The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Autumn Leaves” is a short poem in free verse. Its forty-six lines are divided into four stanzas. The first and third stanzas contain twelve lines each, and the second and fourth stanzas have the same eleven-line refrain. The only punctuation in the entire poem is a period placed at the end of the last line. This almost complete lack of punctuation permits diverse interpretations of many lines because it is not at all clear exactly how one should interpret them. In many cases, two or three different explanations are grammatically possible.

The poem is written in the first person. The unnamed speaker is a man who is addressing a woman whom he used to love. Although their love for each other has now ended, he still feels an emotional bond with her. He addresses her with the intimate tu (for “you”), not with the formal vous. It is clear that these are two decent people “whom life has separated.”

In the first stanza, the speaker calls upon his former lover to “remember the happy days” that now exist only in their memories. When re-creating these days of happiness, Jacques Prévert utilizes the imperfect tense in French. This is entirely appropriate because the imperfect tense refers to habitual past actions or to past actions that lasted for an extended period of time. These were wonderful days for them because “they were then friends.” Their love is described as platonic and pure.

The title,...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Autumn Leaves” illustrates very effectively the refined art of Prévert, who wrote in an apparently straightforward style and yet expressed deep feelings with which all readers can identify. The use of verb tenses in this poem does not seem to be complicated. Prévert, in fact, uses those verb tenses (specifically, the present indicative, the imperfect, and the compound past) that are most frequently used in spoken French. He avoids an overtly literary style, which would have created a barrier between his poem and certain readers. Prévert strove to attract readers who were alienated from extremely esoteric poetry. His poems deal directly with such basic human emotions as love, loss of love, grief, and despair.

The apparent simplicity of style and vocabulary in this poem should not cause one to overlook the subtle art of Prévert. He skillfully contrasts the present with several different periods in the speaker’s past. Prévert’s use of verb tenses is very effective in “Autumn Leaves.” In this forty-six-line poem, there is only one verb in the present conditional and one verb in the future tense, yet each is used extremely effectively. Prévert begins this poem with a wish: “Oh! I would like you to remember/ the happy days when we were friends.” If she still remembers their love, this will bring him much satisfaction, but he realizes that he may no longer be part of her memories. Only one future tense is used in this poem, and even then...

(The entire section is 551 words.)