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Lauren van Arsdall French 220: Visual and Acoustic Poetics of the Avant-Garde Professor Loselle October 2, 2011

Loves Lullaby: Guillaume Apollinaires Les Colchiques April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire. -T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland Autumn is the cruelest season for Apollinaire. 1 In Les Colchiques, the ever-present memory of love looks back at the poet across a meadow of crocus flowers in autumn. The poem is composed of three strophes, each referring to superposed scenes that take place on the meadow. In the first strophe, cows graze and the poet identifies the crocus with the lovers eyes; in the second strophe, school children play the harmonica while picking the crocus blooms, and the meadow transforms into a field of eyes; in the third strophe, there is a return to the primary scene of the field with the cows leaving the crocus blooms to the song of the herdsman. The repetition of key word groups and events all within present tense as in les vaches y paissant lentement sempoisonnent and Et ma vie pour tes yeux lentement sempoisonne locates the reader in the immediate vision of the poet as he gazes out to the meadow. This repetition combined with the use of gerunds gives a synchronous movement to the landscape and

Autumn dominates as a prominent thematic in Alcools, as evidenced by the titles Automne, Rhnane dautomne, and Automne malade. Apollinaire wrote Les Colchiques while living in the Rhine valley where he worked as a tutor for a wealthy German family. While there, he had an unhappy love affair with a woman named Annie Playden, the English governess for the family. In this poem, the disembodied crocus-like eyes belong to Annie Playden.

establishes an overarching circular structure to the poem.2 Apollinaire sets the slow cadence of bucolic life and the all-but-innocent simplicity of the crocus against the backdrop of autumn, a season of decay, establishing a mood of melancholy and listlessness.3 The implied narrative of failed love comes into view with the first line, as the poem opens onto: le pr est vnneux mais joli en automne. The theme of vnneux mais joli venomous beauty- resonates throughout the entire poem: the world surrounding the poet is tainted with a silent poison that only he can see. The world seems oblivious to the poison of the crocus, from the children who innocently pick it to the cows who consume it. The poet, who poisons himself with the memory of his lover, is the only one who senses the poisonous effect of the crocus because of his melancholy, which entangles the image of the crocus with the shape and color of his lovers eyes. Apollinaire builds on the dual reputation of the crocus flower, which dates from Antiquity onward to the folklore of the Rhine at the time he was writing the poem. In Greek mythology, the crocus is associated with the Island of Colchide, the homeland of the sorceress Medea, reputed for her knowledge of mixing potions (early medicine) either for the purpose of curing ailments or poisoning others. From this mythology arises the association of the crocus flower with poison and the femme fatale, which Apollinaire uses to show the cruelty of love.4

As Anne Hyde Greet writes in her translation of Alcools, in Les Colchiques, everything returns upon itself- love, the seasons, the poets song. See Alcools, Guillaume Apollinaire, preface, Warren Ramsey (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966) 248. 3 Apollinaire chooses to ignore that in reality cows avoid the autumnal crocus. This positing of reality not as it is but as if it were demonstrates the extent to which the poet has entered a melancholic state. 4 The trope of the woman with the poisonous eyes dates back to troubadour poetry. The poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats also treats the subject of a woman with wild eyes that enchant and in the end poison the speaker in the poem.

Apollinaire mixes the image of the crocus with the image of the lovers eyes through a series of circular similes. The poet compares the convex shape and delicate texture of the crocus to the lovers eyes through simile as evidenced by the use of the linking word, comme: tes yeux sont comme cette fleur-l and violtres comme leur cerne et comme cette automne. The color of the crocus, not violet but violtre, illustrates the mood of the poet. The entire autumn turns violtre, a muted color of decay, a color once removed from the brilliance of violet. Color appears in Les Colchiques via a series of comparisons with other flowers and the color of blood vessels underneath the skin: the crocus flower is described as couleur de cerne et de lilas, evoking the light purplish color around the eye socket known as cerne. The poet also associates the eyes of the lover (les colchiques) with a never-ending cycle of suffering, by comparing the crocus to the figure of the mother: [] les colchiques qui sont comme des mres filles de leurs filles et sont couleur de tes paupires Here, for the first time in the poem, the eyes of the woman are anchored in a body of some kind other than a flower. It is now the flower that is like the woman les colchiques sont couleur de tes paupires, instead of the woman like the flower tes yeux sont comme cette fleur-l, which establishes an insoluble comparison. The chiasmus womans eyes-flower, flower-womans eyes, now a fully fused image terminates in a disturbing vision: les colchiques [] sont couleur de tes paupires [] qui battent commes les fleurs battent au vent dment. The poet sees an entire field of eyes gazing back at him, fluttering their eyes as the wind blows. What was part of a still life becomes animated, anthropomorphized to the extent of uncanny. The intensity of the scene is reinforced by percussive repetition of the onomatopoetic verb battre, which implies both a violent thrashing motion and a lightness of the petals blowing in the wind (palpitating), another example of the false innocence of love and nature. The chains of similes that establish

the association between the eyes of the lover and the crocus petals as a series of concentric circular shapes in turn govern the circular structure of the poem. Apollinaire formalizes the sensation of looping events by deleting punctuation. Before publishing Les Colchiques in Alcools (1914), he re-worked it; the most important edit was the deletion of punctuation. In the following example from Les Colchiques, multiple interpretations, that might be less ambiguous if a comma or colon were present, emerge. In the verses below, there are two possible interpretations. Le colchique couleur de cerne et de lilas Y fleurit tes yeux sont comme cette fleur-l One can read the couplet as, le colchique [] y fleurit [pause] tes yeux sont comme cette fleurl (the crocus flowers there [pause] your eyes are like that flower over there), or le colchique [] y fleurit tes yeux (the crocus decorates/puts flowers on your eyes). Another example of Apollinaires experiments with form comes from splitting an alexandrine. My example occurs at lines two and three. Here, Apollinaire splits what one can assume was originally one line of verse into two new lines, so that the line Les vaches y paissant lentement sempoisonnent, now appears as: Les vaches y paissant Lentement sempoisonnent The reorganization of the original line into two lines forces the reader to dwell on the image of the grazing cows because there is a pause created by spatial isolation of the line Les vaches y paissant. The readers eye must jump from the top line to the line below. A consequence of the splitting of this line is that the pause quietly frames the field of view suggested in the poem. . Instead of a comma to mark the pause, there is a space. This pause sets up the reader for the alarming next line lentement sempoisonnent. Assonantal rhyme as demonstrated in the nasal

vowels an in paissant and en in lentement seemingly link the two lines together. The three syllable lentement and sempoisonnent establish a Slow death creeps over the cows. The reader must graze the page like the cow. Here Apollinaire achieves the effect of a slow grazing spatially and without punctuation. Though Les Colchiques does not deal with the graphic presentation of the letters on the page like the calligrammes, it experiments with free verse. Apollinaire uses vers libre in Les Colchiques to the extent that he diverges from a fixed form such as the sonnet or the ballad. Later on, he wrote that the early poems he had written in free verse were just une tape in a series of later experimentation with poetic form. (LEspirt nouveau et les potes, 1918). In Les Colichiques, Apollinaire begins to move beyond fixed form, using the spacing between lines to alter the rate at which a line is read and to play with syntax, while at the same time working within the bounds of traditional verse such as the alexandrine. Apollinaire preserves a set rhythm and meter through use of the alexandrine, assonance, and repetition of key words such as pr, automne, sempoisonne, yeux, fleurs, filles, vaches, colchiques, which mimics the musical effect of a lullaby (berceuse).5 The dominant rhyme scheme relies on assonance of alternating nasal vowels on/ne as in automne sempoisonne and open vowels la as in lilas fleur-l and re as in mrespaupires, tonal sounds that one would expect to find in a lullaby. Musical instruments, lharmonica, the vocalization of the cows, meuglant, and singing le gardien du troupeau chante also appear in Les Colchiques. Though lullabies are meant to induce sleep, they are also at their origin incantations, meant to ward off bad spirits. The way in which

The same venomous sweetness that the poet creates in the atmosphere of Les Colchiques belongs to the entire tradition of the lullaby, the lyrics of which developed out of folklore. Take for example the final verse of Rockabye Baby: and down will come baby cradle and all.

the final tercet folds back into the opening lines of the poem achieves a circular, repetitious incantation. The image of the poet, singing to himself as he composes the poem, is an attempt to soothe his melancholy. In the end, however, it is unclear whether or not he is able to ward off the presence of the femme fatale. In the final lines of the poem, there is no identification of the poet with the landscape as there was in the first strophe. This leaves the reader wondering if he masters his melancholy, abandoning the image of grand pr mal fleuri par lautomne, and by extension the eyes of the lover; or does the enjambement of pour toujours in the last line indicate that the cows have definitely been poisoned and will never return to the field because they will die? This return to the cows in the final strophe is allegorical: the poet inevitably returns to the same field of crocuses that provoke desire and memory through their resemblance to the beloved. The same venomous sweetness that the poet creates in the atmosphere of Les Colchiques belongs to the entire tradition of the lullaby (take for example the final verse of Rockabye Baby: and down will come baby cradle and all.) It reasonable to assume that Apollinaire simply maintains the same duality announced in the opening line of the poem- le pr est vnneux mais joli.en automne- in the closing of the poem in order to establish a maddening circularity of time reflected in the passage of one lautomne to the next.