Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“Hunting Horns”

Happy Tuesday, folks! This is the final translation for December, so it ends our month of Apollinaire. I haven’t decided what (if any) theme Translation Tuesday will have in January, but do be sure to check in next week for one of B.N.’s fantastic poems.

“Hunting Horns” (“Cors de chasse”) was first published in 1912, tho lines 6-7 (& by extension, line 8) date to an earlier time, when Apollinaire was still working out his failed love affair with Annie, a process that also produced such wonderful poems as “Annie,” “L’Émigrant de Landor Road,” & “La Chanson du Mal-Aimé”—in fact lines 6-7 of this poem appear in a manuscript form of the latter work. This poem specifically is thought to be less about Annie, however, & more about the end of his relationship with Marie Laurencin. It strikes me, however, that this needn’t be an either/or situation, & that the two incidents could readily coalesce in the poetic imagination.

Thomas de Quincey is, of course, the author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater; as I understand it, de Quincey became infatuated during a single encounter with a streetwalker named Annie, but could never find her again. Apollinaire sees de Quincey as drinking opium to her memory—a complex image, since opium is both the stuff of dreams & oblivion.

The notion of “Let’s pass on pass on since it all passes on” (“Passons passons puisque tout passe”) comes up with some regularity in Apollinaire’s verse, most notably perhaps in “Le Pont Mirabeau.” But in a sort of parallel to de Quincey, who is engaged in an activity that potentially heightens fantasy but also blots it out, Apollinaire isn’t content merely to “pass on”—“I will turn back often” (“Je me retournerai souvent.”)

This is a lovely poem—& I should mention that in a sense this post is a two-for-one, since the image at the top of the page is one of Apollinaire’s concrete poems from his Calligrammes. It reads: “Mon Cœur pareil à une flamme renversée” or, in English, “My Heart like an inverted flame.” This is carved on Apollinaire’s grave in Paris’ Père-Lachaise Cemetery.

Hunting Horns

Our story is noble and tragic
As the mask of a tyrant
No perilous magic drama
Not a single indifferent detail
Renders our love pathetic

And Thomas de Quincey drinking
Opium sweet chaste poison
To his poor Anne went dreaming
Let’s pass on pass on since it all passes on
I will turn back often

Memories are hunting horns
Whose sound dies out along the wind

Guillaume Apollinaire
translation by John Hayes, © 1990-2009


  1. Beautiful! Wish I'd have known he was buried there, as I was there last summer.


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