This Love

This Love

This love
So violent
So fragile
So tender
So hopeless
This love
Beautiful as the day
And bad as the weather
When the weather is bad
This love so true
This love so beautiful
So happy
So joyous
And so pathetic
Trembling with fear like a child in the dark
And so sure of itself
Like a tranquil man in the middle of the night
This love that made others afraid
That made them speak
That made them go pale
This love intently watched
Because we intently watch it
Run down hurt trampled finished denied forgotten
Because we ran it down hurt it trampled
it finished it denied it forgot it

                                                 This whole entire love
                                                        Still so lively
                                                         And so sunny
                                                            It’s yours
                                                             It’s mine
                                                   That which has been
                                                   This always new thing
                                                 And which hasn’t changed
                                                       As true as a plant
                                                  As trembling as a bird
                                                As warm as live as summer
                                                          We can both of us
                                                               Come and go
                                                              We can forget
                                                  And then go back to sleep
                                                  Wake up suffer grow old
                                                   Go back to sleep again
                                                   Awake smile and laugh
                                                        And feel younger
                                                      Our love stays there
                                                       Stubborn as an ass
                                                        Lively as desire
                                                        Cruel as memory
                                                        Foolish as regrets
                                                      Tender as remembrance
                                                           Cold as marble
                                                          Beautiful as day
                                                         Fragile as a child
                                                        It watches us, smiling

 

And it speaks to us without saying a word
And me I listen to it, trembling
And I cry out
I cry out for you
I cry out for me
I beg you
For you for me for all who love each other
And who loved each other
Yes I cry out to it
For you for me and for all the others
That I don’t know
Stay there
There where you are
There where you were in the past
Stay there
Don’t move
Don’t go away
We who loved each other
We’ve forgotten you
Don’t forget us
We had only you on the earth
Don’t let us become cold
Always so much farther away
And anywhere
Give us a sign of life
Much later on a dark night
In the forest of memory
Appear suddenly
Hold your hand out to us
And save us

 

Jacques Prévert’s 

AUTUMN LEAVES

AUTUMN LEAVES

 

Oh! I would like as much as you remember
The happy days where we were friends.
In this time the life was more beautiful,
And the sun more burning than today.
The dead leaves collected with the shovel.
You see, I did not forget…
The dead leaves collected with the shovel,
The memories and the regrets also
And the wind of North carries them
In the cold night of the lapse of memory.
You see, I did not forget
The song that you sang me.

This is a song which resembles to us.
You, you loved me and I loved you
And we lived both together,
You who loved me, me who loved you.
But the life separate those which love themselves,
All softly, without making noise
And the sea erases on the sand
The Steps of  divided lovers.

The dead leaves collected with the shovel,
The memories and the regrets also
But my quiet and faithful love
Smiles always and thanks the life
I loved you so much, you was so pretty.
Why do you want that I forget you ?
In this time, the life was more beautiful
And the sun more burning than today.
You were my softer friend
But I don’t have only to make regrets
And the song than you sang,
Always, always I will hear it !

 

By Jacques Prevert

Translated by Patrick Auzat-Magne

 

The Poem

“Autumn Leaves” is a short poem in free verse. Its forty-six lines are divided into four stanzas. The first and third stanzas contain twelve lines each, and the second and fourth stanzas have the same eleven-line refrain. The only punctuation in the entire poem is a period placed at the end of the last line. This almost complete lack of punctuation permits diverse interpretations of many lines because it is not at all clear exactly how one should interpret them. In many cases, two or three different explanations are grammatically possible.

The poem is written in the first person. The unnamed speaker is a man who is addressing a woman whom he used to love. Although their love for each other has now ended, he still feels an emotional bond with her. He addresses her with the intimate tu (for “you”), not with the formalvous. It is clear that these are two decent people “whom life has separated.”

In the first stanza, the speaker calls upon his former lover to “remember the happy days” that now exist only in their memories. When re-creating these days of happiness, Jacques Prévert utilizes the imperfect tense in French. This is entirely appropriate because the imperfect tense refers to habitual past actions or to past actions that lasted for an extended period of time. These were wonderful days for them because “they were then friends.” Their love is described as platonic and pure.

The title, “Autumn Leaves,” occurs twice in the first stanza and once in the third stanza. Prévert states that “Autumn leaves are gathered together in a shovel” for disposal; similarly “memories” and “regrets” are carried away by the “north wind” “into the night of forgetfulness.” These images of “wind” and “night” are richly connotative, suggesting the powerful and almost unconscious human need to remember pleasant experiences from the past. The speaker ends the first stanza by recalling a love song that she used to sing to him.

The identical eleven-line refrain that follows the first and third stanzas is written in a deceptively simple but very evocative style. The speaker imagines that this love song “resembles” them, and he tells her twice within five lines: “You used to love me/ I used to love you.” The loss of love occurs slowly, in an almost imperceptible manner that Prévert compares to the “sea,” which “erases on the sand/ the steps of disunited lovers.”

In the third stanza, Prévert suggests once again that “autumn leaves, memories, and regrets” are all “gathered together in a shovel” for disposal, but the lovers choose to preserve their memories. Although they no longer love each other, he is thankful because she enriched his life and was his “dearest friend.” He regrets nothing because he will always hear in his mind the love song that she used to sing to him. The emotional power of their love still influences their lives although they both realize that they can no longer live together.

Forms and Devices

“Autumn Leaves” illustrates very effectively the refined art of Prévert, who wrote in an apparently straightforward style and yet expressed deep feelings with which all readers can identify. The use of verb tenses in this poem does not seem to be complicated. Prévert, in fact, uses those verb tenses (specifically, the present indicative, the imperfect, and the compound past) that are most frequently used in spoken French. He avoids an overtly literary style, which would have created a barrier between his poem and certain readers. Prévert strove to attract readers who were alienated from extremely esoteric poetry. His poems deal directly with such basic human emotions as love, loss of love, grief, and despair.

The apparent simplicity of style and vocabulary in this poem should not cause one to overlook the subtle art of Prévert. He skillfully contrasts the present with several different periods in the speaker’s past. Prévert’s use of verb tenses is very effective in “Autumn Leaves.” In this forty-six-line poem, there is only one verb in the present conditional and one verb in the future tense, yet each is used extremely effectively. Prévert begins this poem with a wish: “Oh! I would like you to remember/ the happy days when we were friends.” If she still remembers their love, this will bring him much satisfaction, but he realizes that he may no longer be part of her memories. Only one future tense is used in this poem, and even then Prévert links it not with the present but with the past. The speaker tells his former lover: “And the song that you used to sing/ always always I will hear it.” In “Autumn Leaves,” Prévert evokes past feelings by using verbs in the imperfect tense; this is entirely appropriate because lovers cannot link the gradual development and fading of their love to specific events. In French, the compound past tense is used to describe single past actions that may still have a slight effect on the present. Prévert uses only one compound past tense in this poem. The speaker tells his former lover twice in the first stanza: “You see that I have not forgotten.” Through the very effective repetition of these words, which he evokes in the third stanza with the question “How do you believe that I could forget you,” Prévert suggests subtly that he has not forgotten her because he cannot bring himself to forget her. The repetition of both entire sentences and similar expressions also serves to reinforce the fact that this speaker once experienced a pure happiness that he can no longer recapture.

In the first and third stanzas, Prévert included the elegant lines: “At that time life was more beautiful/ and the sun was hotter than it is today.” A warm summer sun brings one much pleasure, but it pales in comparison to the ecstasy that love alone enables one to experience, even if it is only for fleeting moments. Jacques Prévert’s extremely effective use of French verb tenses allows his readers to appreciate more thoroughly the simple but profound psychological insights in this poem, whose eloquence and musicality have been recognized by several famous French singers, including Yves Montand, who have performed and recorded “Autumn Leaves.”

Themes and Meanings

“Autumn Leaves” is a poem about the power of memory. “Les Feuilles mortes” literally means “Dead Leaves,” suggesting the paradoxical coexistence of the past and the present. Although one may delude oneself into believing that one has completely recovered from the loss of love, modern psychology has shown that it is never possible to suppress completely painful experiences from the past. One may not, however, fully appreciate the degree to which the past has formed one’s perceptions of reality and one’s personality. The “leaves” of the past are never completely “dead.” Seeing a certain thing may somehow remind one of experiences in the distant past. This process is called involuntary memory because one has made no conscious effort to recall these events. When the speaker sees someone collecting “autumn leaves” with a shovel before the wind can blow them away, this commonplace occurrence reminds him that it is also possible to collect things that are infinitely more significant: “memories” and “regrets.” Recapturing his memories is bittersweet for the speaker because he recalls simultaneously moments of happiness and his loss of love. He realizes that regret cannot diminish his present sadness; he prefers to think of the fleeting moments of joy that he and his beloved experienced together. Although they no longer live together, he still appreciates the importance of their love in his life. He expresses the essence of his love with these two exquisite lines: “But my silent and faithful love/ still smiles and thanks life.”

In “Autumn Leaves,” Jacques Prévert wrote in a deceptively simple style that hides the subtle and profound psychological power of this poem. The vocabulary used in “Autumn Leaves” can be understood even by intermediate students of French. Prévert clearly wanted his poetry to be accessible to as many readers as possible. A poem such as “Autumn Leaves” can be interpreted at several different levels, and each interpretation reveals the refined artistry and sensitivity of Jacques Prévert.

 

 

 

 

Breakfast

Breakfast

He poured the coffee
Into the cup
He put the milk
Into the cup of coffee
He put the sugar
Into the coffee with milk
With a small spoon
He churned
He drank the coffee
And he put down the cup
Without any word to me
He emptied the coffee with milk
And he put down the cup
Without any word to me
He lighted
One cigarette
He made circles
With the smoke
He shook off the ash
Into the ashtray
Without any word to me
Without any look at me
He got up
He put on
A hat on his head
He put on
A raincoat
Because it was raining
And he left
Into the rain
Without any word to me
Without any look at me
And I buried
My face in my hands
And I cried

Jacques Prévert