Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée (The Bestiary, or the Procession of Orpheus)

Le chat 
Je souhaite dans ma maison: 
Une femme ayant sa raison, 
Un chat passant parmi les livres,  
Des amis de toute saison Sans lesquels je ne peut pas vivre. 

I hope I may have in my house A sensible right-minded spouse,  
A cat stepping over the books,  
Loyal friends always about  Whom I couldn’t live without.

Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée is a poetic album of 30 short poems by Guillaume Apollinaire with woodcuts by Raoul Dufy, published in 1911.

Apollinaire wrote most of Le Bestiaire in 1907 while living in Paris. He was an avid reader, particularly interested in magic, theosophy, and medieval history, and was fascinated by the bestiaries of the middle ages with their elaborately illuminated manuscripts. He decided to make a modern-day bestiary. It was published shortly thereafter and in 1911 the poems, paired with Dufy’s woodcuts, were published.

The 30- poem set is composed of 26 animals divided into four sections (land dwellers, insects, sea dwellers, and winged creatures) and four Orpheus poems, each one introducing a section of animals. For the most part, the Bestiary poems are quatrains; four of the poems are cinquains. Nearly each line of poetry is octosyllabic (having eight syllables), but is not always in keeping with the tetrameter pattern typical of octosyllabic poetry.

Le Dauphin
Dauphins, vous jouez dans la mer,
Mais le flot est toujours amer.
Parfois, ma joie éclate-t-elle ?
La vie est encore cruelle.
Dolphins, you play in the sea,
Yet the tide is always bitter.
At times, does not my joy burst forth ?
Life is as cruel as ever.

On the surface, the Bestiary poems seem lighthearted and jovial—after all, they concern a procession of animals—but under the surface lie more profound implications. Apollinaire’s poems span many themes. Some of them are autobiographical, while others are amusing. A couple of the poems concern political themes, while several offer a glimpse into Apollinaire’s religious views.

Aside from the structure of the poems, it is also important to consider the crucial role of the woodcut in interpreting the poetry.

Le Paon
En faisant la roue, cet oiseau,
Dont le pennage traîne à terre,
Apparaît encore plus beau,
Mais se découvre le derrière. 

When he spreads his tail, this bird,
Whose plumage trails on the ground,
He looks lovelier than ever,
yet, reveals his bottom.

Le Bestiaire was conceived as a livre d’artist (artist’s book), a 20th century French genre in which the artist’s contribution is “not just illustration but can be regarded as a free interpretation or the way the artist has rendered the text in visual terms.

Apollinaire and Dufy worked closely together to ensure the fluidity of the poem and the woodcut. This unique collaboration was extremely successful in that the poem and woodcut essentially function as one—one picks up where the other leaves off.  – Allison Hill

Long form articles:




Bestiary: or the Parade of Orpheus

Apollinaire, Guillaume

Published by David R. Godine, Publisher (2014)

ISBN 10: 1567921426 ISBN 13: 9781567921427

Selected Writings of Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire

Published by New Directions Publishing Corporation(1971)

ISBN 10: 0811200035 ISBN 13: 9780811200035

Raoul Dufy 1877-1953; Paintings, Drawings, Illustrated Books, Mural Decorations.

Dufy, Raoul and Bryan Robertson,

Published by Arts Council of Great Britain, Hayward Gallery (1983)

ISBN 10: 0728703815 ISBN 13: 9780728703810

Diary of My Songs

Poulenc, Francis

Published by Kahn & Averill Publishers (2007)

ISBN 10: 1871082862 ISBN 13: 9781871082869

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