“Automne” – A poem by Guillaume Apollinaire

Context: Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) was a French poet, writer of short stories and literary Critic who became very popular among Modernists; and he was himself an open spokesman of the Cubists. In 1911 he joined the Puteaux Group, a branch of the Cubist movement soon to be known as the Section d’Or. The opening address of the 1912 Salon de la Section d’Or—the most important pre-World War I Cubist exhibition—was given by Apollinaire. Some call him an early father of Surrealism. Born as Wilhelm Kostrowicki his family had both French, Italian and Polish roots. He lived a short life, enrolled as a soldier in WW1 in which he got wounded and never fully recovered. He died in the Spanish Flu pandemic which took many lives during 1918. Most of his publications including letters can be found on wikisource and wikilivres. If you follow this blog you know I often make references to English Wikipedia. The poem comes from the poetry collection named Alcools.

Themes: In this poem translated as ‘Autumn’ Apollinaire uses an external narrator who focus on a poor farmer’s life and frames his life together with an approaching autumn and the dying summer. He’s also surrounded by a fog which makes him a bit difficult to relate to as he’s working in the field. We cannot see him properly with his oxen. The poem is more like a painting in which Apollinaire refers to colours to help set the mood. The farmer is singing an old folksong about love. His song is the major theme in this short poem. The farmer refers to a true love, a love that is lying, a ring and a heart.


Automne

Dans le brouillard s’en vont un paysan cagneux

Et son bœuf lentement dans le brouillard d’automne

Qui cache les hameaux pauvres et vergogneux
Et s’en allant là-bas le paysan chantonne

Une chanson d’amour et d’infidélité

Qui parle d’une bague et d’un cœur que l’on brise
Oh ! l’automne l’automne a fait mourir l’été

Dans le brouillard s’en vont deux silhouettes grises


Guillaume Apollinaire showing his sharpnel wound. Like many soldiers his wound came from flying metals when a bomb exploded close to him. Photo taken in 1916. He died 2 years later.
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