- Following Generation
Les Colchiques [Autumn Crocuses]
Translated into English by Oliver Bernard
|Le pré est vénéneux mais joli en automne||The meadow is poisonous but pretty in the autumn|
|Les vaches y paissant||The cows that graze there|
|Lentement s’empoisonnent||Are slowly poisoned|
|Le colchique couleur de cerne et de lilas||Meadow-saffron the colour of lilac and of shadows|
|Y fleurit tes yeux sont comme cette fleur-la||Under the eyes grows there your eyes are like those flowers|
|Violâtres comme leur cerne et comme cet automne||Mauve as their shadows and mauve as this autumn|
|Et ma vie pour tes yeux lentement s’empoisonne||And for your eyes’ sake my life is slowly poisoned|
|Les enfants de l’école viennent avec fracas||Children from school come with their commotion|
|Vêtus de hoquetons et jouant de l’harmonica||Dressed in smocks and playing the mouth-organ|
|Ils ceuillent les colchiques qui sont comme des mères||Picking autumn crocuses which are like their mothers|
|Filles de leurs filles et sont couleur de tes paupières||Daughters of their daughters and the colour of your eyelids|
|Qui battent comme les fleurs bat-tent au vent dément||Which flutter like flowers in the mad breeze blown|
|Le gardien du troupeau chante tout doucement||The cowherd sings softly to him-self all alone|
|Tandis que lentes et meuglant les vaches abandonnent||While slow moving lowing the cows leave behind them|
|Pour toujours ce grand pré mal fleuri par l’automne||Forever this great meadow ill flowered by the autumn1|
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You’re reading Autumn Crocuses, that Apollinaire poem. You didn’t notice anything special, you didn’t see anything, you passed right by it. There is, in lines 10–11, a small mystery. This mystery is held in the little phrase that runs: “autumn crocuses which are like their mothers / Daughters of their daughters.” Now admit that you’ve never asked yourself what this could really mean, these “mothers / Daughters of their daughters.” You’re going to do just that right now, you’re going to ask yourself that question now. Now? Yes, now, which is to say, afterwards.
Following in his footsteps, after him, “he” being Lévi-Strauss, one of the first to have felt the need to investigate, concerning the Autumn Crocuses, the mystery of “A Small Mythico-Literary Puzzle” (a text published in The View from Afar). Lévi-Strauss does not present a reading of Apollinaire’s entire poem, but only of this “detail that has remained enigmatic to commentators. Why does the poet equate with autumn crocuses the epithet mères filles de leurs filles (‘mothers daughters of their daughters’)?”2 You’re about to discover this enigma, after Lévi-Strauss.
You are, we are, part of the “generation following” structuralism. The “generation following” structuralism, its “following generation,” means first of all the descendants, the inheritors, the sons and daughters. Next it means the process of education (formation), of engendering, of constituting the following itself, the [End Page 20] form of posterity. “Following generation” invites a reflection not only on what it might mean to inherit, but also on the shaping (formation) of the inheritance by its inheritor, on the fact that an inheritance—no matter what it may be—far from being entirely constituted, must again, in some way, be engendered, shaped, regenerated to be what it is—to be something given. This double game of passivity and of activity or spontaneity in inheritance will once more evoke the menacing motif of autumn crocuses, the mute cry of these flowers that arrive to interrupt the sequence of filiation and education so as to poison the order of succession. Here, in the fields of the poem, in its meadowlands, daughters are before mothers, sons before fathers.
But what does “structuralism” mean? Without seeming to, that’s fundamentally what Lévi-Strauss is asking himself here. The phrase “mothers daughters of their daughters” corresponds to no existing kinship structure, no facts of lineage that the anthropologist might be able to study. Which is to say that, by building...