Friday, 3 May 2019

Captain Aristide Louis Armand Bruand (1883 – 1917) – French soldier poet

Son of the singer/nightclub owner Aristide Bruant (who used the surname Bruant for his professional name)

Aristide was born in Paris on 3rd May 1883.  His father was Aristide Bruant, the famous Paris night-club owner/singer/songwriter, whose portrait was painted by the French artist Toulouse-Lautrec (see below), and his mother, Marioni, was also a singer.

Aristide Junior was educated at the Stephane Mallarme College and went on to the prestigious French military academy Saint Cyr, after which he was commissioned into a Zouave Regiment.

During the First World War, Aristide Jnr. served on the Western Front and was wounded in October 1914 while fighting near Boureilles.  He was wounded again at Longuyon and then, more seriously, at Noyers, where he was Mentioned in Despatches.  He was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur and received the Croix de Guerre avec Palme.

On 16th April 1917, Aristide was in charge of a Machine Gun Battalion when he was killed on the Craonne Plateau, Chemin des Dames, Aisne. His body was not recovered for six months.


J’ai voulu sur le bord de sentes
Au plus profond de la forêt,
Surprendre l’émouvant secret
Des fleurs en la mousse naissantes ...

Questionneur aux regards fous,
Nous ne sommes, sans nul mystère,
Rien qu’un sourire de la Terre ...
Que veux-tu connaître de nous ?...

Nous n’avons que la poésie
De nos parfums et de nos tons
Et l’âme que nous possédons
Naît de la seule fantaisie...

Vous poussez trop près des chemins,
Pauvres fleurs que tout le monde aime,
Vous servez trop souvent d’emblème
Et vous passez en trop de mains...

Mais je connais des fleurs de flamme
Faites de nuit, d’or et de sang,
Et, sous leur coloris puissant,
J’ai senti palpiter une âme ...

Toutes gardent, d’avoir été
Le reflet des âmes ardentes
Qui les eurent pour confidentes,
Une impérissable beauté ...

Ces fleurs-là sont les fleurs sacrées
Qui, loin des chemins, à l’écart,
Comme de belles oeuvres d’art,
Gagnent encor d’être ignorées.”

Note:  The spelling ‘encor’ is a frquent poetic license, if followed by a consonant.

With thanks to the late Pierre Virey for finding me a poem by Captain Bruand.  Pierre Virey’s legacy is a vast collection of WW1 poetry from many different countries, which he translated into French.

Here is my humble English translation of Aristide's poem:

 “The Soul of Flowers” (1911)

Along the footpaths
In the heart of the forest
I tried to discover the deepest
Secret of the flowers blooming in the moss

You, the questioner with the crazy look,
There is no mystery about us,
We are but one of earth’s smiles …
What do you wish to know about us?

All we have is the poetry
Of our scents and our colours
Any soul we posess
Is born from sheer fantasy…

You grow too close to the footpaths
Poor flowers that everyone loves
Too often you are used as a symbol
And too many hands pick you…

But I know of flowers made of flames
Forged during the night from gold and blood
And, beneath their pulsing colours
I felt a soul beating…

They all retain a reflection
Of the passionate souls
Who told them their secrets,
A lasting beauty …

Those are the sacred flowers
That, far from footpaths
Are out of sight, hidden
And, like beautiful works of art,
They grow in beauty when no one sees them.

Lucy London, May 2019