He poured the coffee
Into the cup
He poured the milk
Into the cup of coffee
He added the sugar
To the coffee and milk
He stirred it
With a teaspoon
He drank the coffee
And put back the cup
Without speaking to me
He lit a cigarette
He blew some rings
With the smoke
He flicked the ashes 
Into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put his hat
On his head
He put on 
His raincoat
Because it was raining
He went out 
Into the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And I
I took my head
In my hands
And I wept

Jacques Prévert

Jacques Prévert, France's most widely read poet since Victor Hugo, was born in Paris in 1900. He left school in 1915 and worked at various jobs until 1920 when he served in the military in Lorraine and with the French occupation forces in Turkey.

In 1925 he began to associate with the surrealists, including André Breton and Louis Aragon. "Expelled" from this group by Breton in 1930, because of his "occupation or character", he responded with a savage satirical attack on Breton, "Death of a Gentleman". His first poems were published in the same year, and in 1931 there appeared his first major success: "Attempt to Describe a Dinner of Heads in Paris - France", subsequently published in Paroles.

In the 1930s he worked with a theatre company, the "October Group", linked to the Communist Party though not always reflecting the Party's views. In 1933 he attended the International Workers' Theatre Olympiad in Moscow for the première of his play, "The Battle of Fontenoy". In the same years he began writing film scripts, his first film ("It's In The Bag") appearing in 1932.

Paroles, Prévert's first collection of poetry, appeared late in 1945. Patched together by René Bertelé from forgotten newspapers and reviews, cabaret songs, and scribblings from the backs of envelopes and the paper tablecloths of cafés, Paroles is widely considered Prévert's best work. By the mid-1960s more than a million copies of it and other collections of his poems were in print.

Jacques Prévert died of lung cancer in 1977. Two further poetry collections, Soleil de nuit (1980) and La cinquième saison (1984) were published posthumously.

An Analysis of the Poem:

In a modern city like Hong Kong or Paris, breakfast is something everyone takes before leaving for work. Some take it at home. Some take it at a neighborhood restaurant. Some take it at the office. Some take more. Some take less. And some even do not need any breakfast. But for those who do, breakfast has become a daily ritual. What can we write about a perfectly ordinary breakfast. Let’s see what Jacques Prevert (1900-1977), a Parisien poet and film script writer has to say

In this poem, he deliberately describes an action which has just happened to give it a sense of its proximity to the present. He repeats a verb “put” and uses it in all the possible senses of that verb. He uses the  present perfect tense, a tense to  emphasize the recency of the action and its close relation to the present to increase the sense of its immediacy.

Not only does he repeat the verb. He also repeats almost exactly the form of his short sentences. He keeps exactly the same sentence structure.  As in all literary writing, the repetition serves only one purpose: to build up the energy and the force of the contrast when that repetition is broken, more or less like adding heat to the water in the kettle being boiled, until it reaches the boiling point and turns into steam, something entirely different

The repetitive structure of the sentence may serve another purpose. It may be intended also to emphasize the perfect ordinariness of the action described. It gives a sense of the monotony, the boredom, the dreariness of routine. He describes the action of the man slowly, step by step

The poet does not use any adjectives. He does not use any adverb. He merely recites the facts. He does not use any emotive or emotional words. On the face of it, there is no emotion. There is no excitement. There is no joy. Ostensibly, there is no sorrow. There is no hope. Ostensibly, there is no despair. There is merely a series of actions. There is no sound. There is no sense of touch. There is no description of smell. There is no description of taste. There is no nothing except a relentless factual and apparently objective description. He presents. He does not summarize. He does not give his personal opinion on what happens. He lets what he presents speak for themselves

The effect of the poem relies precisely on this lack of color, this lack of surprise. It describes the action of the man through a pair of eyes. The only time any surprise, if it can be so called, is the description that the man does not look upon the observer and that he does not talk to the observer, which subtly suggests what the observer was expecting

Is the observer a man? Is the observer a woman? Is the observer a child? Is the observer a father? Is the observer a mother? Is the relation between the observer and the observed wife and husband or merely lovers. We do not know

What is most surprising is that all the sentences are about positive actions except for three phrases, “without talking”and “without looking”,”without a word”. The observer might just as well not have existed as far as the man is concerned. The observer has become invisible! Hence the last sentence, in which the observer cried because not of action but the absence of any action to acknowledge the observer’s existence! The Chinese have a saying, “there is no sorrow greater than a heart which has died.”. This is what apparently the poet is trying to describe! The boredom of the man is skilfully brought out without any adjective. It is shown by his action: he’d rather spend the time blowing rings with his cigarette smoke than look at the observer or even say a single word to the observer. The emotion of loss of any hope, of disappointment, of despair is concretely described and objectified by the lack of emotional response from the drinker of the morning coffee. He does not even look at the observer! That is the ultimate denial of the existence of the observer.

I am sure that in a dysfunctional family where the love has gone out of the marriage, what this poem portrays may be the description of a perfectly “normal” morning. It is a morning without love. The relationship between the observer and the observed stopped at observation despite the fact that the two are apparently in close physical proximity to one another

We do not know where the lack of drama took place. It could be at the dining room of the typical family or even inside a neighborhood a restaurant into which the two of them may have stepped before the man left for work or for some other purpose. The lack of any specificity may be intended to convey the feeling that it is something which could happen to any couple or at any place and on any perfectly “ordinary” morning. The scenario might probably have occurred in winter with a dull and dreary grey sky and light drizzle because France has what has been described as a Mediterranean type of climate with light rain in winter and little or no rain in summer

Is Prévert suggesting that what is described is that condition of one particular family. Or is he suggesting that that may well be a universal condition of more than a few modern French families?  The extraordinary is embodied in the description of the ordinary. The emotion of desolation and  despair is emphasized by an absence:  the conspicuous absence of another emotion which the observer expected but did not find: love. Yet throughout the whole poem, the word has never been used at all. Prévert here uses a technique which all paper cutting artists and what all Taoists know: you can convey a presence by an absence: by cutting out instead of leaving in. You can make use of “emptiness” to create a “concreteness”: here the concreteness or solidity of the powerful emotion of despair. He describes what occurs inside the human heart by delineating objectively its external manifestation: the silent sobbing of the observer!