The Bestiary: Or Orpheus’s Procession Poem by Guillaume Apollinaire

The Bestiary: Or Orpheus’s Procession

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(Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée)


Admire the vital power
And nobility of line:
It’s the voice that the light made us understand here
That Hermes Trismegistus writes of in Pimander.

The Tortoise

From magic Thrace, O delerium!
My sure fingers sound the strings.
The creatures pass to the sounds
Of my tortoise, and the songs I sing.

The Horse

My harsh dreams knew the riding of you
My gold-charioted fate will be your lovely car
That for reins will hold tight to frenzy,
My verses, the patterns of all poetry.

The Tibetan Goat

The fleece of this goat and even
That gold one which cost such pain
To Jason’s not worth a sou towards
The tresses with which I’m taken.

The Serpent

You set yourself against beauty.
And how many women have been
victims of your cruelty!
Eve, Eurydice, Cleopatra:
I know three or four more after.

The Cat

I wish there to be in my house:
A woman possessing reason,
A cat among books passing by,
Friends for every season
Lacking whom I’m barely alive.

The Lion

O lion, miserable image
Of kings lamentably chosen,
Now you’re only born in a cage
In Hamburg, among the Germans.

The Hare

Don’t be fearful and lascivious
Like the hare and the amorous.
But always let your brain weave
The full form that conceives.

The Rabbit

There’s another cony I remember
That I’d so like to take alive.
Its haunt is there among the thyme
In the valleys of the Land of Tender.

The Dromedary

With his four dromedaries
Don Pedro of Alfaroubeira
Travels the world and admires her.
He does what I would rather
If I’d those four dromedaries.

The Mouse

Sweet days, the mice of time,
You gnaw my life, moon by moon.
God! I’ve twenty eight years soon,
and badly spent ones I imagine.

The Elephant

I carry treasure in my mouth,
As an elephant his ivory.
At the price of flowing words,
Purple death!…I buy my glory.


Look at this pestilential tribe
Its thousand feet, its hundred eyes:
Beetles, insects, lice
And microbes more amazing
Than the world’s seventh wonder
And the palace of Rosamunde!

The Caterpillar

Work leads us to riches.
Poor poets, work on!
The caterpillar’s endless sigh
Becomes the lovely butterfly.

The Fly

The songs that our flies know
Were taught to them in Norway
By flies who are they say
Divinities of snow.

The Flea

Fleas, friends, lovers too,
How cruel are those who love us!
All our blood pours out for them.
The well-beloved are wretched then.

The Grasshopper

Here’s the slender grasshopper
The food that fed Saint John.
May my verse be similar,
A treat for the best of men.


His heart was the bait: the heavens were the pond!
For, fisherman, what fresh or seawater catch
equals him, either in form or savour,
that lovely divine fish, Jesus, My Saviour?

The Dolphin

Dolphins, playing in the sea
The wave is bitter gruel.
Does my joy sometimes erupt?
Yet life is still so cruel.

The Octopus
Hurling his ink at skies above,
Sucking the blood of what he loves
And finding it delicious,
Is myself the monster, vicious.

The Jellyfish

Medusas, miserable heads
With hairs of violet
You enjoy the hurricane
And I enjoy the very same.

The Lobster

Uncertainty, O my delights
You and I we go
As lobsters travel onwards, quite
Backwards, Backwards, O.

The Carp

In your pools, and in your ponds,
Carp, you indeed live long!
Is it that death forgets to free
You fishes of melancholy?


The female of the Halcyon,
Love, the seductive Sirens,
All know the fatal songs
Dangerous and inhuman.
Don’t listen to those cursed birds
But Paradisial Angels’ words.

The Sirens

Do I know where your ennui’s from, Sirens,
When you grieve so widely under the stars?
Sea, I am like you, filled with broken voices,
And my ships, singing, give a name to the years.

The Dove

Dove, both love and spirit
Who engendered Jesus Christ,
Like you I love a Mary.
And so with her I marry.

The Peacock

In spreading out his fan, this bird,
Whose plumage drags on earth, I fear,
Appears more lovely than before,
But makes his derrière appear.

The Owl

My poor heart’s an owl
One woos, un-woos, re-woos.
Of blood, of ardour, he’s the fowl.
I praise those who love me, too.


Yes, I’ll pass fearful shadows
O certain death, let it be so!
Latin mortal dreadful word,
Ibis, Nile’s native bird.

The Ox

This cherubim sings the praises
Of Paradise where, with Angels,
We’ll live once more, dear friends,
When the good God intends.

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