A story encapsulated in a poem

My middle schooler has been learning a poem by heart for his French class.

He was having a difficult time with the following poem, the excellent Déjeuner du matin by Jacques Prévert . Much of his difficulty in memorizing came from a lack of understanding.

He was reading the poem as  a type of ‘Ode to café au lait’. As a coffee lover myself, I wouldn’t be upset by this interpretation. But once my son and I walked through the story together, and he understood the story couched within the poem, it made more sense to him.

Once he understood its slow build up of the normal morning routines, with only a hint of something odd happening, up until the final, dramatic moment when the woman’s husband or boyfriend walks out on her forever, he was better able to understand the rhythm and the repetition, and to memorize it.

This little poem is a complete story, with an easy language and vocabulary for beginner students (and use of the passé composé!) And, while I can’t always claim I enjoy coming home from a  long day of work to start my ‘night shift’ studying alongside my son, I did have fun on this one.

If you’re interested, I’ve included the poem here below, alongside my English translation (but be forewarned: it sounds far better in the original…)

Déjeuner du matin
Jacques Prévert

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse

Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café

Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait

Avec la petite cuillère
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler

Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s’est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu’il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Et moi j’ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j’ai pleuré.


English translation:

He poured the coffee
in the cup

He poured the milk
in the coffee cup

He added sugar
to the café au lait

With the teaspoon
He stirred
He drank the café au lait
And he placed the cup down
Without speaking to me

He lit
A cigarette
He made smoke rings
With the smoke
He tapped the ashes
Into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He stood up
He put
His hat on his head
He put on
His raincoat
Because it was raining
And he left
Under the rain
Without a word
And I, I dropped
My head in my hands
And I cried.



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