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French Pop Song of the Week: Apollinaire’s “Le Pont Mirabeau”

Posted by Thomas Riggs in authors music poetry translation world literature on April 9, 2010

lavoine

Although poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) is not a pop lyricist, the words to one of his best-known poems, “Le Pont Mirabeau” (”The Mirabeau Bridge”), were put to music by Marc Lavoine, pictured above on the cover of his CD titled simply Marc Lavoine (2001). “Le Pont Mirabeau,” the first track on the CD, is a bridge in Paris that spans over the Seine River. Apparently Apollinaire had to walk over the bridge to get to the home of painter Marie Laurencin, his girlfriend from 1907 to 1912. It is also the bridge where poet Paul Celan likely killed himself in 1970. His body was found miles downstream.

Below is Lavoine, since the 1980s a successful French actor and crooner, singing “Le Pont Mirabeau.”

The poem has been translated into English many times and in many ways. Here are a few well-known attempts to translate it. Some of the differences come from the translators’ struggle to replicate the rhyme scheme in English without straying too far from the meaning in French. But a more literal translation, without regard to rhyme, would also be open to question. The meaning even in French is ambiguous (as this brief and useful summary of the poem, in French, points out).

Below is the text of the poem, as well as a more or less literal, though debatable, translation.

Le Pont Mirabeau

By Guillaume Apollinaire

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu’il m’en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure
Les jours s’en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l’onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure
Les jours s’en vont je demeure

L’amour s’en va comme cette eau courante
L’amour s’en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l’Espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure
Les jours s’en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure
Les jours s’en vont je demeure

Under the Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine
And our passion
Must I remember again
Joy always came after the pain

Comes the night, strikes the hour
The days go by, but I remain

Hand in hand, let’s stay face to face
While under
The bridge of our arms move
The waters so weary of our eternal gaze

Comes the night, strikes the hour
The days go by, but I remain

Love passes by like this flowing water
Love passes by
In the way that life lags
And hope brings violence

Comes the night, strikes the hour
The days go by, but I remain

The days pass, and the weeks pass,
Neither time past
Nor the passion returns
Under the Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine

Comes the night, strikes the hour
The days go by, but I remain

      

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