From Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphee (The Bestiary or Retinue of Orpheus)

Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire was born in Rome in 1880. His mother was Polish, and his father was probably an Italian nobleman. (Apollinaire did his best to conceal his origins.) Apollinaire moved to Paris as a young man, and participated in almost every contemporary artistic movement, including cubist painting and the theater of the absurd. He died during the influenza epidemic of 1918, at the age of 38.

Le Bestiaire ou Cortege d'Orphee was published in 1911, with illustrations by Raoul Dufy. It consists of a series of poems, introduced by the mythical Orpheus; though the poems are ostensibly about animals, their real subject often seems to be the poet himself. I have included several different animals, and one of Orpheus' characteristic introductions. The poems are superficially simple, which makes translation either easy or impossible. I had to omit one of my favorites, "Le Méduse," because it depends on the fact that the French word for jellyfish is Medusa.

Intro - Goat - Dromedary - Elephant - Orpheus - Octopus - Dove - Peacock
Animal Poetry

Translations by Ursula Whitcher, 2001