Today’s poem is quite a well-known piece by Guillaume Apollinaire, with a very personal inspiration, as it was written after he split up from one of his lover’s and she moved to the USA. The title “Annie” is the girl’s name.
Guillaume Apollinaire ((1880 – 1918)
(from Alcools, 1913; first published Sept. 1912)
Sur la côte du Texas
Entre Mobile et Galveston il y a
Un grand jardin tout plein de roses
Il contient aussi une villa
Qui est une grande rose
Une femme se promène souvent
Dans le jardin toute seule
Et quand je passe sur la route bordée de tilleuls
Nous nous regardons
Comme cette femme est mennonite
Ses rosiers et ses vêtements n’ont pas de boutons
Il en manque deux à mon veston
La dame et moi suivons presque le même rite
This is a short poem, with no obviously consistent structure. There are three stanzas of various lengths, and the lines are also of various lengths. Each stanza has some rhymes, but they are not organized in the same way; the first stanza rhymes the second and fourth lines, and the third and fifth lines. The second stanza rhymes the first and fourth line, and the second and third; the third stanza rhymes the first and fourth lines and then the second and third. Does this irregularity distract from the quality of the poem? Not really, for me I find it focusses attention more on the content and the individual words spoken.
The first couple of lines give a geographical reference – on the coast of Texas, between Mobile and Galveston. Mobile is of course in Alabama, and there is also Louisiana between Alabama and Texas – but there is plenty of Texas coast between Galveston and the border with Louisiana which validates the reference – although New Orleans would have been a closer reference point than Mobile. Then the remainder of the stanza describes a rose garden with a villa, which is also like a rose, or perhaps covered in pink stucco. This is Apollinaire describing, or more likely imagining, the place where his former lover, Annie, has come to live.
The second stanza describes a woman walking alone in this garden, and exchanging glances with the poet when he passes by. This must be purely imaginary, as I don’t think Apollinaire ever visited Texas. Instead it is an expression of how much he misses Annie.
The final stanza becomes even more bizarre as he characterizes the woman as a Mennonite – this is a religion which is somewhat like the Amish. Her clothing has no buttons, like the poet’s, and so the final line creates a connection between them. This is very strange, as I don’t think Annie was a Mennonite, and so there is now a clear distance between the subject of the poem and its title. Perhaps he was trying to emphasise his acceptance of their separation by making the woman in the poem as different as possible from his lover.
The Poetry Dude