"Poems of Jacques Prévert"

Alastair Campbell
Apt 1006
5303 52nd St
Yellowknife, NWT
Canada, XIA-IVI

Deep South v.3. n.1. (Autumn 1997)

Copyright (c) 1997 by Alastair Campbell

Jacques Prévert

Jacques Prévert, France's most widely read poet since Victor Hugo, was born in Paris in 1900. He left school in 1915 and worked at various jobs until 1920 when he served in the military in Lorraine and with the French occupation forces in Turkey.

In 1925 he began to associate with the surrealists, including André Breton and Louis Aragon. "Expelled" from this group by Breton in 1930, because of his "occupation or character", he responded with a savage satirical attack on Breton, "Death of a Gentleman". His first poems were published in the same year, and in 1931 there appeared his first major success: "Attempt to Describe a Dinner of Heads in Paris - France", subsequently published in Paroles.

In the 1930s he worked with a theatre company, the "October Group", linked to the Communist Party though not always reflecting the Party's views. In 1933 he attended the International Workers' Theatre Olympiad in Moscow for the première of his play, "The Battle of Fontenoy". In the same years he began writing film scripts, his first film ("It's In The Bag") appearing in 1932.

Paroles, Prévert's first collection of poetry, appeared late in 1945. Patched together by René Bertelé from forgotten newspapers and reviews, cabaret songs, and scribblings from the backs of envelopes and the paper tablecloths of cafés, Paroles is widely considered Prévert's best work. By the mid-1960s more than a million copies of it and other collections of his poems were in print.

Jacques Prévert died of lung cancer in 1977. Two further poetry collections, Soleil de nuit (1980) and La cinquième saison (1984) were published posthumously.

  1. Alicante
  2. This Love
  3. Song
  4. Breakfast
  5. Family Life (1)
  6. Family Life (2)
  7. Immense and Red
  8. The Garden
  9. For You My Love
  10. First Day
  11. The Wonders of Life
  12. It's Like That
  13. Hyde Park


An orange on the table
Your dress on the rug
And you in my bed
Sweet gift of the present
Freshness of the night
Warmth of my life

This Love

This love
So violent
So fragile
So tender
So hopeless
This love
As beautiful as the day
And as wretched as the weather
When the weather is wretched

This love
So real
This love
So beautiful
So happy
So joyous
And so ridiculous
Trembling with fear
Like a child in the dark
And so sure of itself
Like a tranquil man in the quiet of the night
This love
Which made others afraid
Which made them gossip
Which drained the colour from their cheeks
This love
Watched for
Because we watched for them
Snared, wounded, trampled, finished, denied, forgotten
Because we snared, wounded, trampled, finished, denied, forgot it

This love
Still so alive
This is yours
This is mine
This love
Which is always new
And which never changes
Real like a plant
Quivering like a bird
Warm and as alive as the summer
We can both
Go and come back
We can forget
And fall asleep
And wake up
To suffer old age
Fall asleep again
To dream to death
To smile and laugh
Young again
Our love endures
Obstinate as a mule
As alive as the desire
As cruel as the memory
As stupid as the regret
As tender as the memory
As cold as marble
As beautiful as the day
As delicate as an infant
It watches us
And speaks to us
Without saying a word
And I
I listen to it
And I cry
I cry for you
I cry for myself
And I beg you
For yourself
For me
And for all those who love
And who are loved
I cry to it
For you
For me
And for all the others
I do not know
Stay there
There where you are
There where you were before
Stay there
Don't move
Don't go away
We who are loved
We have forgotten you
Do not forget us
We had only you on this earth
Do not let us grow cold
Further and further away every day
It doesn't matter where
Give us a sign of life
In a nook in the woods
In the forest of memory
Suddenly arise
Take us by the hand
And save us


What day are we?
We are every day
My friend
We're the whole of life
My love
We love and we live
We live and we love
And we don't really know
What life is
And we don't really know
What the day is
And we don't really know
What love is


He poured the coffee
Into the cup
He poured the milk
Into the cup of coffee
He added the sugar
To the coffee and milk
He stirred it
With a teaspoon
He drank the coffee
And put back the cup
Without speaking to me
He lit a cigarette
He blew some rings
With the smoke
He flicked the ashes
Into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put his hat
On his head
He put on
His raincoat
Because it was raining
He went out
Into the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And I
I took my head
In my hands
And I wept

Family Life (1)

The mother knits
The son goes to the war
She finds this quite natural, the mother
And the father?
What does the father do?
He has his business
His wife knits
His son goes to the war
He has his business
He finds this quite natural, the father
And the son
And the son
What does the son find?
He finds absolutely nothing, the son
The son: his mother does her knitting,
His father has his business
And he has the war
When the war is over
He'll go into business with his father
The war continues
The mother continues knitting
The father continues with his business
The son is killed
He doesn't continue
The father and mother visit the graveyard
They find this natural
The father and the mother
Life goes on
A life of knitting, war, business
Business, war, knitting, war
Business, business, business
Life with the graveyard

Family Life (2)

The Mum knits
The kid goes off to the war
It seems kind of normal, to the Mum
And the Dad?
What's the Dad up to?
He's got his job
His old lady's got her knitting
His kid's gone off to the war
He's got his job
It seems kind of normal, to the Dad
And the kid?
What about the kid?
What does he make of it all?
Sweet fuck all
His old woman's got her knitting
His old man's got his job
And he's got the fucking war
And when the war's over
He'll get a job
Like his old man
Anyhow the war goes on
His old woman goes on with her knitting
His old man goes on with his job
He gets his fucking brains blown out
He doesn't go on
He goes under
The Mum and Dad
Go visit the grave
Which seems kind of normal
To the Mum and Dad
And life goes on
A life of knitting, the war, the job
War, knitting, war
Job, job, job
Life in a bloody graveyard

Immense and Red

Immense and red
Above the Grand Palais
The winter sun appears
And disappears
Like it my heart will disappear
And all my blood will go
Go look for you
My love
My beauty
And find you
There where you are

The Garden

Thousands and thousands of years
Would not be enough
To tell of
That small second of eternity
When you held me
When I held you
One morning
In winter's light
In Montsouris Park
In Paris
On earth
This earth
That is a star

For You My Love

I went to the market, where they sell birds
and I bought some birds
for you
my love
I went to the market, where they sell flowers
and I bought some flowers
for you
my love
I went to the market, where they sell chains
and I bought some chains
heavy chains
for you
my love
And then I went to the slave market
and I looked for you
but I did not find you there
my love

First Day

White sheets in a closet
Red sheets on a bed
A child in its mother
The mother in agony
The father in the hallway
The hallway in the house
The house in the town
The town in the night
Death in a cry
And the child in life

The Wonders of Life

In the teeth of a trap
The paw of a white fox
And on the snow, blood
The blood of the white fox
And in the snow, tracks
The tracks of the white fox
Who escaped on three legs
As the sun was setting
A rabbit between his teeth
Still alive

It's Like That

A sailor has left the sea
his ship has left the port
the king has left the queen
and a miser has left his gold
                                it's like that
A widow has left her grief
a crazy woman has left the madhouse
and your smile has left my lips
                                it's like that
You will leave me
you will leave me
you will leave me
you will come back to me
you will marry me
you will marry me
The knife marries the wound
the rainbow marries the rain
the smile marries the tears
the caress marries the frown
                                it's like that
And fire marries ice
and death marries life
and life marries love
You will marry me
you will marry me
you will marry me

Hyde Park

Like the sea that
tumbles on the sand
here the lovers act
as seems good to them
And nobody asks
if it's for the night or
just a while
nobody talks of the
price of this room
of live green velvet
Hyde and Jeckyll Park
public Eden where one hears
night and day
"the Devil save the Dream!"


These poems are translated from the following originals:

Alicante ("Alicante"), Cet amour ("This Love"), Chanson ("Song"), Déjeuner du matin ("Breakfast"), Familiale ("Family Life"), Immense et rouge ("Immense and Red"), Le Jardin ("The Garden"), Pour toi mon amour ("For You My Love"), and Premier jour ("First Day") from Paroles, Librarie Gallimard, Paris, 1949.

Les prodiges de la liberté ("The Wonders of Life") and ... Et Voilà ("It's Like That") from Histoires et d'autres histoires; Editions Gallimard; Paris, 1963.

Hyde Park ("Hyde Park") from Charmes de Londres, Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1976.

Jacques Prévert: Bibliography

Original Works



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