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Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918): Exercice / Drill

Translated by Timothy Adès

Vers un village de l’arrière
S’en allaient quatre bombardiers
Ils étaient couverts de poussière
Depuis la tête jusqu’aux pieds
Ils regardaient la vaste plaine
En parlant entre eux du passé
Et ne se retournaient qu’à peine
Quand un obus avait toussé
Tous quatre de la classe seize
Parlaient d’antan non d’avenir
Ainsi se prolongeait l’ascèse
Qui les exerçait à mourir

from Calligrammes

Four men were making their way to the rear
Each of the four was a bombardier
Back to a village, they’d been stood down
Covered in dust from toe to crown.

They looked at the plain and it was vast
And they were talking about the past.
They talked about the past so well
They hardly turned round at the crump of a shell.

Not for them was the future, this class of ’16.
Their talk of the past and how it had been
Was the working out of a discipline
That ground them down till it grubbed them in.

Translation: copyright © Timothy Adès

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