Jacques Prévert’s brief poem is a clear and saddening glimpse of what seems to be the end of a relationship, but the whole thing is deliciously vague. Who are these two people, and what is the nature of their relationship? We know the one who leaves is a man, which we know from the subject pronoun; but the gender of the one left behind and crying is satisfyingly unclear. All we work with is a sparse series of phrases which convey simple images in a stream of consciousness, much like viewing a slideshow of photographs or watching a short film. The reader can delicately apply their own experience, their own preferences, to the particulars that Prévert omits. One might easily take a macabre delight in the simple turns of phrase that evoke such hurtful pangs, such dark little switches of recognition. After all, people in relationships of many flavors have probably parted as sadly as this, perhaps over a final cup of coffee and a farewell cigarette, or in a context similar enough to stir one’s own little cup of bitterness.
I appreciate this poem for its simplicity and accessibility. It was read aloud in a French class I participated in recently, and the little raw nerve it struck led me to investigate Jacques Prévert further, including picking up a copy of his book of poems, Paroles. At this time I connected him as the screenwriter of Les Enfants du paradis (The Children of Paradise, 1945). This multifaceted writer has also had some of his poetry set to music by various composers, or sung by contemporary vocalists such as Édith Piaf. Upon learning this fact, I imagined what sort of music might accompany Déjeuner du matin. Would a slow timbre suffice, or should the adjoining notes be as quick and cruel as the lines of the poem itself? The words in themselves are so brief and strong, what other sound could convey the same feeling? I have read the poem aloud and listened for an appropriate cue, something in the sound of the words that may give me a clue. Unfortunately my training was not in music. Needless to say, this sad little poem has helped tie together various threads of my francophone experience, on both literary and cinematic fronts. It is interesting for myself to note that Prévert had not been discovered before, in the context of a similar academic experience, of while having lived in France for a short time. It is especially silly as I have enjoyed other French poets such as Charles Baudelaire, particularly his Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil) and his translations from English of the stories of the American writer Edgar Allen Poe. My recent and whimsical discovery of Prévert has helped to remind me of the richness of any language tradition, and the many depths I can still delightfully explore in French.