C’est l’automne! Fall is officially here, and as such I’d like to share one of the best known poems in the French language; Chanson d’automne (Autumn Song) by Paul Verlaine. Published in 1866 in Verlaine’s first collection Poèmes saturniens, using the symbolism of fall, it is a sad and melancholic view on growing old.
The first 2 verses were used by General Charles de Gaulle, future president of the liberated France, as a way to warn the French Resistance about the timing of the forthcoming invasion of Normandy.
The BBC’s Radio Londres had signaled to the French Resistance that the opening lines of the poem were to indicate the start of D-Day operations. The first three lines of the poem, “Les sanglots longs / des violons / de l’automne” (“Long sobs of autumn violins”), would mean that Operation Overlord was to start within two weeks. These lines were broadcast on 1 June 1944. The next set of lines, “Blessent mon coeur / d’une langueur / monotone” (“wound my heart with a monotonous languor”), meant that it would start within 48 hours and that the resistance should begin sabotage operations, especially on the French railroad system; these lines were broadcast on 5 June at 23:15.
The poem uses several stylistic devices that are typical of Verlaine. It employs sound techniques such as consonance (the repetition of “n” and “r” sounds) that also creates an onomatopoeic effect, sounding both monotonous and like a violin. In the second verse, the stop consonant and pause after the word suffocant reflect the meaning of the word.