Saturday, 29 September 2012

In Paris With You, by James Fenton


by James Fenton

Although Paris is often thought of as the city of love, James Fenton opens his poem “In Paris With You” with the sentence “Don't talk to me of love.” He appears to be getting over a broken relationship, saying “I've had an earful / And I get tearful.” Rather than both words of the rhyming pair coming at the end of lines, “tearful” is in the middle of the second line. The rhymes actually seem to give a lighter atmosphere to the first stanza, although Fenton is feeling down. He describes himself as “one of your talking wounded,” which of course is a play on the phrase “walking wounded” used to describe people who have only slight injuries. He refers to himself as “a hostage” and says he is “marooned,” creating the impression of someone who is not yet free from the emotions of his recent relationship. In the last line of the stanza, however, Fenton seems to be feeling more optimistic when he says, “But I'm in Paris with you.” Throughout the poem, Fenton talks directly to the person he has apparently just met.

In the second stanza Fenton makes it quite clear that he is “on the rebound.” He uses alliteration in the phrase “I've been bamboozled;” bamboozled is a wonderful sounding word, but Fenton is angry at the way he has been treated and refers to his previous relationship as a “mess.” Once again the tone towards the end of the stanza becomes more upbeat since he has met someone new and they are together in Paris.

Fenton is not in the least bit interested in sightseeing, and is in fact openly scornful of Paris' famous attractions in the third stanza. He doesn't want to go to the Louvre or the Champs Elysees, and even goes so far as to use the vulgar alliterative phrase “sod off to sodding Notre Dame.” He uses enjambment to link the end of the third stanza to the beginning of the fourth, commenting that he would rather stay in the “sleazy” hotel room than go to see the sights. No matter how dismal the room is, and the contrast between it and the beautiful attractions of Paris, he wants to spend time there with the person he has met. “Doing this and that / To what and whom” presumably refers to having sex. Fenton closes the fourth stanza with the idea that he will learn more about his companion as well as about himself.

The fifth stanza opens with the phrase “Don't talk to me of love.” Fenton presumably was in love previously but doesn't want to get emotionally involved in his new relationship. He wants to talk about Paris “in our view,” but what they can actually see is a crack in the ceiling and paint peeling off the walls of the hotel room. This is the reality, and Fenton doesn't appear to be bothered by it as he closes the stanza once again with the line “And I'm in Paris with you.”

The sixth and final stanza opens with a repeat of the first line of the fifth stanza, “Don't talk to me of love. Let's talk of Paris.” In the next three lines Fenton uses the word “Paris” three times as an apparent substitute or metaphor for the word love when he says, for example, “I'm in Paris with the slightest thing you do.” “I'm in Paris with... all points south” is presumably a reference to his companion's genitals, especially as the following line is the question “Am I embarrassing you?” Fenton ends the poem as we might expect with the statement “I'm in Paris with you.”

James Fenton makes effective use of repetition and rhyme to convey his thoughts in his poem “In Paris With You.” Rhyme is not used regularly, and the poem has a more natural feel because of this. In the third stanza there is “Elysees” and “sleazy,” while in the fifth it is “ceiling” and “peeling” that rhyme. In the fourth stanza the rhyming words “room” and “whom” are at the end of the first and third lines rather than consecutive lines. The stanzas are of irregular length, and it is noticeable that the lines of the fourth stanza are all very short, adding emphasis to it.

“In Paris With You” does have a lightness and immediacy about it, even though the memories of the recent failed relationship evoke anger. Fenton conveys the excitement and freshness of the start of a new relationship, the eagerness to get to know a person he appears to have just met. Being with that person is what matters above all. The grand places of the capital city of France have no importance; he would rather be in a shabby hotel as long as he is with that special person. The poem conveys this idea perfectly, and it is easy to imagine the feeling.

Originally published on

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