Analysis of Le Pont Mirabeau by Guillaume Apollinaire

Background
“Le Pont Mirabeau” by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was first published in February of the year 1912. Many who have read, heard, or studied it hail it as lovely and lyrical. Many translations have been published since then, some more literal than others. The translation by Richard Wilbur can be found in the analysis further on. It is from this translation that all information henceforth will be drawn.

Structure
The poem consists of eight stanzas regularly alternating between four and two lines. Lines 1, 3, and 4 of each four-lined stanza rhyme, or are at least slant rhymes. Every two-lined stanza is identical. The ends of the couplets are met with two rhyming words, “day” and “stay.” The repeated couplet sounds like a song’s choruses, contributing to the overall musicality of the poem. The poems printed form includes indentations that appear as a sort of zigzag form resembling the curved flow of a river, which is a suitable visual component to match the title of the poem referencing a bridge and mentioning the Seine River.

Analysis
Under the Mirabeau Bridge there flows the Seine

The Seine River in France flows right through Paris, a city often cited as being one of the most romantic in the world. The river continues to be used commercially and as a water source, making it quite important for the thriving city around it. The opening line brings an image of a bridge above this famous, flowing river.

Must I recall
Our loves recall how then
After each sorrow joy came back again

The next two lines are likely the speaker (henceforth referred to with male pronoun “he”) mentioning it is important to recall, for him and loves or lovers, joy comes at the end of a period of sorrow. Whether this is meant to be encouraging or sorrowful remains to be seen.

Let night come on bells end the day
The days go by me still I stay

This couplet is repeated throughout the poem. The first line of the couplet speaks of the day ending as night comes along, for which the translator chose the image of bells to signal that time. The second line touches further on the passage of time only now it is in relation to the speaker, who stays day after day. This lends the impression he is waiting for something or someone but given the mention of love in the opening lines, it is likely a loved one.

Hands joined and face to face let’s stay just so

Although time may pass the speaker wishes to remain with his loved one, together and looking at one another. This sentiment can be applied physically and figuratively speaking.

While underneath
The bridge of our arms shall go
Weary of endless looks the river’s flow

These lines are a bit more difficult to comprehend at first read. Picturing what the words illustrate in a literal manner, the reader imagines the arms of the two lovers as a “bridge” when their hands are linked. Beneath them the river continues to flow just as it does under the actual bridge they stand on. Both the lovers and the rivers are weary, as often happens over time for various reasons. With the progression of the poem the link of time and love becomes clearer.

Let night come on bells end the day
The days go by me still I stay

After the second quatrain the repeat couplet appears.

All love goes by as water to the sea

This is a powerful statement. To begin, a river is a natural body of water leading to another, most often the sea. The sea is beautiful and full of life but taking it in can be daunting. In the same way, love leads the same course. Whether one grows to love another quickly or slowly, there is always a progression. The more one loves and becomes involved with a lover, the more complex the relationship becomes. It turns into a bigger part of one’s life eventually turning into the sea. Unfortunately, some become too overwhelmed by the sea in the same way some become overwhelmed by love and a romantic relationship.

All love goes by
How slow life seems to me
How violent the hope of love can be

Moments in life sometimes pass in an instant while others seem to slow down time. Both of these occur in love but the most poignant line in the third quatrain is the final one. The hope of love certainly can be violent. It is a strong, vivid, and even volatile emotion to experience. Relationships springing from love are even more of the aforementioned. Hoping to love or be loved, especially for mutual love to result in a functioning relationship, is a tumultuous journey.

Let night come on bells end the day
The days go by me still I stay

The repeating couplet appears for the third time in the poem.

The days the weeks pass by beyond our ken

The “ken” noun in this line is a synonym for knowledge. The speaker lets the reader know time goes by without our knowledge, meaning we do not fully grasp or notice it.

Neither time past
Nor love comes back again
Under the Mirabeau Bridge there flows the Seine

In the final quatrain, which is the second to last stanza of the poem, the speaker ties up the connection of love and time. When either is gone, it does not return. We may not notice either slipping away as it happens but we certainly notice once we’ve lost it. Regrettably, we cannot turn back time or force love to return.

Let night come on bells end the day
The days go by me still I stay

The poem closes with the final occurrence of the repeating couplet.

Summary
The speaker of them poem expresses the intensity of love and the passage of time, especially the two linked together. He mentions his lover when she appears with him on the bridge, hands linked, but it may be a mere memory of the time they were together. The overall tone of the poem is sorrowful leading the reader to believe he laments the loss of the one he loved. The poem has often been linked to his breakup with Marie Laurencin.

Theme
Time and love, more specifically the nature of the two, are the overarching themes of the poem. The two are intricately linked and at the conclusion of the poem the speaker astutely observes a commonality between the two– once they are lost they do not return. Both love and time are connected to life as well and with the passage of time we encounter numerous experiences, some delightful and others difficult. The same is to be said about love.

References
– writing.upenn.edu/library/Apollinaire_Mirabeau.html
– unix.cc.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/fr/wilbur.mirabeau.html
– unix.cc.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/fr/Mirabeau.trans.html
– melbelin.com/FrenchPoetry.html
– aparisguide.com/seine

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Alexis C

Alexis C

I am a lover of literature in all its forms and from all time periods. I am a passionate short-fiction writer and poet who also enjoys teaching.
Alexis C

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