Guillaume Apollinaire: 'Rhénane d'automne' (English translation)

September 18, 2020

Rhenish autumn

To Toussaint-Luca


The children of the dead come and play 

In the cemetery 

Martin Gertrude Hans and Henri 

No cockerel has crowed today 

Adoodleday 


The old women

Walk along slowly with tearful faces

And the good-natured donkeys

Bray hee-haw and start guzzling the flowers 

Of the funeral wreaths


It’s the day of the dead and of all their souls 

The children and the old women 

Light their candles and their tapers

On every Catholic grave 

The veils of the old women 

The clouds in the sky

Are like the beards of nanny-goats 


The air quivers with flames and prayers


The cemetery is a lovely garden

Full of grey willow and rosemary

You often have friends that are here to be buried

Ah! how well you feel in the lovely cemetery

You sodden beggars dead from your beer

You who are blind as fate itself

And you small children dead while at prayer


Ah! how well you feel in this lovely cemetery 

You burgomasters you boatmasters

And you counsellors of regency 

You too undocumented gypsies

Life rotting away in your bellies

The cross growing between your feet

The Rhine wind hooting with all of the owls

It blows out the candles the children always relight

And the dead leaves

Come and cover the dead


The children sometimes talk with their mother

And at times the dead women would even return


Oh! I do not want you to go outside

The autumn is full of chopped-off hands

No no they are only leaves that are dead

They are the hands of our dearest dead

They are your chopped-off hands


We have wept so copiously today

With these dead their children and the old women

Beneath this sky without sun

In the cemetery full of flames


Then in the wind we turned and went back


At our feet the chestnuts rolled

Their prickly shells were

Like the wounded heart of the Madonna

That one doubts ever had the skin

The colour of autumn chestnuts


Guillaume Apollinaire  (Rhénane d'automne)


Translated by John Irons

With kind permission of John Irons





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