La chambre est veuve

Here is a nice poem by Guillaume Apollinaire, writing in the early 1900s, about the type of cheap hotel you can get if you arrive in a strange city, without much money and with no contacts. The hotels in question are probably near the railway station, on a poorly lit back street with a dim sign, just saying “Rooms”. This rings a bell with me, reminding me of travel in Europe when I was a penniless student.


La chambre est veuve
Chacun pour soi
Présence neuve
On paye au mois

Le patron doute
Je tourne en route
Comme un toton

Le bruit des fiacres
Mon voisin laid
Qui fume un âcre
Tabac anglais

O La Vallière
Qui boite et rit
De mes prières
Table de nuit

Et tous ensemble
Dans cet hôtel
Savons la langue
Comme à Babel

Fermons nos portes
À double tour
Chacun apporte
Son seul amour

Guillaume APOLLINAIRE, Alcools (1913)
© 1920 Éditions Gallimard

From <;

The atmosphere of dingy suspicion is established right at the start – the room is like a widow, with no companionship, the hotel owner asks for a month’s payment in advance but in fact is always wondering if his clients can pay.

Boredom, the incursion of noise from the street and the smell of tobacco from the next room; the night-table with one leg shorter than the other, ironically compared to Louis XV’s mistress, Mme La Valliere, who walked with a limp – the room is uncomfortable, somewhat sordid but with outdated remnants of grandeur.

As in the tower of Babel, many languages are spoken in this hotel, as drifters and down and outs from all parts of the world pass through here, trying to eke out their meagre earnings or savings. They are all together in the same boat, but they are all alone. The final stanza is particularly poignant, make sure your door is double-locked, there is no love but for yourself in this hotel.

The Poetry Dude


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s