Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: apollinaire, belgium, childhood, english, french, immigrant, luc sante, modernity, paris, poetry, religion
(apollinaire, various iterations | gare saint-lazare | sante)
Luc Sante is the Belgian American writer who wrote Low Life. This is his description of how a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire described perfectly his experience of leaving Belgium. The poem, however, does far more than address his identity as an immigrant: it is a clear revelation, a flash, of his place in the world that lays bare his desire for the clarity of modernity in the face of the confusion of religion. He comes to a point of exhilaration and comfort.
“A la fin tu est las de ce monde ancien.” “In the end you are tired of this old world.” Thus began “Zone,” by Guillaume Apollinaire.
Bergère ô tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bêle ce matin “Shepherdess o Eiffel Tower the flock of bridges is bleating this morning.” The poem was speaking directly to me, to me alone, as proven on the second page: Voilà la jeune rue et tu n’es encore qu’un petit enfant / Ta mère ne t’habille que de bleu et de blanc. “Here is the young street and you are but a little child / Your mother only dresses you in blue and white,” which was exactly true of my early childhood; that tu clinched it. Tu regardes les yeux pleins de larmes ces pauvres émigrants / Ils croient en Dieu ils prient les femmes allaitent des enfants / Ils emplissent de leur odeure le hall de la gare Saint-Lazare. “You look with your eyes filled with tears at the poor immigrants / They believe in God they pray the women suckle infants / They fill with their odor the hall of the Saint-Lazare station”—I had been there and seen that! Furthermore, the poem seemed to be about a yearning for modernity in the face of confusion as to the truth of religion, a clairvoyant depiction of my own central inner drama of the time. But there was more: the poem was fluid, rhyming but in an elastic meter like an improvised song, with phrases strung together without punctuation but always clear in their meaning, with an unlabored syntax close to conversational, with capitalized names like cherries in a box of chocolates, with sudden movements in time and space executed with a casual legerdemain, with a flash and whirl and continual surprise that was just what I wanted from the modern world but with a palpable kindness that reassured me as the poem flung me about.
~excerpted from French Without Tears, by Luc Sante
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