Tuesday, November 3, 2009

“The Door”

Long-time readers of Robert Frost’s Banjo know I love Apollinaire’s poetry, & today’s offering for Translation Tuesday is one of his shorter poems from the 1913 collection Alcools.

This poem has always fascinated me because of its compression & deep feeling; because it’s short, I’ve also included the French original. A couple of points: the French word “anges” of course means “angels,” but it can also mean “angelfish.” I don’t know any way of delivering both terms simultaneously in English. The pi-mus fish is a mythical creature that swims coupled, only having one eye apiece.

Hope you enjoy this.

The Door

The hotel door smiles terribly
What has this done to me mother
Being the clerk for whom alone nothing exists
Pi-mus fish moving coupled through deep sad water
Fresh angels disembarked at Marseilles yesterday morning
I hear a distant song dying and dying again
Humble as I am who am worth nothing

Child I've given you what I had labor

Guillaume Apollinaire
translation by John Hayes © 1990-2009

La Porte

La porte de l'hôtel sourit terriblement
Qu'est-ce que cela peut me faire ô ma maman
D'être cet employé pour qui seul rien n'existe
Pi-mus couples allant dans la profonde eau triste
Anges frais débarqués à Marseille hier matin
J'entends mourir et remourir un chant lointain
Humble comme je suis qui ne suis rien qui vaille

Enfant je t'ai donné ce que j'avais travaille

Guillaume Apollinaire

The picture shows Marie Laurencin’s painting Apollinaire et ses amis - 1909


  1. As always, your translation is potent yet elegant. You have many talents, you do!

  2. I like it. Some hints of the industrialism found in Neruda's stuff. Nice.

  3. Lovely piece and painting. I was immediately put in mind of the film, "The Shining", for some reason—the hotel, the door, perhaps.
    I also visualized on of those thick, round, glass windows circa the 40s or 50s in the door, rather like a porthole—the fish swimming past. Then I came to the "Diving Bell and the Butterfly" notion and circled back to the whole French experience. It really was quite amazing from such a short poem. Thanks, or should I say, "Merci"?

  4. Hi Jeffscape & Kat

    Jeffscape: Thanks--glad you liked it & thanks for stopping by. Took a look at Irreverent Irrelevance & liked what I saw; will be back for a longer visit.

    Kat: Je vous en prie! I like your idea of the porthole windows very much.

  5. I pictured a heavy vintage revolving door. The dying and dying again is the repetition of the door. Loved this, John, and the artwork, too. Thank you.

  6. What a lonely poem - lonely poet, it would seem - and look at the painting. He seems to have many friends, yet nobody looks happy, and they all turn away from him.

  7. What a sad, potent little paragraph. The emotional compression is wonderful. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. Hi Mairi: & thanks. Apollinaire's poem is truly great. The mother's final sentence is a moment of the truest poetry.

  9. Hi Sandra: Sorry I missed your comment! I've been running a bit ragged the past couple of days. That's a good point about how people are oriented in the painting. Apollinaire's personal life was really complicated, & did involve one major disappointment in love.


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