Le Pont Mirabeau was written in 1912, after Apollinaire had separated from a romantic companion, Marie Laurencin. In a letter to a friend in 1915, the poet said of his monologue poem that it was «une chanson triste de cette longue liaison brisée», and the work can be read as a meditation on the ephemeral nature of love. It is a song of metamorphosis, and it sings of the slippery and unstablestatus of things. The structure, argumentation, tone, language and stylistic technique of the poem all dynamically interplay to support the themes of stasis, movement, change and permanence of love, time, place and self.
This musical, elegiac poem is composed of four strophes and four refrains. Each strophe, or stanza is a quatrain of four vers, or lines, and here lies a structural clue to thetheme - these quatrains are composed of three decasyllabic (tercets) of which the central vers is broken in two (of four and six syllables respectively, of which the second retains the feminine rhyme), creating a fixed rhythm which is maintained throughout the poem. This central, broken vers can be seen as a liaison between the two vers on either side, and the symbolically ruptured link or ‘bridge’which appears nostalgically intact in the image of the «pont de nos bras» of the second strophe.
The argumentation of the poem is fluid, as the Seine which is transformed into l’amour, le temps, and also as the pont which metamorphoses into and out of «le pont de nos bras». The strophes, then, show a development of the themes of the poem, with harmonious transitions, musically andconceptually. The first strophe describes the passing of the Seine beneath the bridge and creates a syntactically ambiguous link between «la Seine» and «nos amours», and draws attention to a cycling alternation of opposites: «La joie venait toujours après la peine».Thus we have immediately a blurring of boundaries, and a suggestion that apparent opposites are part of a natural order which mediates theirdifference.
The second strophe replaces the historical bridge with the image of the physical union of the two lovers «Les mains dans les mains/face à face», while the imperative, «restons» and references to «éternels regards» impress upon the reader the vulnerability of human love, which in truth resembles the changeable river more than the static bridge. The third strophe focuses on «l’amour»which «s’en va», and the repetitive, hypnotic phrases and sounds are belied by the final word of the strophe: «violent», demonstrating the perpetual conflict within the poet. The fourth strophe uses symmetry in the first vers, and the repetition of «Ni temps passé/Ni les amours reviennent», and the return of the first vers as the last in a gesture of circularity, to demonstrate a resigned acceptanceto the va et vient of the world.
The refrain, a seven syllable distique, or couplet, is repeated in identical form after each strophe. Its unchanging form allows it to operate as a symbol of the observer, the unmoving bridge under which flow the quatrains, underscoring the dynamic of movement and stability. The musicality of the heptasyllabe plays with the inner semantic symmetries: «Viennela nuit/ sonne l’heure//Les jours s’en vont /je demeure» of which the last clause identifies the narrator with the bridge, which also remains. The narrator is, however, also identifiable with the Seine flowing beneath, in that the river maintains its identity though is constantly shifting, moving and transforming. In this way the self is shown to be both eternal and ephemeral, and the ambiguityand ambivalence of this assertion is reflected in the tone (familiar, plaintive, nostalgic and finally accepting) and language of the poem, as well as the absence of punctuation.
The use of simple, everyday language exploits the nuances of semantic context, creating a subtle ambiguity and simultaneous operation at concrete and abstract levels. Verbs of movement -couler, venir, aller, passer,...
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