Featured Poem

Hill 146

No flowers left but strange signs
gesturing down the blue nights
in my prolonged adoration Lou
my whole being bows down
with the low clouds of July
before your memory

It is a white plaster head buried
helplessly next a golden ring
and our promises are remoter echoes
they sound sometimes strangely

There is a permanent white noise
my caustic solitude is lit up only
by the great searchlight my love
I can hear the bass voice of Big Bertha

And down by the trenches
in front of me a cemetery
has been sown
with forty-six-thousand soldiers
after such sowings we must
wait with serenity for harvest

If ever there were desolation
it is here where I write my letter
leaning on a slab of asbestos
I keep looking at your portrait
the one with the wide hat

Some of my comrades have seen your photo
and assuming that I know you
they ask who is she
and I can’t quite think what to say
seeing as even now I hardly know you

Which pierces me
and deep inside the photograph
you are smiling still like light

» Comment on this translation 3 comment(s)

About the translation:
» Read translator's notes
Poet:
Guillaume Apollinaire
Translator:
Stephen Romer
Original language:
French
Issue:
Series 3 No.7 - Love and War

Original poem

About the authors

Poet

Guillaume Apollinaire

Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki, known as Guillaume Apollinaire (Rome, 26 August 1880–9 November 1918, Paris)...

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Translator

Stephen Romer

Stephen Romer's fourth collection, Yellow Studio, was published by Carcanet's Oxford Poet's series in early 2008. He edited Fa...

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Côte 146

Plus de fleurs mais d’étranges signes
Gesticulant dans les nuits bleues
Dans une adoration suprême mon beau ptit Lou que
tout mon être pareil aux nuages bas de juillet
s’incline devant ton souvenir
Il est là comme une tête de plâtre blanche,
éperdument auprès d’un anneau d’or
Dans le fond s’éloignent les voeux qui se retournent quelquefois
Entends jouer cette musique toujours pareille tout le jour
Ma solitude splénétique qu’éclaire seul le lointain
Et puissant projecteur de mon Amour
J’entends la grave voix de la grosse artillerie boche
Devant moi dans la direction des boyaux
Il y a un cimetière où l’on a semé quarante-six mille soldats
Quelles semailles dont il faut sans peur attendre la moisson !
C’est devant ce site désolé s’il en fut
Que tandis que j’écris ma lettre appuyant mon
papier sur une plaque de fibro ciment
Je regarde aussi un portrait en grand chapeau
Et quelques-uns de mes compagnons
ont vu ton portrait
Et pensant bien que je te connaissais
Ils ont demandé :
« Qui donc est-elle ? »
Et je n’ai pas su que leur répondr
Car je me suis aperçu brusquement
Qu’encore aujourd’hui je ne te connais pas bien
Et toi dans ta photo profonde comme la lumière
tu souris toujours.

Comment

Timothy Adès

16th Sep 2011

Thank you both for this fine poem. This is a very accomplished translation, as one would expect.

Might I just ask if 'pierces me' isn't a little too strong? What about:

realising abruptly /
or realising with shock /
that even now I hardly know you

and keep those three lines in their original order.

Remoter echoes, white noise, caustic solitude, Big Bertha...
so many good things!

annie

30th Sep 2011

Thank you.

Very moving. Such a sorrow this genocide has been ignored. i suppose it is with little grace we recognize it now when possibly a even a few survivors will know they and their loved ones will go down in history. Possibly as the survivors of the other holocaust die, in the next generations we (the world) will be willing and able to fully recognize Ukraine's great tragedy and their loss to rise in its rightful place in the 20th century's history.

Amen, and thank you

Stephen Romer

2nd Oct 2011

Thank you Tim and Annie very much for your comments! I am touched that this poem by Apollinaire from his 'Poèmes à Lou' has been selected by David and Helen as translation of the Month. It may be that 'pierces' is too strong, but for me it added to that unique rueful/ironic tone Apollinaire has in many of these poems, to a mistress he knows to be more and more merely his own subjective fantasy (Lou kept her distance after a first - and last - week of passion with GA.) I find the loose associative form of the original very 'tempting' to a 'versioner', which is what essentially I am in this translation I think - allowing myself liberties of associations with the Great War and increments, like 'white noise', 'Big Bertha' etc etc. It is one of those poems which invites this approach, I think.

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