Poetry at the piscine – Part 3/3

One day, after we had been to the pool in correct attire and unsuccessfully ‘swam’ a few times, I noticed a small square of graph paper taped to Pool Keeper’s ticket window.

Piscine - Sage Goellner, 26/04/2012
Pool Keeper’s domain

The handwritten lines indicated a verse of poetry followed by the words “Identifiez le poète et obtenez une entrée gratuite.” If you guessed correctly, you would receive a free pass for the day.

This seemed a charming incongruity. Why would a swimming pool have a daily reminder of poetry? Yet, this was not strange at all in France, a country in which sixteen-year-olds memorize Hugo, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé par coeur and are regularly asked to write lengthy papers on how poetry is useful to society.

Pool Keeper noticed my attention to his poem. His eyes met mine with a question mark: could I name the French poet quoted on his scrap of paper? I shook my head. Disappointed, he took my entrance fee.

The next time I went swimming, he looked at me expectantly. I guessed again. He shook his head, grunting that I’d gotten the correct century, at least.

Sage Goellner, 26/04/2012

The third time, however, I got lucky: lines from a Rimbaud poem I’d memorized in college.

As I approached the window, he barely looked at me. Standing on the balls of my feet, I clapped both palms on the counter. Startled, then curious, Pool Keeper greeted me with a gruff “bonjour”.

I paused for emphasis before blurting out the answer with a wide smile, which was instantly matched by his. He crowed, “Bravo, mademoiselle!” In a country in which the Baudelarian instinct du beau guides mere humans to transcendence, daily poetry trivia was par for the course.

I don’t know who was more proud: Pool Keeper or myself. Each time after that was a playful moment in which Pool Keeper and I would jest and jibe. Although I got more wrong answers than right, I had proved my worth to Pool Keeper by first showing interest in the game, being brave enough play, and guessing correctly on occasion.

After that, Pool Keeper smiled at us as the regulars we had become: Speedos, bonnets, poetry and all.

This is the final episode of Sage’s charming story! Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles 5 place Paul Verlaine, 13e
Les piscines de Paris provides a list of all public swimming pools in Paris.

Image sources:
1 lagazou.wordpress.com
2 last.fm
NOTE: This popular article has been refreshed and republished in 2021.

About the Contributor

Sage Goellner

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Francophile and outreach professor at the UW-Madison. As an online educator, I’ve taught French to students from Alaska to Australia. I live with my husband, two sons, and a Baudelarian cat; my dream is to write full-time in sidewalk cafés and grow lavender on the terrace.

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