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Apollinaire: Seven War Poems

by John Cobley

Sunday May 22nd, 2022


 Ocean of Earth

                                                            To G. de Chirico


I’ve built a home in the middle of the Ocean, 

Its windows are the rivers that flow from my eyes

Octopuses are crawling wherever a wall is standing

Hear their triple hearts beat and their beaks tap on window panes

Damp home 

Fervent home

Rapid season

Songful season

  The planes lay their eggs

  Look out they’re dropping anchor

Look out they’re going to spurt ink

It would be good if you were to come from the sky

Honeysuckle in the sky is climbing 

The earthbound octopuses are trembling

And more and more of us are becoming our own gravediggers

Pale octopuses from chalky waves O octopuses with pale beaks

Around the home there’s this ocean that you know

And that never rests  



If I Were to Die Out There


If I were to die out there on the battle front

You would cry for a day Oh Lou my beloved

And then the memory of me would fade and die out

A shell bursting on the battle front

A beautiful shell like mimosas in bloom


And then after bursting into space this memory

Will cover the whole world with my blood

Sea mountains valleys and a passing star

Marvelous suns ripening in space

Like the golden fruits around Baratier


A forgotten memory living in everything

I would redden the tips of your pretty rosy breasts

I would redden your mouth and blood-stained hair

You wouldn’t age at all these beautiful things

Would always rejuvenate for their gallant destinies


The fatal gushing of my blood onto the world

Would give more vivid clarity to the sun

More colour to the flowers more speed to the waves

An unparalleled love would descend onto the earth

A lover would be stronger in your separated body


Lou if I die out there a forgotten memory

--Remember it sometimes in moments of madness

Of youth and of love and of brilliant ardour—

My blood is the burning fountain of happiness

And may you be the happiest and prettiest 


O my unique love and my great folly


Baratier  tiny commune in the French alps





Two black lakes

            Between a forest

                        And a drying shirt


Mouth open on a harmonium

It was a voice made with eyes

While it drags along little people


A tiny old woman with a pointed nose

I admire the hot-water bottle of blue enamel

But the rat penetrates the corpse and lives there


A gentleman in shirtsleeves

Shaves by the window

Singing a little tune that he doesn’t know well

That makes quite an opera


You who turn towards the king

Would God want to die again





Cannons thunder in the night

They’re like storm waves

Hearts where a great ennui rises

An ennui that keeps repeating itself


He watches prisoners arrive 

The hour is so sweet

In this great noise muffled so low

That it grows without a jolt


He holds his helmet in his hand

To salute the memory

Of lilies, of roses, of jasmine

Blossom in the gardens of France


And under the masked hood

He thinks of hair so sombre

But who then is waiting for him on the quay

O vast sea of mauve shadows


Beautiful nuts from the living nut-tree

The great madness shakes you in vain

Listen little brown one to the warbling

A blue tit on your shoulder.


Our love is a flash

That a searchlight directs

Towards the same ardour in the heart

That installs itself on the lofty Beacon


O beacon-flower my memories

The black hair of Madeleine

The atrocious flashes of gunfire

Add their sudden clarity 

TO your beautiful eyes O Madeleine


Madeleine  Madeleine Pagès, fiancée of Apollinaire for a short time.



The Future


We lift up the straw

We survey the snow

We write letters

We wait for orders


We smoke a pipe

While thinking of love

The gabions are there

We look at the rose


The fountain has not dried up

No more than the gold of the straw has tarnished

We watch the bee

And don’t think of the future


We look at our hands

Which are the snow

The rose and the bee

As well as the future


Gabion  From Italian:big cage  A metal cage filled with rocks or other heavy material. Military use for fortification.



Sadness of a Star


A beautiful Minerva is the child of my head

A star of blood crowns me forever

Reason is at the bottom and the sky is at the top

Of the head where for a long time Goddess you armed yourself


That’s why it wasn’t the worst of my ailments

This almost fatal hole which is starlit

But the secret misfortune that feeds my delirium

Is much greater than any soul has ever concealed


And I carry with me this burning pain

Like the glow-worm carries its blazing body

Like France beats in the heart of the soldier 

And like the fragrant pollen rests in the heart of the lily 



The Vigneron of Champagne


The regiment arrives

Le village is almost asleep in the perfumed light

A priest has a helmet on his head

The champagne bottle is it or is it not an artillery

The vine plants are like ermine on a shield

Bonjour soldiers

I’ve seen them pass by and pass by again at the double

Bonjour soldiers champagne bottles where the blood ferments

You will stay several days and then go up to the line again

In formation just like the vines

I send my bottles everywhere like shells from a charming artillery


The night is white O white wine

A vigneron was singing bent over in his vineyard

A vigneron without a mouth on the horizon

A vigneron who was himself the living bottle

A vigneron who knows what war is

A champagne vigneron who is a gunner


It’s evening now and we are playing fly

Then the soldiers will go up there

Where the artillery uncorks its fizzy bottles

Let’s go goodbye gentlemen try to come back

But no one knows what can happen






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