This poem from Apollinaire is somewhere between a love poem and a war poem, both an expression of his feelings for the poet’s lover, Lou, and a reminder of one of the effects of war, soldiers being parted from their loved ones wondering if they will ever see them again. (And in World War 1, millions from both sides never came back)
The title, Adieu, expresses this uncertainty, it is the word for goodbye used when that goodbye might be definitive, irrevocable, rather than the more usual Au revoir, which is goodbye with the expectation of another meeting soon.
So here we have the poet saying goodbye to his lover, Lou, as they part after time together in Nimes, in the south of France. She is returning to Paris, he to his artillery regiment. It is in February 1915.
L’amour est libre il n’est jamais soumis au sort
O Lou le mien est plus fort encor que la mort
Un cœur le mien te suit dans ton voyage au Nord
Lettres Envoie aussi des lettres ma chérie
On aime en recevoir dans notre artillerie
Une par jour au moins une au moins je t’en prie
Lentement la nuit noire est tombée à présent
On va rentrer après avoir acquis du zan
Une deux trois A toi ma vie A toi mon sang
La nuit mon coeur la nuit est très douce et très blonde
O Lou le ciel est pur aujourd’hui comme une onde
Un cœur le mien te suit jusques au bout du monde
L’heure est venue Adieu l’heure de ton départ
On va rentrer Il est neuf heures moins le quart
Une deux trois Adieu de Nîmes dans le Gard
4 fév. 1915
The first line expresses the intent of the poet to reinforce his message of love – he says love is a product of free will, not of chance or destiny. Since love is a product of choice, it has that much stronger meaning. And the next two lines of this first stanza make that sentiment personal – Apollinaire says his own love is stronger than death; his heart will be with Lou as she travels back to the North.
The second stanza again links the notions of love with the reality of being a serving soldier. The poet asks for her to send him letters, one a day, at least one a day, he begs her. The repetition of “au moins” increases the intensity of feeling, adding urgency and pathos to the end of the line, “je t’en prie”. Anything to remind the soldier that there is a world of love and comfort away from the danger and discomfort of life on the front line.
In the third stanza we return to the scene of parting as the night falls, and the poet dedicates his life and his blood to his lover. I don’t know exactly the meaning of “zan”, but it could mean that they have found new energy or vitality from being together for a short while.
In the fourth stanza Apollinaire repeats the references to the night, now gentle and blonde, rather than dark (perhaps indicating that Lou had blonde hair?). And we get another repetition of the poet’s heart following her, but this time the feeling is deeper as it will follow her to the ends of the earth.
And the final stanza has the moment of parting, presumably as Lou gets on her train back to Paris, at precisely a quarter to nine in the evening, leaving from Nimes in the departement of Gard. The potential finality of this parting is again reinforced with two mentions of the word Adieu in the stanza, echoing the title.
The Poetry Dude