“Il Pleut” (It’s Raining) is a poem from Apollinaire’s Calligrammes. The sonic quality of the words and the general sensations and emotions felt upon reading the poem are more important than literal interpretations of each line. The way the words are arranged on the page also helps to create meaning. The visual aspect of the poem enhances and reflects images and emotions conjured up by the text. Though this kind of experimentation is very common in poetry now, it was revolutionary at the time it was written.
The poem, translated into English: (I’ve included an image of the poem in its original format in French at the end)
its raining womens voices as if they were dead even in memory
its raining you too marvelous encounters of my life oh droplets
and those clouds rear and begin to whinny a universe of auricular cities
listen to it rain while regret and disdain weep an ancient music
listen to the the fetters falling that bind you high and low
“Il Pleut” evokes a melancholy rainy day. The words cascade down the page in a stream, reminiscent of a heavy downpour. The images and thoughts drift into each other fluidly. The tone is heavy. The first stream of text translates as “its raining womens voices as if they were dead even in memory”. I picture a person sitting near a window, listening to the rain, recalling certain memories, recalling women’s voices, but they are so far gone that they might as well be dead, even the memories of them are dead. The rain seems in a way to be flushing the memories out, making them dead.
The next line,”its raining you too marvelous encounters of my life of droplets”, ties into the theme of rain and it also gives a sense of there being many events and encounters in a person’s life, each one a small droplet that is part of a larger whole. I wonder if marvelous is meant sarcastically at all.
In the third line, “and those clouds rear and begin to whinny a universe of auricular cities”, storm clouds are personified as wild horses, rearing and whinnying. I picture a cloud taking on the form of a stallion and blowing out wisps of cloud like smoke. It is very surreal and fantastic. The clouds in the line may represent troubled thoughts. Auricular can either mean “to be told privately” or “understood by the sense of hearing”. The “universe of auricular cities” refers to a private reminiscing in the mind of various sounds, conjured up by turbulent thoughts, or clouds.
The fourth line,”listen to it rain while regret and disdain weep an ancient music”, is incredibly beautiful, and is the most straightforward. Negative emotions such as regret and disdain surface while listening to rain. Weep, or the original “pleurent” is a clever word choice because it also conjures up an image of water flowing forth.
The last line translates to “listen to the fetters falling that bind you high and low”. Fetters are chains or shackles, something that confines you. I get a sense of the rain being a metaphor for old painful thoughts trickling in and causing emotions to clash like a storm. It is painful and intense but afterward the shackles that bind begin to fall. Listening to the rain is a cleansing ritual. This poem captures the essence of that experience.
Calligrammes, Guillaume Apollinaire