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Friday Poem: James Fenton - In Paris With You

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James Fenton, a modern poet, has previously worked as a political journalist and a literary critic, having also been a Professor of poetry at Oxford University.

Fenton is also known for his word play and satirical tone in his work, such as God, A Poem.

Image courtesy of Walkerssk on Pixabay

In Paris With You comes from a speaker who has recently come out of a relationship - “I admit I’m on the rebound/And I don’t care where are we bound” - who we presume is now with someone new in Paris. The first stanza, combined with its slightly mocking ‘AABCCB’ rhyme scheme, shows the speaker’s rejection of an emotional relationship: ‘love’, shown through suppression through escapism, “I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two”.

Yet, in his dismissal of love, the speaker expresses the same feelings in substitution for ‘empty’ clichés. In stanza 3, there is an ironically humorous tone in the line “If we say sod off to the sodding Notre Dame”, as if they are avoiding what lovers are ‘supposed to do’, furthered by the repetition and subjugation of ‘sod’. However, the proposal of remaining in the “sleazy/ Old hotel room”, “Learning who you are/learning who I am” is a cliché in itself, imagery of ‘love’ and a deep, emotionally intimate relationship in itself.

This is further evidenced in the last two stanzas of the poem; specifically giving meaning to the repetition throughout the poem of “I’m in Paris with you”. Paris is, then, an idealised symbol, a metaphor for love, “I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth”. The phrase ‘I’m in Paris’ could be taken to mean ‘I’m in love’, or, alternatively, the speaker suggesting that these feelings are as artificial as the clichés used to describe them.

Fenton’s use of metaphors in the rhyming couplet, “There’s that crack across the ceiling/ And the hotel walls are peeling” could be representative of the gradual breaking down of walls as the couple become both emotionally and physically intimate, “I’m in Paris with… all things South”. In addition to the cheeky humour, the personal tone of “Am I embarrassing you?” makes “I’m in Paris with you” seem more confessional, as if the speaker can only express themselves through these clichés, in order to protect himself from the hurt that he is still perceived to be feeling.

Fenton’s poem has become well-loved for not only its cheekiness, emphasised through the continual rhyming throughout, but its honesty in the expression of emotions of being in a new relationship after coming out of one. Its beautiful lyricism is one of the things I loved most about it when I first heard in a lecture.

In Paris with you by James Fenton:

Don't talk to me of love. I've had an earful

And I get tearful when I've downed a drink or two.

I'm one of your talking wounded.

I'm a hostage. I'm maroonded.

But I'm in Paris with you.

 

Yes I'm angry at the way I've been bamboozled

And resentful at the mess I've been through.

I admit I'm on the rebound

And I don't care where are we bound.

I'm in Paris with you.

 

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre,

If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,

If we skip the Champs Elysées

And remain here in this sleazy

Old hotel room

Doing this and that

To what and whom

Learning who you are,

Learning what I am.

 

Don't talk to me of love.

 Let's talk of Paris,

The little bit of Paris in our view.

There's that crack across the ceiling

And the hotel walls are peeling

And I'm in Paris with you.

 

Don't talk to me of love.

Let's talk of Paris.

I'm in Paris with the slightest thing you do.

I'm in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,

I'm in Paris with... all points south.

Am I embarrassing you?

I'm in Paris with you.

 

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