AZNAVOUR – three songs

Aznavour died at the end of September.  It feels as if a part of France has been lost.  I share my thoughts on three of his songs.

La Mamma was co-written with Robert Gall and released in 1962.  It deals with an Italian family facing the dying of the mother.  It is a portrait of grief with touches of realism — even the difficult “Gregory” is by the bedside.  The acoustic guitar enhances the melody, achieving a piercing sadness.  There are many covers to this song, including that by Ray Charles.

Triste Venise is a song about the loss of love against the the beauty of Venice –  “Goodbye all the pigeons  / Who made us an escort  /  Farewell Bridge of Sighs  /  Goodbye lost dreams”.  It was co-written with Françoise Dorin and released in 1964.

La Bohéme deals with the disappearance of bohemian life in Montmarte, Paris, probably pre-Second World War.  A painter recalls his hunger and the joy of his creativity in those years.  He sings the praise of his model who “became pretty” because of the struggle of their lives.  As Aznavour’s own favourite, this signature song might well be about his life.  He wrote it in 1965 when it was released.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2018



Wikipedia on the songs



Canada Virtual Museum

Venice – Anglophilia

Montmartre – Utrillo


This is where we got to know each other

I who was crying famine

And you who posed naked

Bohemia, bohemia

That meant

One is happy

Bohemia, bohemia       –  La Bohéme


Armistice – further thoughts

The second in a series of two

On Sunday, 11th November, across France, the cities, towns, villages, the church bells pealed.  With many television documentaries and the reflections of historians, something of what happened in those years became more clear.  I heard a moving poem by Robert Graves (see below) and the memories of two films came to me.

The first was the Australian film Gallipoli about a young man, an athlete, who dies needlessly alongside thousands of compatriots, as a result of the mismanagement of the leaders.  I was shaken by this film.

The second film, based on a musical, was Oh, What a Lovely War!  Devastating in its message, it did this without showing a drop of blood  – a scene, for example, of war staff in their office drowning under statistics of the dead on a ribbon spewed from a machine.  I recall a fragment from a lyric:  The bells of hell go tingalingaling / for you, but not for me /  O, Death, where is thy stingalingaling / O, Grave, thy victory?  The film ends with a young man, in the bloom of his youth, running through a field of poppies, and finally, after pausing, lying down, disappearing in the red.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018



Gallipoli poster – Alarmy

John Mills, “Oh, What a Lovely War!”  – BBC / Wonder

Image – BBC / Wonder

Graves poem –


Poem for a dead Boche

To you who’d read my songs of War

And only hear of blood and fame,

I’ll say (you’ve heard it said before)

”War’s Hell!” and if you doubt the same,

Today I found in Mametz Wood        

A certain cure for lust of blood:


Where, propped against a shattered trunk,

In a great mess of things unclean,

Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk

With clothes and face a sodden green,       

Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,

Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.

Robert Graves



Armistice, 11th November, 2018

It is with feeling that I reflect on this moment in history.  With my own health in question, I think of the millions (hell, can we ever forgive ourselves?) who died in that terrible war from 1914 – 1918.  I think of the humiliation of Germany by the smug victors and the revenge exacted for this, a little over 20 years later.  In 1919, two South Africans, Smuts and Botha, warned the League of Nations about their course of action.  This was ignored.

In the first 33 years of the 20th-century there were more war casualties than in the rest of human history.  The next world war, worse than all wars, was to come.  What are we?

While I have been blessed with no war in my life, my father was in the Second World War.  Claudie’s father was in both wars.

Recently, on Facebook, a past student, probably from 40 years ago, remembers me reading to the class Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est, probably written in his last year before he died in the trenches.  I remember apologizing to the students that I would not read this well.  I almost choked over the last lines and the class stared at me in silence.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

Scheduled for 11th November, 2018, at 11:11



Casualties – Pinterest

Wilfred Owen – Academy of American Poets (Note that Owen was British)

Verdun – The Straits Times


                               “And at the going down of the sun,

                               And in the morning,

                               We will remember them

                               Those names who lie in our hall.”

                                                      Sappers Rus, Magaliesberg, South Africa


Two poems from the French Resistance

I struggle to understand and appreciate the poems from the French Resistance.  When I do grasp, by means of translation, I am moved.  For various reasons, it lets me think of poems by Louis Leipoldt after the Anglo-Boer War.

Combat, with Albert Camus as editor, was the chief underground newspaper of the Resistance in which poems were published, always under noms des plumes.

Leo Marks, British writer and cryptologue, maintained contact with the various resistance movements in occupied countries.  His Code Poem was used extensively in the French Resistance, for the funerals of the fallen.  The reference to yours is to the occupied country, in this case, France.

The life that I have

Is all that I have

And the love that I have

For the life that I have

Is yours and yours and yours


A sleep will I have

A rest will I have

Yet death is but a pause.

The peace of my years

In the long green grass

Is yours and yours and yours

Liberté is a much longer poem written in 1942 by Paul Éluard.  So doing, he becomes targeted by the Gestapo and the French Milice as a terrorist.  With whetted skill, he survived the war.

The poem has twenty verses, each with the same refrain: I write your name, with the your name referring to freedom.  As I read the full poem, it becomes a pounding anthem for me.  I share a few verses.

On golden images

On weapons of warriors

On the crown of kings

    I write your name


On the plains of the horizon

On the wings of birds

On the mill of shadows

   I write your name


On the fruit cleft in two

On the mirror and in my room

On the empty shell of my bed

   I write your name


And by the power of a word

I begin my life again

I was born to know you

To give you a name



© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2018



Poems: (my translation of Liberté);  Funeral Helper

Wikipedia:  Leo Marks;  Paul Éluard



Marbling – source lost

Graffiti bird (a la Cocteau)






Paul Éluard (1895 – 1952)

When I take my walk in the afternoons, I see his name, one of several poets — Breton, Jacob, Desnos, Apollonaire, Tzara and Prévert — after whom the streets in this area are named.  As with some of the others, Éluard was part of the French surrealist poets.

Paul Eluard, 1911

As a young man he realized that he had to be a poet.  His parents were not supportive of the idea, but his Russian lover by name Gala, supported him physically (he was not always well) and intellectually (she was his muse and critic).  After the Great War he met with the Surrealists and served their cause for life.

Eluard (top) and the Surrealists

After some years he and Gala parted.  She met Salvador Dali who worshipped her all his life.  From this time Éluard’s life became epic and in the Second World War he and a number of Jews hid from the Germans in an asylum.  They survived.

He and Louis Aragon are considered as the great poets of the French Resistance and his work is strongly political.  The poem Liberté was pamphlet-dropped by the RAF over areas of France.  It holds a special place in history and in the hearts of the French.  I offer one of his love poems which was probably dedicated to Gala, though he was happy in other relationships as well.


She stands on my eyelids

Her hair in mine

She takes the form of my hands

She takes the colour of my eyes

She sinks into my shadow

Like a stone from heaven


She always has open eyes

I cannot sleep

My dreams are full of light

Thus, let suns evaporate

Let me laugh and laugh again

Let me speak without saying anything


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2018



Wikipedia:  Paul Éluard

Pinterest:  the poem  (my translation). 

I have a translation of Liberté in English, for those interested.  



My photograph

Wikipedia: Paul Éluard, 1911


See also, Two Poems from the French Resistance,, 27.10.2018


                                                “ A woman is more beautiful than the world

                                                         I live in …

                                                                I shut my eyes ”    –  Paul Éluard




Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man

This drawing was done circa 1485.  Leonardo was illustrating points by the Roman architect Vitruvius (active 46 – 30 bce) who asserted in his treatise on architecture that the circle and the square are the forms that create the perfect space.  This concept was resurrected by many Renaissance architects.  Leonardo is attempting, perhaps via architectural principles, to show that man’s anatomy, probably divinely ordained, was perfect.  It is known that he had to “bend” his extensive knowledge of the human anatomy, experience recorded over many years on dissections of bodies, to fit the circle-square.

This iconic image also represented the Renaissance philosophy that man is the measure of all things, an idea that came from the Greeks in the ancient world.  The image is so iconic that the European Union approved it to grace the first one-euro coin.

What interests me too, is the visage of the Vitruvian Man.  Leonardo was one of the supreme masters of producing various expressions on the faces he drew.  It could not have been by accident that the expression on the Man’s face is, in my opinion,  an unhappy one.  Thus, in this perfection, in this philosophical enlightenment, the perfect man he draws carries no inward peace.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2018


Wikipedia:  Leonardo da Vinci; Vitruvian Man



Full man –

Coin –

Visage –




Cote d’Azur




Art history: some images of the woman

The first in a series of three

Art does not improve, we are told.  The media of art change. In its time, art is good, bad or indifferent.  We have never equaled what the Egyptians achieved thousands of years ago.  I have seen paintings of women from various periods in history and it is interesting to see what has changed – form, colour, intention.  I offer some images, with gut responses.

What interests me from the earliest Egyptian images is the dignity the artist affords the image of the woman.  In the second image there is even wonderment.

I am not sure of this image, but I believe it is prehistoric rock art  from the Atlas Mountains.  It might well depict a queen and her hand maiden.

For me Cycladic art almost stands above history in its timeless modernity.  Women, probably as goddesses, were especially honoured in the art of these Greek islands.  This figure, probably votive, is at least 4,000 years old.

On this Greek vase, an imitation of work from Classical period, the woman happily plays her own flute.

This is an image of a woman painted on a coffin in the first century ad.  It is part of other similar images from Fayum, Egypt.

Here is the Queen amongst the dignitaries of the time, depicted in the mosaics at Ravenna.  She is beautiful and poised.  This is about five centuries ad.

In this early medieval illustration of courtly love we see the man, probably a knight, on his knee, proffering the wound of his heart to the woman on a throne-like chair.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2018



In some cases I have had images for many years and the sources have been lost.  I acknowledge what I can.

Woman on the Greek vase – my photograph

Ravenna mosaic –











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