on October 5th. Today we will join the French troops and look at a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire, who fought as an infantryman in the trenches, and was seriously wounded mid-way through the war. His experiences were the source of many poems, and I imagine writing was a way of filling time in the trenches in the long intervals between the assaults and bombardments. This poem is a combination of a love poem dedicated to the poet’s lover, Lou, and a reflection on the horrors of war and life in the trenches.

 

Côte 146

 

By Guillaume Apollinaire

 

Plus de fleurs mais d’étranges signes
Gesticulant dans les nuits bleues
Dans une adoration suprême mon beau ptit Lou que
tout mon être pareil aux nuages bas de juillet
s’incline devant ton souvenir
Il est là comme une tête de plâtre blanche,
éperdument auprès d’un anneau d’or
Dans le fond s’éloignent les voeux qui se retournent quelquefois
Entends jouer cette musique toujours pareille tout le jour
Ma solitude splénétique qu’éclaire seul le lointain
Et puissant projecteur de mon Amour
J’entends la grave voix de la grosse artillerie boche
Devant moi dans la direction des boyaux
Il y a un cimetière où l’on a semé quarante-six mille soldats
Quelles semailles dont il faut sans peur attendre la moisson !
C’est devant ce site désolé s’il en fut
Que tandis que j’écris ma lettre appuyant mon
papier sur une plaque de fibro ciment
Je regarde aussi un portrait en grand chapeau
Et quelques-uns de mes compagnons
ont vu ton portrait
Et pensant bien que je te connaissais
Ils ont demandé :
« Qui donc est-elle ? »
Et je n’ai pas su que leur répondr
Car je me suis aperçu brusquement
Qu’encore aujourd’hui je ne te connais pas bien
Et toi dans ta photo profonde comme la lumière
tu souris toujours.

 
From <http://www.mptmagazine.com/poem/cte-146-372/&gt;

 
The poem begins with an evocation of how Apollinaire is constantly thinking of his lover while in the trenches. He feels his memory of her is watching over him like a plaster bust. However, the subject quickly veers to the harsh and dangerous realities of a soldier’s life as the poem talks of the German artillery and of 46000 fallen soldiers buried in a nearby cemetery.

In the final third of the poet, we see the expression of the poet’s fundamental solitude in the face of his situation and of the absence of his lover. Her picture is pinned up on the side of his trenches and the poet’s fellow-soldiers admire her and ask about her. But the poet realises he cannot really know her from the enigmatically smiling photo and so is placed in front of his fundamental solitude.

The poem brings home a very human side of the experience of the soldier’s life in World War one. It is not just about the horrors, tragedies and violence of war, but also about the more human experience of separation, longing for love and solitude.

See the posts from September 30thand November 2nd for examples of Apollinaire’s peace time poetry,

 
The Poetry Dude

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