Meditation in times of emergency

Meditation in times of emergency

This has been a beautiful day
           unbroken sunshine
and young families strolling
           in the park and down by the river
and everyone subdued
           and yet determined
to enjoy every minute

I walked past the magnolia
           with its splendid votive blooms
and once again
           heard the woodpecker
tapping to its own code
           a day not to be deconstructed
but to be lived for the moment

I thought of Apollinaire
           standing on the Mirabeau Bridge
watching as the waters passed
           beneath him
I thought of Frank O’Hara
           never one to be lost for words
I thought of all the love
           that passes by and of the love
that alone endures

John Lyons

Le Pont Mirabeau – Guillaume Apollinaire

apollinaire Metzinger

The poem below by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 –1918) is taken from Alcools, one of the first great modernist texts, published in 1913. A young Samuel Beckett, recognising the importance of this landmark collection, translated the first of its poems, entitled ‘Zone,’ which establishes, as its title suggests, a brave new, modern territory for writing in the 20th century.

‘Le Pont Mirabeau,’ however, is a rather more traditional lament to the passing of time and the fading of love. The bitter-sweet, melancholy tone was inspired by the poet’s troubled and ultimately doomed relationship with Marie Laurencin.

In addition to writing poetry, Apollinaire was a journalist and an art critic and is credited with having invented the terms ‘surrealism’ and ‘cubism’ He was a very close friend of Picasso and also of Gertrude Stein.

‘Le Pont Mirabeau’ has become one of the best-loved and most famous poems of French literature, and the first lines of the poem appear on a metal plaque on the Paris bridge in memory of this great poet.

The illustration is Étude pour le portrait de Guillaume Apollinaire, by Jean Metzinger, and it dates from 1911.

Under the Mirabeau Bridgemirabeau

Under the Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine
            Just like our loves
      Must I recall
The joy that always followed pain

            Night falls the bell tolls
            The days fade but here I remain

Hand in hand let’s stand face to face
            While beneath the bridge
      Of our arms the waves
Of eternal longing flow languidly by

            Night falls the bell tolls
            The days fade but here I remain

Love fades away like the water that flows
            Love fades away
      How slow is life
And how aggressive is Hope

            Night falls the bell tolls
            The days fade but here I remain

Days pass the weeks pass too
            Neither time gone by
      Nor our loves will return
Under the Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine

            Night falls the bell tolls
            The days fade but here I remain

Guillaume Apollinaire (translation, John Lyons)