The Musician of Saint-Merri

I finally have the right to greet these beings I do not know
They pass by in front of me and gather far away
While everything about them is strange to me
And their hope is just as strong as mine is now

I do not sing this world and the other stars
I sing all the possibilities of myself beyond this world and the stars
I sing the joy of wandering and the pleasure of dying of it

On the 21st day of the month of May 1913
Ferryman of the dead and the deathumming Merriennes
Millions of flies fanned out a splendor
When a man with no eyes no nose and no ears
Walked down Sébasto and turned onto the rue Aubry-le-Boucher
The young man had brown hair and his cheeks were as red as strawberries
Man Ah! Ariadne
He was playing a flute whose music guided his steps
He stopped at the corner of the rue Saint-Martin
Playing the tune that I sing and that I made up
The women in the street came up to him
From every direction
When suddenly the bells of Saint-Merri began to chime
The musician quit playing and drank from the fountain
The one at the corner of the rue Simon-le-Franc
Then Saint Merri fell silent
The unknown man began the tune again
Retracing his steps to the rue de la Verrerie
Where he turned and was followed by the flock of women
Who came out of houses
Who came from the side streets their eyes wild
Hands stretched out toward the melodious ravisher
He went along casually playing his tune
He went along dreadfully

Then elsewhere
What time does the train leave for Paris

At that moment
The pigeons in the Moluccas were defecating nutmeg
At the same time
Catholic mission in Boma what have you done with the sculptor

She crosses a bridge that links Bonn to Beuel and disappears into Pützchen

At that very instant
A girl in love with the mayor

In another neighborhood
So poet you should compete with the labels on perfume bottles

All in all O you scoffers you have not taken very much from people
You have barely extracted just a little fat from their poverty
But we who are dying from living far from one another
Hold out our arms and on these rails a long train rolls along loaded with goods

You sat next to me and wept in the back of the cab

And now
You look like me you look like me unfortunately

We are alike as in architecture of the past century
Those tall chimneys like towers

We go higher now and no longer touch the ground

And while everyone was living and changing

The procession of women as long as a day without bread
Followed the happy musician down the rue de la Verrerie

Processions O processions
It’s when the king went away to Vincennes back then
When the ambassadors were arriving in Paris
When thin Suger was hastening toward the Seine
When the uprising was dying down around Saint-Merri

Processions O processions
The women spilled over so great was their number
Into all the neighboring streets
And hurried like mad
To keep up with the musician
Ah! Ariadne and you Paquette and you Amine
And you Mia and you Simone and you Mavize
And you Colette and you beautiful Genevieve
They went trembling past and airily empty
And their light and nimble steps moved with the measure
Of the pastoral music that led along
Their eager ears

The unknown man paused at a building for sale
An abandoned building
With broken windows
It’s a sixteenth-century lodging
Whose courtyard serves as a parking lot for delivery vans
This is where the musician went in
His music became languorous as it started to fade
The women followed him into the abandoned building
All intermingled in this company
Every last one went in without looking back
Without regretting what they left behind
What they abandoned
Without ruing the day or their lives or their memories
Soon there was no one left on the rue de la Verrerie
Except me and a priest from Saint-Merri
We entered the old house
But found no one there

Now evening is here
From Saint-Merri the Angelus chimes
Processions O processions
It’s when the king came back from Vincennes back then
A troop of cap makers came
Some banana dealers came
Soldiers in the Republican Guard came
O night
Flock of languorous faces of women
O night
You my grief and my waiting in vain
I hear the sound of a flute dying far away

From Zone: Selected Poems of Guillaume Apollinaire. Published by New York Review Books. Translation Copyright © 2015 by Ron Padgett.