I forget where I learned of Guillaume Apollinaire originally – but I know it was sometime in the very early 1990’s when I was trying to learn French and spending countless hours immersing myself in that language’s ocean of surrealist and symbolist poetry.

Apollinaire coined the word surrealism.

He was the an influential early champion of cubism.

In addition to being a fine poet and art critic, he semi-secretly wrote erotica, which was banned in France until long after his death.

He was once arrested on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa.

His best friends included Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Erik Satie, Jean Cocteau and Marcel Duchamp.

At age 36, he was wounded by shrapnel to the head in World War I.

He died at age 38 during the Spanish flu pandemic.





According to at least one critic, “Apollinaire has been so influential that without him there would have been no New York School of poetry and no Beat Movement.”  Here’s a sample of his work – an appetizer of sorts, called “Le pont Mirabeau” (“The Mirabeau Bridge”).  Since there is no substitute for the original French, which contains brilliant imagery and turns of phrase that are difficult to render into English without losing some of their magnificence, I will post the original first, followed by an English translation by John Irons.


Le pont Mirabeau

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






Guillaume Apollinaire sporting his war wound bandage


The Mirabeau Bridge

Under the Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine
And all our loves
Why does it make so plain
That any joy must always follow pain
Let the night come the hour sound clear
The days all pass I’m still here
Our hands intertwined let’s stay face to face
While far below
The bridge of our arms strays
The languid wave of each endless gaze
Let the night come the hour sound clear
The days all pass I’m still here
Our love drifts away like these waters flow
Love drifts away
And our lives are so slow
With Hope more violent than we could know
Let the night come the hour sound clear
The days all pass I’m still here.
The days and weeks pass in a ceaseless train
But no past time
Or past love comes again
Under the Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine
Let the night come the hour sound clear
The days all pass I’m still here.





















 
* * *

Here are a couple of graphic poems by Apollinaire in his own hand.
Needless to say, they are very difficult to translate:









For a free e-book dowload of Apollinaire’s poetry collection Alcools (my favorite) in French
click here: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15462

For a pretty good online biography of Apollinaire
click here: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/apollina.htm

To order Apollinaire-related materials from my Amazon bookstore:


     

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