Guilleaume Apollinaire (wiki)

Apollinaire was an innovative French poet, trying to break from the conventions of his time. He was born in Rome of a Polish mother. His friend Picasso used to joke about his father being the pope, but he grew up and lived in Paris. He was an important figure in the development of Futurism, Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism. His poem 1909 is an important illustration of his style. Set during the belle époque, it deals with the poet’s ambivalence about his times, with one foot in pessimism and the other in optimism. On the one hand the symbolic woman has a face like the French tricolor, with blue eyes, white teeth and very red lips. The poet is attracted to her, but is in awe of her too. However, his admiration for those women who work hard for a living, moving heavy machinery, is without reserve. Line 14 refers to Cinderella’s dread of midnight. His fascination for the new genres he helped developing did not stop him writing the very traditional Sur le pont Mirabeau, which has been very popular with French singers. I include two of his best known poems and my translations.

La dame avait une robe

En ottoman violine

Et sa tunique brodée d’or

Était composée de deux panneaux

S’attachant sur l’épaule

Les yeux dansants comme des anges

Elle riait elle riait

Elle avait un visage aux couleurs de France

Les yeux bleus les dents blanches et les lèvres très rouges

Elle avait un visage aux couleurs de France

Elle était décolletée en rond

Et coiffée à la Récamier

Avec de beaux bras nus

N’entendra-t-on jamais sonner minuit

La dame en robe d’ottoman violine

Et en tunique brodée d’or

Décolletée en rond

Promenait ses boucles

Son bandeau d’or

Et traînait ses petits souliers à boucles

Elle était si belle

Que tu n’aurais pas osé l’aimer

J’aimais les femmes atroces dans les quartiers énormes

Où naissaient chaque jour quelques êtres nouveaux

Le fer était leur sang la flamme leur cerveau

J’aimais j’aimais le peuple habile des machines

Le luxe et la beauté ne sont que son écume

Cette femme était si belle

Qu’elle me faisait peur

-

The lady wore a gown

In thick ottoman violet fabric

Gold- embroidered was her tunic

Made of two panels

Tied to her shoulders

Her eyes like angels were dancing

She could not stop laughing

Her face was of the French tricolor

Blue eyes, white teeth and very red lips

She had a face in the colours of France

She had a round plunging neckline

And a Récamier hairdo

With two uncovered arms

Will we even hear the twelve strokes of midnight?

The lady in the violet ottoman fabric

And the embroidered tunic

With the plunging neckline

Was taking her curls for a walk

Her golden bandeau

Dragging her little shoes with the buckles

She was so handsome, so awesome

You wouldn’t have dared come near

I loved formidable women in their massive slums

Where daily new beings come into existence

With iron in their blood and fire in their brains

Oh how I’ve loved the people toiling with machines

Luxury and beauty are nothing but the foam

That lady was so handsome

That I was in awe of her

***

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Et nos amours

Faut-il qu’il m’en souvienne

La joie venait toujours après la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face

Tandis que sous

Le pont de nos bras passe

Des éternels regards l’onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure

L’amour s’en va comme cette eau courante

L’amour s’en va

Comme la vie est lente

Et comme l’Espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines

Ni temps passé

Ni les amours reviennent

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure

_

Under the Pont Mirabeau the Seine flows

As does our love

Remember when you’re prey to woes

Happiness is the heir to sorrows

Cometh the night ringeth the chimes

Days go by but I’m for all times

Hand in hand we stay face to face

Whilst under

Our entwined arms race

Weary waves of eternal grace

Cometh the night ringeth the chimes

Days go by but I’m for all times

Love walks on by like this river flows

Love walks on by

How the course of life is slow

And how Hope and Life come to blows

Cometh the night ringeth the chimes

Days go by but I’m for all times

Days whizz by and weeks too God knows …

Neither times now gone

Nor love ever return I suppose

Cometh the night ringeth the chimes

Days go by but I’m for all times

Prizewinning playwright. Mathematician. Teacher. Professional Siesta addict.