The poets and the world war: "Si je mourais là-bas" by Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 - 1918)
A new English translation of the poems by Guillaume Apollinaire was published at the end of 2015 by Oxford University Press. The title of the book is Selected Poems, (with parallel French text) translated with an Introduction and Notes by Martin Sorrell (you see the cover below, in the middle of this post). Among these poems, a relevant group of compositions belongs to the war time and is about the love story with Louise deColigny-Châtillon. It's the second time we choose a poem by Apollinaire. The first one dates back to this old post. Particularly meaningful, also in the study of the war months, is the correspondance between Apollinaire and Lou.


If I died up there at the front
One day Lou my love you'd weep
And my memory would fizzle out
The way a shell-burst dies at the front
A lovely shell like mimosa in flower

And then that memory that bursts in space
Would cover the globe in my blood
The sea the hills the valleys and the flying star
The marvellous suns that ripen in space
Like golden fruit round Baratier*

Forgotten memory alive in all things
I'd redden the nipples of your pretty pink breasts
I'd redden your mouth and your blood-soaked hair
You'd not age a jot all these beautiful things
Would forever grow younger ready for gallant destinies

My fatal blood splashing the world
Would give the sun more brilliance
Flowers greater colour waves more speed
A rare love would fall on the world
The lover would be stronger in your body pushed away

Lou if I die up there memory that gets forgotten
—Remember me in those mad moments
Of youth and love and bursting ardour—
My blood's the ardent fountain of happiness
And because you're the prettiest be the happiest

O my unique love and my grand folly

                                             30th January 1915 Nimes 

[From Guillaume Apollinaire, Selected Poems, with parallel French text, translated with an Introduction and Notes by Martin Sorrell, Oxford University Press] 


Si je mourais là-bas sur le front de l’armée
Tu pleurerais un jour ô Lou ma bien-aimée
Et puis mon souvenir s’éteindrait comme meurt
Un obus éclatant sur le front de l’armée
Un bel obus semblable aux mimosas en fleur

Et puis ce souvenir éclaté dans l’espace
Couvrirait de mon sang le monde tout entier
La mer les monts les vals et l’étoile qui passe
Les soleils merveilleux mûrissant dans l’espace
Comme font les fruits d’or autour de Baratier

Souvenir oublié vivant dans toutes choses
Je rougirais le bout de tes jolis seins roses
Je rougirais ta bouche et tes cheveux sanglants
Tu ne vieillirais point toutes ces belles choses
Rajeuniraient toujours pour leurs destins galants

Le fatal giclement de mon sang sur le monde
Donnerait au soleil plus de vive clarté
Aux fleurs plus de couleur plus de vitesse à l’onde
Un amour inouï descendrait sur le monde
L’amant serait plus fort dans ton corps écarté

Lou si je meurs là-bas souvenir qu’on oublie
– Souviens-t’en quelquefois aux instants de folie
De jeunesse et d’amour et d’éclatante ardeur –
Mon sang c’est la fontaine ardente du bonheur
Et sois la plus heureuse étant la plus jolie

Ô mon unique amour et ma grande folie

                                               30 janv. 1915, Nîmes