To Paul Léautaud

I was singing this refrain
in nineteen three, not knowing my
love and phoenix were the same,
and if they fled the
evening sky
they were reborn when morning came.

1. One night of London fog and flame
a ne'er do well resembling my
love was passing: up he came
and showed me such a knowing eye
it made me lower mine in shame.

2. With that young tough I had to go
who hands in pockets took his ways
whistling through the parted row
of tenements as Red Sea waves:
he the Hebrews, I Pharaoh.

3. May waves of brick fall ton on ton
if anyone was yearned for more.
I am king of Egypt's son,
his sister-queen, his army corps,
if you are not my only one.

4. At a turning of the street, ablur
with housefronts lit in sullen flare,
and red fangs stuck in fog's thick stir
that wailed about the housefronts there:
a woman very much like her.

5. It was that savage look above
the neck she undid, with a scar.
I recognized, if drunk enough,
in woman reeling from some bar,
the falsity of even love.

6. The wise, far-travelled Ulysses
returned at last, his journeys done,
found dog came shuffling on its knees
and wife beside the cloth she'd spun
still waited for him over seas.

7. And Shakuntala's royal mate,
when tired of war, returned, became
enamoured of her famished state,
and saw the look in eyes the same
that petted a gazelle of late.

8. I thought of happy kings whose part
betrayed by love and yours I'd lose
in whom all lovings ever start —
between false shadows I must choose
that made me ever down at heart.

9. Regrets that build the hell we know,
and sky's forgetting what we swore.
A kiss the famous kings would sow
oblivion on their riches for:
they had even sold their shadow.

10. I winter in my past come back.
May Easter sun revive at last
this frozen heart with warmth I lack
far worse than forty of Sebaste
who died upon their icy rack.

11. What is memory, my soul,
but a vessel where we sail
too deep to drink the waters whole.
In dawns so beautiful we rail
against life's saddening evening stroll.

12. Farewell, false love, confused with pain
her going from me will have cost,
and also her I would not feign,
that one in Germany I lost
and shall not ever see again.

13. O Milky Way, whose sisterly
white streams flow on through Canaan's land.
The white of lover's bodies. We
must follow swimmers left unmanned
and swim to further nebulae.

14. Memories I have recourse
to: April, dawn, another year.
In happiness I sang the course:
a manly song to those most dear
the moment love returned in force.

Aubade Sung to Laetare a Year Ago

15. Come, Pâquette, it is the spring.
Let us walk these pretty woods.
The farmyard hens are chattering.
The dawn in pink and pleated hoods
announces love is conquering.

16. Mars and Venus here will prance
and kiss about with maddened lips:
ingenuous, they take their chance.
Beneath the leaves the roses slip
on, naked gods renew their dance.

17. Come, the present time is queen
in all its tender flowering.
Warm and touching nature's been
with Pan through forest echoing,
where humid bullfrogs bloom the scene.

18. Many gods with death have diced,
it is for them the willows weep.
Great Pan, love, Jesus Christ —
all are dead, and alleys keep,
with Paris tomcats, solemn rites.

19. I who know the lays for queens,
and such laments for all the years,
for eels with slaves made epicenes,
and that long tale of lover's tears,
and all the songs of siren scenes.

20. I tremble love may be untrue,
who worshipped idols all his life.
The memories of her I knew
that, dead like Mausolus's wife,
must still repine and wait for you.

21. More faithful than the mastiff dog,
or master ivy to the oak,
or like the Cossack Zaporog:
a pious but a thieving soak,
who's bound to steppes and decalogue.

22. So bear that crescent like a yoke,
the which astrologers consult.
It is your dazzling lord who spoke.
Do not, my Zaporogs, insult
the high above you as the smoke.

23. Become my faithful subjects: so
the Sultan wrote to them, but, loath
to hear, they laughed and, apropos
to answering him, returned and, wroth,
composed this by the candle's glow.

Reply of the Zaporogian Cossacks to the Sultan of Constantinople

24. Wretch worse than foul Barabbas was,
go sport that evil angel's horn,
as gross Beelzebub's is yours.
One fed on refuse we will scorn
and not attend your Sabbath draws.

25. A rotten fish of Salonika,
with nightmares necklaces impart
to pulled out eyes besotting her,
your mother with a liquid fart
gave birth to colic blocking her.

26. Hangman of Podolia's lover
who sucks off crust from rancid sores,
where mare and pig become another:
keep your riches, you'll have cause
to pay for what your ointments cover.

               *   *   *

27. O Milky Way, whose sisterly
white streams flow on through Canaan's land.
The white of lover's bodies. We
must follow swimmers left unmanned
and swim to further nebulae.

28. The panther eyes I had to shun,
and beautiful but still a whore's,
those Florentine, false kisses won,
in which the bitterness restores
distaste for what we might have done.

29. When looks across the evening brim
with stars that tremble in their haste,
and eyes in which the sirens swim,
and kisses blooded with such taste
to make the one who guards us grim.

30. In truth it is for her I'm sent,
and in my heart and soul's recall,
and on that bridge where life's re-sent
it may not have her sent at all
to tell her that I am content.

31. My heart and head are emptied wide,
all heaven's flowing out of them,
and, heaped-up Danaïdes aside,
what happiness must I condemn
to be again a little child?

32. I'd not forget, though far I rove,
my dove upon the whitened road.
O marguerite in leaves unclothed,
my distant island, Désirade:
such rose you are and tree of clove.

33. May satyrs and Pyraustus,
and flitting fires of Aegipans,
make destinies as damned as Faustus.
That neck in noose on Calais sands —
what holocaust of pain it cost us.

34. Grief that doubles future mourning
of unicorn, of capricorn:
the doubtful flesh the soul is warning.
Flee the god's flamed pyre in scorn
as stars the flowers in the morning.

35. Misfortune's god with ivory eyes,
and pale with mad priests still adorning
victims dressed in dark robed guise:
vain and purposeless this mourning.
Do not, misfortune, trust their cries.

36. And you who, trailing after, wake
the god of my gods dead this autumn,
and measure how much dust will make
my rights upon the earth that sought them:
you are my shadow, my old snake.

37. In the sunlight that you crave,
to which I led you, you remember,
a wife to whom I am a slave,
both mine and nothing but an ember
burning out I cannot save.

38. Winter's dead and dressed in snow,
the beehives burned were white as well.
The gardens and the orchards show
how singing birds on branches tell
of April's brightness spring will know.

39. Death of deathless argyraspids
that carry snow on silver shields.
In white the dendrophore forbids
the spring that to poor people yields
a smile to moisten brimming lids.

40. And I who have a heart as gross
as those fat bottoms sat upon
by Arab women: love I chose
brought all the pain I've undergone:
the seven swords unsheathe their woes.

41. The melancholy swords beget
no shadowed sharpness in distress,
but plunge in folly and regret
beyond conceived unhappiness.
How can you ask me to forget?

The Seven Swords

42. The first sword is of silver made
and Pensive is its trembling name,
the snowy winter sky its blade,
and Ghibelline its blooded claim:
when Vulcan made it, death he paid.

43. Named the second is Noubosse,
a joyous rainbow it appears
which gods at weddings wield and toss.
It killed the thirty musketeers,
and was bequeathed by Carabosse.

44. The third is blue and feminine,
but cypriape it is not less.
Called the Puck of Faltenin,
it's carried on a cloth's caress
become in Hermes dwarf of mien.

45. The fourth is what is called Milady:
gold the river, green in eddies.
Shore-girls in the evening, shady,
bathe in reverence their bodies,
and rowers sing there ever daily.

46. Fifth, the Saint-Faggot is bright
and is the fairest of distaffs.
A cypress on a tomb, alight
where four winds kneel and force their draughts
in torches' flaming, night on night.

47. The sixth has metal famed and glorious.
It is the friend of those soft hands
from which the morning ever parts us.
Farewell. Come roads to other lands.
The cocks grow weary of their chorus.

48. The seventh one is under cover,
languishing as woman's rose,
and I am glad the latest comer
shuts the door on all of those
who, like me, never knew their lover.

Milky Way

49. O Milky Way, whose sisterly
white streams flow on through Canaan's land,
the white of women's bodies: we
must follow swimmers left unmanned
and swim to further nebulae.

50. The demons of our gambling earn
a song to guide our heavenly step,
yet violins for which we yearn
are lost, and mortals dance who wept
down slopes to which they can't return.

51. The unknown future hides its face,
where kings may shake with folly's course,
and stars still shiver in their place.
The women slept with who are false:
the deserts histories efface.

52. Old Regent Luitpold with rights,
made twice the guardian of mad kings:
perhaps his memory alights
on glowworms' pallid waverings,
or firefly gold on summer nights.

53. Near chateau lacking chatelaine
a boat with barcaroles, that sees
a white lake softly laid upon
by springtime's ever trembling breeze,
a dying siren sails as swan.

54. Upon the silvered lake one day
the king had drowned himself. His look
was like his mouth and drifted, lay
beside the bank and, sleeping, took
on the changing sky's display.

55. June's sun is burning as a lyre,
it hurts my fingers. With an air
of sad delirium I never tire
of Paris, beautiful — aware
I have no heart there to retire.

56. It seems forever Sundays go,
and barrel organs sob for these
or whine along drab streets below,
while Paris flowers on balconies
put out as Pisa's pictures show.

57. And nights of Paris, cut with gin
that crackle in electric haze,
with green the tramways flare, and in
foolhardy rides down vertebrae
mechanically will hum and grin.

58. Here the cafés fill with smoke
and loves of gypsies run amok,
and snuffling siphons spurt and soak,
and waiters come in loincloth smock
towards the words of love I spoke.

60. I who know the lays for queens,
and such laments for all the years,
for eels with slaves made epicenes,
and that long tale of lover's tears,
and all the songs of siren scenes.

 

La Chanson du Mal-Aimé by Guillaume Apollinaire

 

Now collected in a free ebook published by Ocaso Press.