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Guillaume Apollinaire


In the end you are sick and tired of antiquity

Dearest Eiffel Tower shepherdess how the flocks of bridges bleat
this morning

You’ve had it with living in the classical world

Even the cars look antique
Religion alone is still brand new religion
Remains uncomplicated as an aircraft hangar

Christianity is the only thing in Europe not officially ancient
Pope Pius X you are the very acme of European modernity
Scrutinised from twitching window-blinds you are far too ashamed
To go to church and confess
That yours is a poetry of crass handbills catalogues gaudy posters
While for prose you can always rely on the tabloids
Scandal sheets true crimes snapshots of bigshots by the thousand

Only today I noticed a neat little street (though its name escapes me)
Bright and new screaming with sunlight
Lard-arsed bosses labourers and sassy office-girls
Swagger and sashay down it Monday to Saturday four times a day
To the siren’s triple call
A clangourous bell sounds around noon
Signposts and graffiti
Nameplates and notices cackle like parakeets
I’m in love with the elegance of industrial streets
Like this one caught between the Rue Aumet-Thieville and the
Avenue des Ternes
Still babyish in its novelty decked out like an infant
Whose mother has dressed it in purest white and blue
You’re a good Catholic kid too like your old playmate René Delize
Loving nothing so much as the pomp and fakery of Church
At nine when the gas is turned down to a tiny blue flame you slip
from the dormitory
To spend the night on your knees in the old school chapel
While the eternal adorable amethyst deeps
The flamboyant glories of Christ forever revolve
The beautiful lily we all lovingly nurture
The auburn-haired torch the wind won’t extinguish
The pale- and ashes of roses-skinned son of a miserable mother
The pine tree of prayer
The tangled branches of honour and eternity
The six-pointed star
God who dies on Friday to be resurrected on Sunday
Christ who climbs the skies faster than fighter-pilots
Who holds the world altitude record

Christ the twinkle in your eye
The centuries’ twentieth pupil can do it alright
And become a bird how Jesus lifts into the air
While abyssal demons crane their necks to catch sight of Him
They say He has a look of Simon Magus of Judea
That if He knows how to fly then maybe he’s a little fly
by nature
Angels flutter round this divine aviator
Icarus Enoch Elijah and Apollonius of Tyana
Drift in the slipstream of the Squadron Leader
Occasionally peeling off to make way for the Eucharist
Borne aloft by eternally airborne priests
Without folding its wings the plane comes in to land
And the sky is filled with millions of swallows
Crows and falcons owls swoop in
From Africa ibis flamingos and marabous
The fabulous Roc of the epic poems
Glides down with Adam’s skull in its talons
With a sky-splitting cry the eagle planes from the far horizon
And from the distant Americas the pocket-sized hummingbird
wings in
From China sinuous feathered pi-his
Those with just one wing who can fly only in pairs
And finally the Dove the Spirit Immaculate
Chaperoned by a lyre bird a thousand-eyed peacock
And the self-consuming phoenix
Who for an instant veils everything with its ashes and cinders
Even the sirens abandon the seaways
And show up singing like seraphim
All of them eagle phoenix pi-his
Rubbing shoulders with the great and good Flying Machine

Now you are walking through Paris alone in the midst of crowds
Troops of grumbling coaches roll past you
Love’s pulsing anxiety swells in your throat
It’s as if you’ll never be loved again
In bygone days you’d have entered a monastery
Now you’re ashamed to catch yourself mumbling a prayer
You mock yourself and your laughter crackles like infernal fire
It sparks up the dull unlit depths of your life
That is like a picture hung in a gloomy museum
Sometimes you go there and study it closely

Today you are walking in Paris and the women are gory
I wish I could forget it but it was the time of the waning of beauty

Surrounded by boiling flames Our Lady looked at me in Chartres
And I was drowned by the blood of the Sacred Heart in Montmartre
I sicken of hearing those blessed words
The love I suffer is like an infection
And the image of you persists through anguish and sleeplessness
Yet when I am near you it always disperses

Now you are by the shores of the Mediterranean
Under lemon trees that flower all the year round
You take a boat with some friends
A Nicean a Mentonian and two Turbiasques
You look down in horror at the deep-sea squid
And among the weeds swim the fishes of Christ

You are in a garden café on the outskirts of Prague
You feel happy there is a rose on the table
And instead of writing your story you stare
At the gun-metal sheen of the beetle asleep in the heart of the petals

Terrified you see yourself set in the stones of Saint Vitus
You were as miserable as sin the day you saw yourself there
You resemble Lazarus demented by daylight
The hands of the clock in the Jewish quarter run backwards
As you shrink slowly backwards through your own lifetime
Climbing to the Hradchin and in the evening listening
To Czech songs being sung in the taverns

Here you are in Marseilles among the watermelons

Here you are in Koblenz at the Sign of the Giant

Here you are in Rome under a Japanese medlar tree

Here you are in Amsterdam with a girl you think beautiful
but who is ugly
By rights she should be getting married to a student from Leyden
Where they let rooms in Latin Cubicula locanda
I remember it I spent three days there and the same at Gouda

You are in Paris at the Examining Magistrate’s
Like a criminal they have placed you under arrest
You had your share of heartbreak and happiness
Before you discovered falsehood and old age
You suffered love at twenty and at thirty
I have lived like an idiot and wasted my time
You no longer dare look at your hands and I feel as if I could
break down at any moment
Over you and the girl I loved over everything that has
petrified you

You are looking at the eyes of poor emigrants which are brimming
with tears
They believe in God and pray that their women will nurse their
Their stink fills the waiting rooms of the Gare St Lazare
They trust in the stars as the magi did
They dream of making money in the Argentine
And returning to their own countries with their new-found fortunes
One family carries a red eiderdown like you carry your
own heart
That eiderdown and our dreams are equally unreal
Some of the emigrants stay here and take lodgings
In the Rue des Rosier or the Rue des Ecouffes in hovels
I have seen them often in the street taking the air at evening
They move slowly and seldomly like pieces in a game of chess
And then there are Jews whose women wear wigs
And lie anaemically in the back-rooms of their shops

You are standing at the zinc counter of a crapulous bar
Drinking a two-bit coffee with the other deadbeats

You are in a famous restaurant at night

Those women are not so bad but they still have their troubles
Every last one of them has made her lover suffer even
the ugliest

And she is the daughter of a village policeman on Jersey

Her hands which I’d never noticed are hard and calloused

I feel a great pity for the scars on her belly

Now I put on a deferential face for a poor girl with a horrible laugh

You are alone and the dawn is breaking
Milkmen’s churns are ringing in the streets

Night fades like Métive the Beautiful
Like Ferdine the False like Leah the Forlorn

And you are drinking cheap shots that burn like your life
A life that you gulp down like a glass of calvados

You are walking towards Auteuil you want to go home on foot
To sleep among your fetishes from the South Seas and from Guinea
Which are Christs in other forms and of other beliefs
Subordinate Christs of obscurer longings

Farewell Farewell

Executed sun

Whilst I have not attempted to retain the rhyme scheme of Apollinaire’s poem – it seemed to me to do so would have been to pull the poem completely out of shape – I have tried to stay true to its tone, as well as to its considerable rhythmical power and drive. In doing so I have leaned heavily on Oliver Bernard’s 1965 translation (currently available in: Guillaume Apollinaire, Selected Poems, from Anvil Press). CJA

Translation copyright © C. J. Allen 2005