Today’s poem by Paul Eluard combines the theme of the great city of Paris, with the rhythm and structure of a nursery rhyme and the idea, often linked with the revolutionary history of the Paris mob, of the overturning of the established order in which those at the bottom overthrow and destroy those at the top.
Dans Paris il y a une rue;
Dans cette rue il y a une maison;
Dans cette maison il y a un escalier;
Dans cet escalier il y a une chambre;
Dans cette chambre il y a une table;
Sur cette table il y a un tapis;
Sur ce tapis il y a une cage;
Dans cette cage il y a un nid;
Dans ce nid il y a un œuf,
Dans cet œuf il y a un oiseau.
L’oiseau renversa l’œuf;
L’œuf renversa le nid;
Le nid renversa la cage;
La cage renversa le tapis;
Le tapis renversa la table;
La table renversa la chambre;
La chambre renversa l’escalier;
L’escalier renversa la maison;
la maison renversa la rue;
la rue renversa la ville de Paris.
The nursery rhyme element of this is clear – it is like a Russian doll, where one piece contains another and so on down to the smallest element. So it starts with the street and continues by steps until getting to the bird, which is in the egg. Each line therefore repeats the key element of the previous line and then build on it by revealing the next element. Remember “The house that Jack built” or “There was an old woman who swallowed a fly” for this construction.
The difference comes in the second half of the poem where the sequence of connections goes into reverse, and the elements at the bottom of the pyramid sequentially overthrow what was above them. This is the part where the revolutionary tradition of Paris comes into play, and the history of the downtrodden masses taking to the streets from 1789 to 1968 (and even up to the present day) is portrayed with the final line literally describing what has so often happened in French and Parisian history.
The Poetry Dude