Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Lest we forget - Bleuet Poulenc

Just as the Poppy symbolizes war to the British, the cornflower symbolizes loss and memory for the French. The Western Front was in France and Belgium, lest we forget....... French soldiers wore blue uniforms, hence the multiple connotations of the word "bleuet".

At right, Francis Poulenc aged 21, in uniform, painted by a friend. "Jeune homme /de vingt ans /Qui as vu des choses si affreuses /que penses-tu des hommes /de ton enfance/la bravure et la ruse" wrote Guillaume Apollinaire. Read the whole poem HERE in Emily Ezust's Lieder and Song Texts page, because Apollinaire sets the poem out so it descends diagonally across the page, as if the very words were marching. Apollinaire's visual layout emphasises the meaning of the poem,where phrases break off and the word "Mourir" stands alone.

"Young man of 20 , who has seen things so awful, what do you think of  the men of your childhood, of courage and cunning?

"You who have faced death in the face more than 100 times, you take it as if it were life.  Transmit your fearlessness to those who will come after you. Young man, you are joyful. Your memory is soaked in blood, your soul is red. with joy. You have absorbed the life of those who died next to you."

"For you it is decided.  It is 5 o'clock and you're going to die. If not better than those who went before you, at least more piously, because you know death better than you know life." 

"Ô douceur d'autrefois, Lenteur immémoriale"
.O sweetness of former times, to linger in eternity.

Apollinaire was injured badly at the front in 1917. Poulenc, writing his setting in October 1939, reflected not on militarism or glory, but on the tenderness with which Apollinaire depicted the waste of youth and life. 

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