Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Poem Read At André Salmon’s Wedding"

Valentine’s Day happily coincided with our usual Weekly Poem post, & this poem by the great French poet Apollinaire (translated by this humble US poet, yours truly) seems a fitting selection. Those of you who’ve been following the blog for a while may recall that I hold Apollinaire’s poetry in very high regard…. Apollinaire’s Banjo? No, it just doesn’t work….

Poem Read at André Salmon’s Wedding (Poème Lu au Mariage d’André Salmon) is, as the title strongly suggests, an occasional poem. In her bi-lingual edition of Apollinaire’s Alcools, Ann Hyde Greet points out that the poet liked to tell people he wrote the poem on the top tier of a double-decker bus on the way to the wedding, & while his friend René Dalize talked to him incessantly. Greet notes that Apollinaire had a penchant for embellishment, shall we say, & that there is manuscript evidence showing he actually worked on the poem for some time.

The poem is such a wonderful celebration of love—not only the sexual or romantic love of the wedding, but the love of friendship & camaraderie, the love within a community, the love of country (it should be noted that the wedding took place on the eve of Bastille Day, La Fête Nationale or quatorze juillet – hence the flags), & finally moving to a cosmic love: “L’amour qui emplit ainsi que de lumière/Tout le solide espace entre les étoiles et les planètes”—i.e., “Love filling like light/All the solid space between stars and planets.”

Hope you enjoy this truly wonderful French poem in its modest English attire. For those who are so inclined (& if you have French, I wholeheartedly encourage this), you can read all of Alcools on Project Gutenberg here.

Poem Read At André Salmon’s Wedding

July 13 1909

Seeing the flags this morning I didn’t tell myself
Behold the rich garments of the poor
Or democratic modesty wants to veil its sorrow
Or honoring liberty now makes us imitate
Leaves o vegetable liberty o sole earthly liberty
Or the houses are ablaze because we’ll leave never to return
Or these restless hands will labor tomorrow for us all
Or even they’ve hanged those who couldn’t make the most of life
Or even they’ve renewed the world by recapturing the Bastille
I know it’s only renewed by those grounded in poetry
Paris is decked out because my friend André Salmon’s getting married           there

We used to meet up in a damnable dive
When we were young
Both of us smoking and shabbily dressed waiting for sunrise
Smitten smitten with the same words whose meanings will have to be           changed
Deceived deceived poor kids and we still didn’t know how to laugh
The table and two glasses became a dying man who cast us Orpheus’           last glance
The glasses fell shattered
And we learned how to laugh
We parted then pilgrims of perdition
Across streets across countries across reason
I saw him again on the bank of the river where Ophelia was floating
Who still floats white amongst the water lilies
He went off amongst wan Hamlets
Playing the airs of madness on his flute
I saw him near a dying muzhik counting his blessings
While admiring the snow that looked like naked women
I saw him doing this or that in honor of the same words
That change children’s expressions and I’m saying these things
Recollection and Expectation because my friend André Salmon is                getting married

Let’s rejoice not because our friendship has been the river that made           us fertile
River lands whose abundance is the nourishment all hope for
Or because our glasses cast once more Orpheus’ dying glance
Or because we’ve grown so large that many people confuse our eyes           with stars
Or because flags flap at the windows of citizens who’ve been content these hundred years
to have life and trifles to defend
Or because grounded in poetry we have the right to words that form           and unmake the Universe
Or because we can weep without being absurd and because we know           how to laugh
Or because we’re smoking and drinking as in the old days
Let’s rejoice because the director of fire and poets
Love filling like light
All the solid space between stars and planets
Love wishes that my friend André Salmon get married today

Guillaume Apollinaire
translated by John Hayes © 1992-2009

The picture is Portrait du poète (Guillaume Apollinaire), 1903, by Maurice de Vlaminck

(By the by: Eberle & I will be gone much of the day to Boise for a nice getaway, so I’m turning “moderation” off—play nice! I’m sure you will. There will be a later post today about a new Musical Questions guest, so stay tuned).


  1. Wow!! That is truly incredible. I'm going to have to read it again to really take it all in. So many levels of ideas presented with just a few words.


  2. Hi Reya:

    Yes, Apollinaire's poem is deep & beautiful. Thanks.

  3. Interesting post. I like what you are doing and the words are special to me.

  4. Reading the poem, in a fine translation, at first I was thinking, ah, to live in such times and have such friends -- instead of today with TV and texting and info overload. And then I thought that we can choose to live in our own such times and can connect across time zones with such new blog friends as John sharing such thoughts, connecting with more old friends, and new, at deep levels. Ah, we live in such times.

  5. John, reading this post was a lovely way to begin Valentine's Day. I especially am fond of these lines:

    "Or because grounded in poetry we have the right/to words that form and unmake the Universe"

    I love this notion, that as poets we have our own rights, granted, I believe, by our nature. No need for a statewide vote on this!

  6. Deep and lovely poem, Mr. Banjo. I'm sure it is absolutely fabulous in French. Nice English translation, though.

    Happy Valentine's Day!

  7. Oh, and I forgot to say how much I adore the portrait! Thanks for including it in your post.

  8. Abe Lincoln, Don, T. & Willow: Thanks for all your nice comments-- we've been away all day for a wonderful time in the early spring weather of Boise-- back to winter. Ah well-- great to come home to your comments.

  9. Ah, the cat's back, so I guess I have to be good...I hope you had a lovely day in Boise. As for the poem, I wonder why, out of so many beautiful words, this line, "Paris is decked out because my friend André Salmon’s getting married there" touches me so -but it does. Thank you.

  10. Sandra: We had a great day, but I'm tired-- do want to stop off & read the chicken story, & looking forward to doing so tomorrow.

    Don: Yes, I agree with the sentiments you expressed-- I do feel that the blog community is great at forging connections in a rather novel way.


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