Ô mon très cher amour, toi mon oeuvre et que j’aime,

A nice love sonnet from Apollinaire in which the poet’s strength of feeling competes for attention with his erudition and somewhat unusual poetic point of view. The erudition comes right up front with the title, and sends the reader to either try and remember a bit of schoolboy Latin, or more likely these days to write a query in Google translate. Whatever the route, we find that the poet’s lover is revealed through the agency of a soothsayer (forsooth…) And the poet’s unconventional point of view is that he has actually created his lover, a bit like a sculptor creates a statue and like a poet creates a magical poem. That reminds me of Shakespeare, in many of whose sonnets he makes the preservation of his lovers youth and beauty the responsibility and achievement of the poet.


Per te prasentit aruspex

Ô mon très cher amour, toi mon oeuvre et que j’aime,
A jamais j’allumai le feu de ton regard,
Je t’aime comme j’aime une belle oeuvre d’art,
Une noble statue, un magique poème.

Tu seras, mon aimée, un témoin de moi-même.
Je te crée à jamais pour qu’après mon départ,
Tu transmettes mon nom aux hommes en retard
Toi, la vie et l’amour, ma gloire et mon emblème;

Et je suis soucieux de ta grande beauté
Bien plus que tu ne peux toi-même en être fière:
C’est moi qui l’ai conçue et faite tout entière.

Ainsi, belle oeuvre d’art, nos amours ont été
Et seront l’ornement du ciel et de la terre,
Ô toi, ma créature et ma divinité !

From <http://manfred.b.free.fr/apollinaire/apollinaire03.htm&gt;

The first and last lines of the sonnet are symmetrically addressed to the poet’s lover, but both underscore the central role of the poet himself in creating her as if she is a work of art, or a divinity (or a divinity represented in a work of art I suppose. And her role is not just to receive the poet’s homage as an idealised version of herself, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to act as a vehicle conveying Apollinaire’s talent to posterity (lines 6 and 7).

In fact, the idea of the poet’s lover as a woman of flesh and blood, capable of returning his feelings, never takes off here, here existence is solely dependent on the whim and talent of Apollinaire himself.

Somehow I doubt that this was one of her favourite poems.

The Poetry Dude

L’amour est libre il n’est jamais soumis au sort

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.

Adieu !

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 

From <http://bacdefrancais.net/lou.php&gt;

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

J’ai vu Paris dans l’ombre

Simply entitled Paris, this first world war poem from Apollinaire evokes the sights and atmosphere of the city from the point of view of a soldier on leave from the front line, which was quite close to Paris. We are implicitly invited to imagine the contrast between life in the city and life in the squalor and danger of the trenches.

And then there is the final line of the poem to express the poet’s main preoccupation.


J’ai vu Paris dans l’ombre
Hypogée où l’on riait trop
Paris une grande améthyste
Ces soldats belges en troupe
Vieilles femmes habillées en Perrette
Après le pot-au-lait
L’officier-pilote raconte ses exploits
J’ai entendu la berloque
Mais quel sourire celui de celui qui eut sursis d’appel illimité
Ombre de la statue de Shakespeare sur le Boulevard Haussmann
Laideur des costumes civils des hommes qui ne sont pas partis
Les peintres travaillaient
Mon cœur t’adore

Guillaume Apollinaire(1880 – 1918)

From <http://www.toutelapoesie.com/poemes/apollinaire/paris.htm&gt;

Once again we can read Apollinaire and come away with an expanded vocabulary. Hypogee, Perrette, berloque.

Hypogee is an underground burial chamber, so yes, Paris with the street lights dimmed or extinguished at night could well suggest this, but then the qualifier – where people laughed too much – is incongruous, suggesting the frivolity of those who managed to stay in the city rather than go and fight on the front line. There are some references to this type of thing in Proust also, of course.

Perrette – a character in a fable by La Fontaine, “La Laitière et le Pot au Lait”, who goes to town to buy milk

“Ayant mis ce jour-là, pour être plus agile,
Cotillon simple, et souliers plats.”

So in this poem the Belgian troops are like old ladies dressed very simply, perhaps because they have not been given proper uniforms and equipment.

Berloque – a drum, used to call soldiers in for meals or a roll-call. When Apollinaire says he has heard the drum, he is saying that he is a soldier, then he immediately goes on to contrast this with the broad smile of someone who has been given an unlimited deferment of being called-up.

So the poem is a direct criticism of the cosy civilian life of those in the city who are carrying on their normal occupations in as much comfort as they can muster, while the soldiers are risking their lives close by, in constant danger and discomfort.

And the final line reminds us of Apollinaire’s constant preoccupation – his love from which he is separated while at the front. His passion is so strong and omnipresent that it bursts through, even in a poem which is more one of social commentary and criticism.

The Poetry Dude

Le mai le joli mai en barque sur le Rhin

Here is a poem for the month of May from Guillaume Apollinaire, appropriately titled, “Mai”. Looks like he was on a springtime cruise down the Rhine when he wrote this. Very nice.


Le mai le joli mai en barque sur le Rhin
Des dames regardaient du haut de la montagne
Vous êtes si jolies mais la barque s’éloigne
Qui donc a fait pleurer les saules riverains ?
Or des vergers fleuris se figeaient en arrière
Les pétales tombés des cerisiers de mai
Sont les ongles de celle que j’ai tant aimée
Les pétales fleuris sont comme ses paupières
Sur le chemin du bord du fleuve lentement
Un ours un singe un chien menés par des tziganes
Suivaient une roulotte traînée par un âne
Tandis que s’éloignait dans les vignes rhénanes
Sur un fifre lointain un air de régiment
Le mai le joli mai a paré les ruines
De lierre de vigne vierge et de rosiers
Le vent du Rhin secoue sur le bord les osiers
Et les roseaux jaseurs et les fleurs nues des vignes

Guillaume Apollinaire, Alcools, 1913

From <http://www.poetica.fr/poeme-781/guillaume-apollinaire-mai/&gt;

Like many a romantic before him, Apollinaire sees or imagines, women watching over his journey along the river from the overlooking mountains. Are they real or spirits? It really doesn’t matter, as it inspires the poet to look at and appreciate the riverside scenery, the trees, plants and flowers beginning to bloom in the month of May.

Continuing the romantic imagery, we have the gypsy band with its bear, monkey, and dog travelling along the side of the river; and somebody playing a pipe while walking through the vineyards. All very pleasant.

This is a poem entirely without angst or deep thoughts about life, love, death or the questions of philosophy. Its good to have a pleasant, undemanding piece of verse from time to time.

The Poetry Dude

Ma bouche aura des ardeurs de géhenne

Here is another World War One poem from Guillaume Apollinaire, written in the trenches on the western front. The title, “Chef de section”, I guess would be something like platoon sergeant, I’m not sure whether that was the poet’s rank, but it is a detail which is rather immaterial to the rest of the poem. Many poems written in these circumstances focus on the absurdity and brutal suffering of war; some focus on details of the soldier’s direct experience. This poem deals with what can go through a soldier’s head as he is waiting to go over the top – not fear, or rage, or calculation, but escapist, erotic fantasy about a long kiss with his loved one. It has the ring of truth about it, particularly as Apollinaire wrote a whole collection of love poems while he was serving at the front, marrying the experience of a soldier with physical and emotional thoughts of separation and longing.

Chef de section

Ma bouche aura des ardeurs de géhenne
Ma bouche te sera un enfer de douceur et de séduction
Les anges de ma bouche trôneront dans ton cœur
Les soldats de ma bouche te prendront d’assaut
Les prêtres de ma bouche encenseront ta beauté
Ton âme s’agitera comme une région pendant un tremblement de terre
Tes yeux seront alors chargés de tout l’amour qui s’est amassé dans les regards de l’humanité depuis qu’elle existe
Ma bouche sera une armée contre toi une armée pleine de disparates
Variée comme un enchanteur qui sait varier ses métamorphoses
L’orchestre et les chœurs de ma bouche te diront mon amour
Elle te le murmure de loin
Tandis que les yeux fixés sur la montre j’attends la minute prescrite pour l’assaut

Guillaume Apollinaire(1880 – 1918)

From <http://www.toutelapoesie.com/poemes/apollinaire/chef_de_section.htm&gt;

The sensual nature of the poem is captured immediately with the opening words, “ma bouche”, and, just so we don’t forget that this poem is about kissing, “ma bouche” is repeated 6 more times through this relatively short, 12 line poem. Each time it introduces a new metaphor about the kiss which the poet so desires, and which occupies his thoughts. The kiss has elements of infernal suffering alongside elements of ecstasy and pleasure. Great forces are at work in the kiss – angels, priests, an earthquake, an army, a wizard, an orchestra and choir , this is no ordinary kiss, it channels all the energy and emotion of a great, impossible love. Of course, it is not a real kiss, it is the fantasy of a soldier who knows he is about to into harm’s way and might die in the forthcoming attack. The last line of the poem, almost a throwaway, brings us back from the fantasy to that reality, as the poet looks at his watch and waits for the time planned for the next attack. There is a sharp contrast between the neutral, sparse tone of this last line, and the emotionally charged language which precedes it, describing the desired kiss.

Fantasy can help, but ultimately there is no escape from reality.

Another reason I like Apollinaire is that he had such a fabulous vocabulary, I almost always learn a new word or two from his poems. How about “gehenne” in the first line?

The Poetry Dude

La fumée de la cantine est comme la nuit qui vient 

The First World War was a rich source of poetic inspiration which I revisit today with this poem from Guillaume Apollinaire who fought in the trenches in 1015 and 1916 and was ultimately wounded in the head from the explosion of a shell during a German bombardment. He did not die of his wounds, but succumbed to the Spanish flu epidemic a couple of years later. Other World War 1 poems I have posted here focus on the horrors and futility of war as experienced by the poets and their comrades – I have posted such poems from Sassoon, Yeats and Apollinaire himself. This poem, however, has a somewhat different feel to it, it is more of a wistful evocation of the comradeship of the soldiers and the patriotic imperative which has put them in this situation. It is love of their country which has inspired them to put themselves in danger, to experience the discomforts and terrible consequences of the conflict. And this viewpoint is of course completely compatible with the idea of war as a completely destructive force.

La fumée de la cantine est comme la nuit qui vient
Voix hautes ou graves le vin saigne partout
Je tire ma pipe libre et fier parmi mes camarades
Ils partirons avec moi pour les champs de bataille
Ils dormirons la nuit sous la pluie ou les étoiles
Ils galoperont avec moi portant en croupe des victoires
Ils obéiront avec moi aux mêmes commandements
Ils écouteront attentifs les sublimes fanfares
Ils mourront près de moi et moi peut-être près d’eux
Ils souffriront du froid et du soleil avec moi
Ils sont des hommes ceux-ci qui boivent avec moi
Ils obéissent avec moi aux lois de l’homme
Ils regardent sur les routes les femmes qui passent
Ils les désirent mais moi j’ai des plus hautes amours
Qui règnent sur mon cœur mes sens et mon cerveau
Et qui sont ma patrie ma famille et mon espérance
À moi soldat amoureux soldat de la douce France

From <http://www.paradis-des-albatros.fr/?poeme=apollinaire/la-fumee-de-la-cantine-est-comme-la-nuit-qui-vient&gt;

The poem describes a group of soldiers in the evening, enjoying their rations, smoking their pipes, in a moment of relaxation and contentment amidst the ravages of war. The third line reveals the poet’s pride in being part of this comradeship, there is a sense of solidarity which is a glue which makes troops work well together. The next eleven lines all begin with the word “ils”, they, and enumerates the experiences, tasks and deprivations which they will all experience along with the poet – they will all leave for the battlefields, they will all sleep under the rain and stars, they will all obey the same orders, they will all die or suffer alongside the poet. Apollinaire takes comfort from sharing the same fate with all these other ordinary soldiers and this helps him endure the experience of war. They all look at the same women passing by on the road, but then the poet finishes the poem with another love – the love of his country, which is in the deepest sense his family, his homeland and all his hopes – la douce France, sweet France. This is not the jingoistic, mindless patriotism of Sassoon’s general, it is a sense of identity which makes even war worth fighting to preserve.

The Poetry Dude

Sur la côte du Texas

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

From <http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/Apollinaire_Annie.html&gt;

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.

To ponder….

The Poetry Dude